Penne alla Vodka with step by step photos. Penne pasta cooked in a creamy vodka sauce. My husband asked me to make this dish for him once a week. It's made with love, it's delicious, and a total crowd pleaser.
My first time in Italy
Back in 2009, it was my first time in Italy, my first stop was Rome. I went out to dinner that evening and ordered the most obvious and my favorite dish - Penne alla Vodka.
When my dish arrived it was Penne alla Vodka, but in a creamy white sauce, not in a creamy pink sauce.
Conversation with our Waiter
- I asked our waiter (which I totally regret doing), "Excuse me sir, isn't Penne alla Vodka supposed to be in a pink sauce?"
- He responded in his Italian accent, "you tellin' me how to cook?" I wish you could hear me imitate him in my Italian accent, I do good accents. At this point I realized, my waiter may be the owner. My bad.
- I responded (again, I regret saying anything), "back home we make Penne alla Vodka in a pink sauce."
- He responded back, "this is Penne alla Vodka. If you don't like, you can go someplace else." Again, said in his Italian accent.
Well, that comment quickly shut me up. LOL! No sir, I'll just eat the Penne alla Vodka in a creamy white sauce. Not a problem.
I'll say this, when it comes to Italian food, you never tell an Italian person how to cook their own food. They have a global influence on the world when it comes to both food and fashion.
That story makes me cringe till this very day. In hindsight, I shouldn't have said anything, but at least I learned something. I now know there is Penne alla Vodka made in a creamy white sauce. Aha!
My hubby's reaction to my pasta
I've been making my version of Penne alla Vodka since I was 24. It's one of my signature dishes and it's made with vodka, red pepper, crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, basil, mozzarella and heavy cream. I've waited so long to share this dish because it's one of the first recipes I ever mastered, hence it's special to me. I wasn't ready to share with anyone else so I held onto it, until now.
After my husband had a bite of this dish, he said, "Nisha, how come you've never made this for me before? Can you make this dish every week." Well, that's a conversation I'll save for another post.
So you get the idea. This version of Penne alla Vodka is damn good! I hope you make it for the holidays or your next gathering or a special occasion date night at home. Enjoy!
penne alla vodka is:
A Crowd Pleaser
Gluten-Free Option (use gf pasta)
Whole Wheat Option (use whole wheat pasta)
Made with Love
how to make penne alla vodka recipe step by step?
1. Add crushed red pepper to vodka. Cover with a plastic wrap and set aside for at least one hour. Once the vodka turns slightly red, chop the onions and garlic.
2. Heat up a pot of water for the pasta.
3. Julienne basil leaves and set aside.
Make the Vodka Sauce
1. Heat up a stainless steel pan (I love my All-Clad) on medium heat. Once hot, add oil followed by garlic and onions. Saute for about 3 minutes or until the onions turns golden.
2. Add the crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce. Stir. Note: I prefer using NO SALT versions. You can easily find those at Whole Foods.
3. Carefully add all the crushed red pepper and vodka to the sauce. There shouldn't be any flames, however stand back when you add the vodka.
4. And then add fresh basil leaves, salt and black pepper. Stir. Let this mixture simmer on low-medium heat for 15 minutes. Do not cover with a lid.
5. While the sauce cooks, make the pasta. Follow the instructions on the pasta box. You can use penne or rigatoni for this dish.
6. Once the sauce has simmered down, lower the heat all the way. Add heavy cream.
7. Stir. It turns into an orange-pink sauce.
8. Add mozzarella cheese. Stir.
9. Finally, add all the drained hot pasta. You may add a little bit of reserved pasta water to thin out the sauce slightly, however don't add more than a ¼ cup. This sauce is meant to be creamy. Let the pasta heat up for a few minutes and then turn off the stove.
Garnish with fresh julienne basil leaves. Enjoy!
More Pasta Dishes!
- Tikka Masala Pasta
- Vegan Penne alla Rose
- Baked Ziti with Spinach
- Sun-Dried Tomato and Spinach Pasta
- Black Bean Enchilada Pasta
- World's Best Spaghetti with Rao's Homemade Marinara
Penne alla Vodka (gluten-free option, whole wheat option)Vegetarian, Gluten-Free option
- pot of water for the pasta
- 1 pound penne pasta*, gluten-free or whole wheat will work
- ¼ cup vodka**, I like Grey Goose, or any other brand works
- 1 ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 cup tomato sauce, no salt, I like Whole Foods Organic brand
- 21 ounces crushed tomatoes, no salt, I like Whole Foods Organic brand
- salt to taste
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ cup fresh basil, julienned
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ¼ cup mozzarella cheese
- for garnish fresh basil, julienned
- Add crushed red pepper to vodka. Cover with a plastic wrap and set aside for at least one hour. Once the vodka turns slightly red, chop the onions and garlic.
- Heat up a pot of water for the pasta.
- Julienne basil leaves and set aside.
Make the Vodka Sauce
- Heat up a stainless steel pan (I love my All-Clad) on medium heat. Once hot, add oil followed by garlic and onions. Saute for about 3 minutes or until the onions turns golden.
- Add the crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce. Stir. Note: I prefer using NO SALT versions. You can easily find those at Whole Foods.
- Carefully add all the crushed red pepper and vodka to the sauce. There shouldn't be any flames, however stand back when you add the vodka.
- And then add fresh basil leaves, salt, and black pepper. Stir. Let this mixture simmer on low-medium heat for 15 minutes. Do not cover with a lid.
- While the sauce cooks, make the pasta. Follow the instructions on the pasta box. You can use penne or rigatoni for this dish.
- Once the sauce has simmered down, lower the heat all the way. Add heavy cream.
- Stir. It turns into an orange-pink sauce.
- Add mozzarella cheese. Stir.
- Finally, add all the drained hot pasta. You may add a little bit of reserved pasta water to thin out the sauce slightly, however don't add more than a ¼ cup. This sauce is meant to be creamy. Let the pasta heat up for a few minutes and then turn off the stove.
- Garnish with more fresh julienne basil leaves. Enjoy with a glass of red wine. It's so damn good!
Sakshi sharma says
Perfect recipe for a date night at home or a people pleaser when you have company over. Really detailed recipe. You just can’t go wrong if you follow the recipe to the T. I am not much of a cook but I think the pasta turned out amazing!
Hi Sakshi. Thank you so much. I'm so glad you thought so. I love it too. Thank you for your sweet comment. xoxo
Loved this recipe! I made it vegan by swapping the heavy cream for cashew cream and omitting the mozzarella. Such a luscious, flavorful sauce!
Sonia - I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I want to make it with coconut cream and see how it goes. Thanks for sharing. 🙂
This recipe was so easy and simple to follow. Perfect for date night at home. It turned out amazing and was absolutely flavorful and scrumptious.
I absolutely had to try this pasta after reading your story from When you were in Italy ??
Made this dish today for dinner and it was really really fab ! Better than any other I’ve had here in South Africa where we get a lot of Italian restaurants ! The recipe is easy to follow and each section is explained in detail so you really can’t go wrong !
Thank you for sharing !!!
I love watching your Instagram stories; you’re always ready to share and ever so humble about the amazing dishes you make !!!
Love love love this dish!
I made this for Christmas dinner and it was absolutely delicous! There was absolutely nothing left in pan. I doubled the recipe and just made 2 minor alterations - I only added a smidge of the heavy cream, which made gave it a creaminess but didn't make me feel too guilty, and, I added peas. One of the first places I had penne alla vodka years ago served it with peas and I have loved it ever since. I love the infusion of the crushed red pepper flakes in the vodka. I served it with a side of roasted asparagus, salad and garlic bread. Thank you for this brilliant recipe! It will be made again and again.
This recipe was so easy to follow. Thank you for the step by step instructions with pictures. My family loved this pasta.
How much cashew cream did u use to make it 1 cup of heavy cream??
WHen I made this on Instastories, I used 1/4 cup heavy cream and 3/4 cup cashew milk. The taste is not the same, so if you're okay with that, you can try that. 🙂
Urvi Malviya says
I made this pasta for Valentine's dinner and it was amazing! Easy to follow recipe and it complemented really well with red wine. Going to make it again 😀
This was so delicious Nisha! My whole family loved it and said it tasted like our favorite Italian restaurant, can't wait to make it again!
Such an easy recipe and so delicious!!! The whole family loved it!
Nikki K says
How much in advance can you make this recipe? Is it a good dish to re-heat after a couple of hours.
Thank you 🙂
HI Nikki. I would make the sauce without the cream and refrigerate or you can leave it out a few hours before the party. Once you're ready to serve, I would boil the pasta, heat up the sauce - add heavy cream, cheese, and add the pasta. Serve fresh. You can prep the non-dairy portion of the sauce ahead of time, but I would add the cream and mix the pasta before serving. It'll taste much better.