The Cozy Cook

Penne Alla Vodka

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!

Close up view of penne alla vodka in a white bowl topped with parsley and Parmesan cheese.

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.

Ingredients

  • Canned whole plum tomatoes- (or homemade canned garden tomatoes.)
  • Olive Oil
  • Garlic
  • 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
  • Basil
  • Butter
  • Salt/Pepper
  • Parsley- to garnish
  • Penne

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.

Adding Chicken

  • 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.

A white bowl with a spoon full of penne alla vodka.

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.


Refrigerator Storage

-This meal is best if eaten with 3-4 days of refrigeration.


What to Serve with Penne Alla Vodka

Other Italian Favorites

Overhead view of a white bowl full of penne alla vodka with dinner rolls in the background.

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Penne Alla Vodka

5 from 6 votes
This classic 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!

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  • 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!

Notes

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.

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.)

Nutrition

Calories: 711kcal, Carbohydrates: 87g, Protein: 18g, Fat: 29g, Saturated Fat: 16g, Cholesterol: 80mg, Sodium: 183mg, Potassium: 305mg, Fiber: 4g, Sugar: 3g, Vitamin A: 1054IU, Vitamin C: 1mg, Calcium: 131mg, Iron: 2mg
This Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken is loaded with perfectly seared chicken, chunky tomatoes, and a creamy marinara vodka sauce. It's topped with Parmesan Shavings and fresh parsley and is a classic family favorite! | The Cozy Cook | #penne #vodkasauce #pasta #comfortfood #dinner

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27 comments on “Penne Alla Vodka”

  1. how much chicken would you recommend getting for a 4 serving recipe?

  2. Which vodka would you recommend for this recipe? It’s my first time making a sauce like this. Thank you in advance!

  3. Hi! I was wonder if this is 711 kcals per serving or in total! Please let me know

  4. Wanted to make this today but have a couple questions; during the last 12 min while pasta is cooking is that when you add the cream and red pepper flakes? Then after pasta is drained add the water and butter? Thanks so much. 

    • Hi Tammy! Step 10 is where you’ll add in the pasta, after you’ve added all ingredients to the sauce first. I can see how it’s confusing. I’ll try to make it clearer! 🙌🏻

  5. How many people does this feed?

  6. How long does it need to cook if I double the recipe 

  7. This is the best penne alla vodka recipe I’ve ever made! It’s my husband’s favorite recipe to order at Italian restaurants and he said he likes THIS recipe better than a restaurant! Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Hey Francesca! That is such a great news! This is also my husband’s favorite meal to order out so I’m SO happy to have nailed down a great recipe to make at home, I might even whip some up tonight! 🙂 Thank you!! -Stephanie

  8. I made this – and my son loved it! Thanks for providing a recipe that was so easy to follow! YUM says it all!

    • Angela!! That’s amazing and you made my day! Im so happy that your son loved it and truly appreciate that you found the instructions easy to follow! Thank you so much for taking the time to leave this comment!

  9. Sauce turned out AMAZING!!

    • Hey Rosanna! WONDERFUL! I’m so happy that you enjoyed this, my husband can’t get enough of it, this is definitely one of his all-time favorite meals. Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment and a rating, I really appreciate it! Take care! -Stephanie

  10. Je viens de terminer mon assiette et je suis aux anges. Cette recette est tout simplement extraordinaire. Les saveurs qui s’en dégagent et les arômes sont sublimes. Si je ne mettais pas servi une pleine assiette je m’en serai servi une deuxième fois. Je vais vous suivre et me gâter à faire vos recettes !! Merci

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