This creamy penne alla vodka recipe has a perfect blend of creamy marinara sauce and just the right amount of vodka. It’s easy to add chicken and makes a great freezer food!
Be sure to try my (best ever) Eggplant Parmesan recipe next!
Believe it or not, Penne Alla Vodka actually falls under the easy weeknight meal category. Make it a few times, and you’ll have this recipe down by heart.
I’ve worked hard over the years to perfect this recipe and make it the best that it can be. The ingredients are simple, but the method that you use is important.
First, Penne Alla Vodka is meant to be creamy, so I highly recommend using heavy cream.
Take note of how much vodka to use. Resist the urge to add too much. (Read on for more info on that.)
But first, let’s get into what you’ll need to make this recipe.
- Canned whole plum tomatoes- (or homemade canned garden tomatoes.)
- Olive Oil
- Vodka- It’s important to know how much to add, (and why). See below.
- Heavy Cream- Half and half may also be used
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Parsley- to garnish
PRO TIP: For increased depth of flavor, add 1/3 pound Pancetta or Prosciutto. Cook that in the pan first with just a drop of olive oil. Heat until it is just about crisp, then add the garlic and proceed as outlined from there.
- To serve with chicken, slice the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Season with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning.
- Add olive oil and sear the meat in the pot first, then remove and set aside once cooked through.
- Prepare the rest of the recipe in the same pan as outline. The chicken bits in the pan give the sauce more flavor.
- Stir the chicken back into the sauce just before adding the pasta.
Shrimp and/or scallops make excellent additions to penne alla vodka as well.
IMPORTANT: How Much Vodka to Use
When adding vodka to this sauce, less is more.
The role that vodka plays in this recipe is solely to enhance the flavors of the other ingredients. If you add too much, it will create a bitter taste. Just the right amount will bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes and cream, in a very appetizing way.
3-4 tablespoons is all you need.
Harold McGee, an expert on food chemistry explains: “…at very low concentrations, around 1% or less, alcohol actually enhances the release of fruity esters and other aroma molecules into the air.”
It’s also very important to let the vodka fully reduce. Literally, until it’s almost nothing.
Serious Eats explains this concept fully.
Freezing Penne Alla Vodka
- This sauce freezes very well and is best if used within 3 months.
- I recommend that you freeze the sauce only, and boil fresh pasta for serving.
- To freeze, simply place the cooled sauce in an airtight container, label it, and freeze.
Meal Prep Tip: Double this recipe and freeze the sauce for easy weeknight dinners! Note that doing so will require additional cooking time for the sauce to simmer and fully thicken.
-This meal is best if eaten with 3-4 days of refrigeration.
What to Serve with Penne Alla Vodka
- Garlic Bread with Cheese
- Ciabatta Bread
- Copycat Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits
- Salad with homemade Caesar or Olive Garden Salad Dressing.
- Roasted Carrots, Broccoli, or Green Beans.
Other Italian Favorites
- Chicken Parmesan Casserole
- Bobby Flay’s Meatball Recipe
- Buffalo Chicken Pasta – One Pot!
- Chicken Bacon Spinach Pasta
- One Pot Garlic Parmesan Pasta
- Olive Garden’s Alfredo Sauce
- Copycat Longhorn Parmesan Crusted Chicken
- Olive Garden Stuffed Chicken Marsala
Get My Free Meal Plan
Penne Alla Vodka
- 28 oz. whole plum tomatoes, undrained
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 Tablespoon fresh basil, roughly chopped
- 3-4 Tablespoons vodka
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- 2 Tablespoons cold butter
- Salt/Pepper, to taste
- 1 lb. Penne
- Fresh parsley, roughly chopped
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
- Puree the tomatoes in a blender, food mill, or an immersion blender and set aside. You can decide how chunky or uniform you’d like the tomatoes to be.
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the thinly sliced garlic and the basil. Cook for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant and softened.
- Turn off the heat.
- Add the vodka to the pan and let it sizzle. Turn the heat back to medium and reduce the vodka until there is about a Tablespoon left.
- Add the pureed tomatoes and let it simmer for 45 minutes or so, allowing it to reduce and becomes quite thick, not exactly paste-like, but almost. We're going to thin it out with the cream.
- During the last 12 minutes or so, cook the penne according to package instructions. For saucier pasta, use ¾ lb. instead of the full pound. Reserve 1/4 cup pasta water.
- Add the heavy cream and the red pepper flakes to the sauce.
- Add 2 Tablespoons cold butter to the sauce, along with 1/4 cup pasta water. Stir to combine.
- Season with salt/pepper if desired.
- Add in the drained pasta.
- Garnish with roughly chopped parsley and Parmesan cheese and serve!
Meal Prep Tip: Double this recipe and freeze the sauce for easy weeknight dinners!
Note: Don't be tempted to add more vodka than the recipe calls for, doing so will ruin the flavors instead of enhancing them. (Very important.)