Penne alla Vodka is easy, elegant comfort food. Perfect for those busy weeknights, but delicious enough for company!! Your family will request it over and over.

If you’re concerned about the alcohol, most should evaporate during the cooking process, making this Penne with Vodka Sauce a family-friendly recipe!

Penne alla Vodka view from above in a white serving bowl.

Why You Must Make

  • The pickiest family member LOVES this recipe. 
  • It’s made of easily accessible ingredients. Most of which are staples in my kitchen.
  • It’s quick to throw together and pure comfort food.

I have the world’s pickiest eater in my household. You loyal readers may know about my husband and how he feigns allergies to mushrooms, nuts, pineapple, etc. just to avoid eating those ingredients. But my daughter is even worse!

So when I find a dish she loves, it makes its way into our meal rotation. This simple and delicious Penne alla Vodka is a frequent birthday dinner request. Katie often picks a crazy complicated birthday cake, like the red velvet checkerboard number this year, so an easy main dish is welcomed.

Ingredient Notes

Penne alla Vodka Ingredients on a sheet pan with labels.
  • Diced Tomatoes – Two 14.5-ounce cans or one 28-ounce can.
  • Penne Pasta – I like De Cecco brand.
  • Olive Oil
  • Garlic – Minced. Use a garlic press to quickly mince.
  • Shallot – Peel and mince.
  • Crushed Red Pepper Flakes – Use more or less depending on your heat tolerance or preference.
  • Sugar – Helps balance the acidity of the tomatoes
  • Salt – I prefer kosher salt. Use more or less to taste, but always use some salt since it’s a potent flavor enhancer.
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper – I buy whole peppercorns and use a coffee grinder to make my own.
  • Vodka – The majority of the alcohol will evaporate as the sauce cooks. It’s also a flavor enhancer.
  • Heavy Cream – 36% Butterfat
  • Fresh Basil – Chopped
  • Parmesan Cheese – Look for real Parmesano Reggiano. Never use the green can of parmesan off the grocery shelves.

Recipe Tips

This Penne alla Vodka is creamy with a hit of heat and a classic Italian pasta recipe that’s truly a winner.

  • PRO-Tip: Did you know alcohol is a flavor enhancer like salt? The vodka will evaporate during the cooking process but magically intensifies the deliciousness along the way.
  • Modify the crushed red pepper flakes for your family’s palate. The 1/2 teaspoon in my recipe is perfect for our family, but if you’d like a spicier pasta, feel free to up the amount.
  • Taste first, then add more seasonings if desired. You can always add extra, but if you make it too spicy, it’s hard to fix!
  • The heavy cream is key for a rich sauce with a delicious mouthfeel. Don’t be tempted to use milk instead. If you’re worried about calories, just practice portion control.
  • I like cooking pasta al dente, meaning to the tooth in Italian. You don’t want your pasta mushy, but instead, still firm and cooked through.
  • Make sure your pasta water is well salted (should taste like the sea!) and at a rolling boil before adding the penne.
  • PRO-Tip: Pull a noodle out of the boiling water at the shortest time listed on the packaging and bite into it. If it’s still hard in the middle, cook a minute or two longer.

Close up of Penne alla Vodka in a serving bowl

How to Make

Penne alla Vodka process shots 1, 2.
  1. Cook pasta in well-salted water while you make the vodka sauce.
  2. Simmer together the vodka sauce ingredients.
Penne alla Vodka process shots 3,4.
  1. Drain the pasta and toss with the sauce. Add fresh basil.
  2. Toss together. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed. Serve!

Frequently Asked Questions

What Does Vodka Do to the Flavor Penne alla Vodka?

Vodka provides a touch of heat along with a subtle enhancement of the flavors of tomatoes, cream, and Parmesan in the sauce. The sauce does not have an obvious flavor of the liquor.

Is it Safe to Serve Penna alla Vodka to Children?

Yes, as the sauce cooks, the alcohol evaporates as long as it’s simmered long enough to thicken slightly. It should be safe for children to eat penne alla vodka.

Penne alla Vodka in a white ceramic bowl with a sprig of basil.

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Penne alla Vodka | A simple, comforting pasta dish with tomatoes, cream and vodka!

Penne alla Vodka

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Yield 6 servings

A quick creamy tomato and vodka pasta sauce served with penne.


  • 2 14.5-ounce cans Diced Tomatoes
  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 large shallot, minced (about 1/3 cup)
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt (more or less to taste)
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup vodka
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • ¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


  1. Start the water boiling, add enough salt to make the water taste briny, and cook penne according to package instructions.
  2. While the pasta water is heating up, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan.
  3. Add garlic and shallots and cook till soft. Add tomatoes and their juices plus crushed red pepper flakes, sugar, salt, and pepper to taste. Cook for a few minutes.
  4. Add vodka and simmer for 2 or 3 minutes (longer if you want to ensure all alcohol has evaporated).
  5. Stir in cream and basil, then add drained pasta. Mix in Parmesan. Gently heat until the sauce is hot.
  6. Serve immediately. Pass extra Parmesan to top pasta if desired.


Alcohol is a flavor enhancer like salt, so don't omit the vodka. If you're worried about the alcohol, once you add the vodka, cook it long enough so the alcohol evaporated.

Make sure your pasta water is well salted. It will taste better that way.

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 327Total Fat: 16gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 33mgSodium: 499mgCarbohydrates: 32gFiber: 3gSugar: 5gProtein: 9g


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*Tomatoes contain lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that may be linked to a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, and age-related eye disorders.