There are so many versions of this Italian-American classic floating around the internet.
Some use tons of butter and heavy whipping cream, some add celery and carrot, and some just reek of vodka and taste too boozy.
I went for a still very comforting, tasty penne alla vodka, but much lighter, with a perfect combination of tangy, sweet, and creamy.
Penne Alla Vodka ingredients
Using good ingredients for the vodka sauce is key. There are only a few, so they need to be high-quality. Let’s take a closer look:
- Vodka: What kind should you use? The kind you would drink on its own! Use plain vodka (no flavoring please) and the best quality you can afford. Cheap vodka will alter the taste and your sauce won’t taste as clean. Premium vodkas are filtered at least three times, and it shows.
- Tomatoes: I like organic Italian tomatoes in a can or jar. They’re perfectly ripe when harvested and taste great. Make sure the cans are BPA-free and there’s no calcium chloride added to the tomatoes
- Tomato paste: It adds color and an extra depth to the vodka sauce, making it taste more tomatoey. It’s made by cooking down a truckload of tomatoes and letting the liquids evaporate. If you can, look for tomato paste in a tube (like toothpaste)—it’s more practical than the ones in a can, which are a mess to store after opening.
- Half & half: I went for this product instead of all heavy whipping cream. Half & half adds the creaminess, but it’s not so rich as heavy cream. If you can’t find half & half, make your own by combining half whole milk and half heavy cream.
- Penne: This pasta shape is what’s in the recipe name, but feel free to use other, similar shapes, such as rigatoni, cavatappi, or rigatoni—basically any tubular pasta types that would catch the sauce easily.
Cool tip to make the Easy Creamy Penne Alla Vodka sauce consistent
When you open the 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes, strain the tomatoes over a bowl to catch the liquid.
Usually there’s about 8–10 tomatoes in a can. Divide them in half. Chop 4–5 tomatoes, and blend the other half in a blender or food processor, until smooth. Mix those two together and top with the tomato liquid to equal exactly 2 cups.
Your vodka sauce will have a both chunky and smooth texture.
How to make Easy Creamy Penne Alla Vodka
After you prep the tomatoes and mix in the vodka, it couldn’t be much faster or easier.
The sauce is made in a large skillet (or use a medium saucepan). You’ll create a flavor base by sautéing the onion, garlic, and tomato paste together.
Add tomato mixture and cook until the sauce gets thicker, reduced, and the alcohol cooked off.
Stir in the half & half and your sauce is done!
Can you make the Penne Alla Vodka tomato sauce ahead of time?
Yes! Cook it and then store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Can you freeze the Penne Alla Vodka tomato sauce?
Yes! So convenient right? You can freeze it up to 1 month.
Can you get drunk by eating Penne Alla Vodka?
Not really. You’re adding such a small amount and the alcohol will cook off. The vodka brightens the sauce and brings out the tomato taste.
It also acts as an emulsifier, making sure the the half & half doesn’t separate and curdle.
Love pasta and noodles? Try these recipes:
Did you make the Easy Creamy Penne Alla Vodka recipe? Or did you just drink a vodka?
Tell me in the comments.Print
Add this easy, creamy penne alla vodka recipe to your pasta repertory. It’s a light and tangy version of the classic dish, made with vodka, tomatoes, penne pasta, and half & half.
- 1 28-ounce can (1 pound 12 ounces; 795 g) whole peeled tomatoes
- 1/3 cup (75 ml) good quality plain vodka
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil
- 1/3 cup (45 g) peeled, finely chopped yellow onion
- 1 teaspoon minced, peeled garlic (about 2 small garlic cloves)
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) tomato paste
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup (120 ml) half & half (half whole milk & half heavy cream)
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar (optional)
- 1 pound (453 g) penne pasta
- Parmesan cheese, freshly and finely grated, to serve
- Open the tomato can and set a sieve over a medium bowl. Strain the tomatoes in the sieve. Save the tomato liquid and set it aside.
- Divide the tomatoes in half. (Typically, there are 8–10 whole tomatoes). Dice one half of the tomatoes into ½-inch (1.25 cm) pieces. Place the other half of tomatoes into a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth.
- Mix the diced tomato pieces with the blended ones, and measure how much you have. Add the saved tomato liquid from the can to measure exactly 2 cups. See photo in the post. Discard the rest of the tomato liquid from the can. (Or add to a vegetable soup).
- Add the vodka to the tomato mixture and stir to combine.
- In a large skillet or saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and tomato paste, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion and garlic are soft, about 3–4 minutes.
- Add the tomato mixture and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce cooks down and thickens, and the alcohol from the vodka evaporates, about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the half & half, and cook for another 2 minutes. Taste and if the sauce is too tangy for you, stir in the brown sugar.
- At this point, you can let the sauce cool, and refrigerate for up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 1 month. (If you’re cooking for just 1 or 2 people, see notes below).
- While you cook the sauce, bring a large pot of water (about 4 quarts/3.78 liters) covered with a lid to a boil over high heat. Add about 1 tablespoon of salt when it’s boiling. Add the penne pasta and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is al dente.
- Reserve ¾ cup of the pasta water and set it aside. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet or saucepan with the sauce. Stir to combine, add the reserved pasta water, and heat over medium heat, until the sauce coats the pasta, about 1 minute.
- Serve with the parmesan sprinkled on top.
- Vodka: Use the best quality of vodka you can find. Cheap vodka is only distilled once, whereas the more expensive usually three or more times. No need to spend $80, but if you wouldn’t drink it on its own, don’t cook with either.
- Tomato paste: See if you can find tomato paste in a tube. It’s more convenient than canned.
- Half & half: I find the mixture of half milk and half heavy cream is not as heavy and rich, as using just heavy whipping cream.
- To cook pasta for 1 person, I like to measure the quantity on my kitchen scale: 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of dried pasta is usually enough for one. Boil in plenty of water and don’t forget to reserve some of the pasta water, because it thickens the sauce. About ½ cup of sauce per person is plenty.
- Refrigerate: For up to 2 days.
- Freeze: For up to 1 month.