Penne Vodka Recipe

Our Penne Vodka Recipe is made with a homemade, super creamy and slightly spicy vodka sauce. A simple pasta dish that everyone loves. A few added touches to this recipe makes it stand out from the rest. A restaurant quality pasta dish that you can make in the comfort of your own kitchen

penne vodka in a black bowl from the top

Why You’ll Love Our Penne Vodka Recipe

Penne Vodka is one of those recipes that everyone loves. It’s a go-to order at restaurants or when we order catering but most of all, we love making this version for family dinners at home.

  • Restaurant Quality: This recipe is so good, it rivals any restaurant and we’re penne vodka experts. A few added steps to the recipe makes the flavor stand out.
  • Classic Recipe: Everyone we know loves a classic pasta dish like this one, so it’s a no brainer for serving at parties and holidays.
  • Make Ahead: This recipe makes ample sauce, so you can go ahead and toss it with the pasta ahead of time with out any worries.
penne vodka in a black bowl with shredded parmesan cheese

Ingredients You’ll Need

  • Penne: Penne is the traditional pasta that’s used in this recipe but of course you can swap out rigatoni or other tube shaped pasta.
  • Yellow Onion: Sweet yellow onion to add flavor to the sauce.
  • Olive oil: Good quality olive oil, extra virgin is preferred.
  • Crushed Red Pepper Flakes: Adds a slight background heat, use just a touch or add more if you like your sauce spicier.
  • Fresh Garlic: Fresh garlic is recommended for the best flavor.
  • Tomato Paste: Tomato paste adds a depth of tomato flavor and also helps thicken the sauce.
  • Vodka: You don’t have to grab your top shelf vodka here, but don’t grab the worst vodka, either. A decent, mid-level vodka that you enjoy the taste of.
  • Crushed Tomatoes: For the base of the vodka sauce.
  • Dried Oregano
  • Dried Basil
  • Heavy Cream: Adds a rich, creamy flavor and texture to the sauce.
  • Parmesan Cheese: You can use shredded or grated parmesan cheese.

How To Make Penne with Vodka Sauce

This is an overview with step by step photos. Full instructions and ingredients can be found in the recipe card below.

Boil the penne, drain and set aside. Do not rinse. Add olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Cook diced onions until soft and lightly caramelized. Add garlic and crushed red pepper flakes and cook a minute longer. Stir in tomato paste until well combined with the onions. Carefully pour in vodka and let reduce for 2 minutes.

Pour in crushed tomatoes and season with oregano, basil, salt and black pepper. Stir and simmer for 20 minutes.

After simmering, pour in heavy cream and stir to combine. Toss with the cooked penne and parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Tips For Success

  • Caramelize the onions – Do take the time to cook the onions until they are very soft and lightly caramelized. This adds a wonderful depth of flavor to the sauce.
  • Use Quality Ingredients – Use a decent quality vodka, we like Absolute or Tito’s. Don’t buy grated parmesan cheese in a can, buy fresh grated or grate it yourself for the best flavor.
  • Cook The Pasta al Dente – The pasta will continue to cook when it’s added to the hot vodka sauce so make sure to cook it al dente (just a minute or two shy of the suggested cooking time). Doing this will prevent the pasta from becoming overcooked and mushy.

What To Serve Alongside

This pasta dinner goes perfectly with our homemade Creamy Caesar Salad. It’s what we serve most often with pasta dishes. Of course you can never go wrong with some buttery Homemade Garlic Bread, too.

Other options can include this easy Air Fryer Asparagus or one of our family favorites, cheesy Stuffed Artichokes.

How To Store and Reheat

  • This pasta will keep in an air tight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  • Reheat the pasta in the microwave until just heated through or in a pot on the stove over low heat. You can add a splash or cream if you need to loosen the sauce.
  • We don’t recommend freezing pasta, it can become mushy upon defrosting. But you certainly can freeze it as opposed to throwing it away, just keep in mind the texture might be softer after defrosting and reheating.

But Can I Freeze The Sauce?

Yes! This vodka sauce is so good I often make a double batch and then freeze it. To freeze the sauce, prepare as directed above and then let it cool to room temperature. Transfer to an airtight, freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 6 months.

When you’re ready to use your sauce, thaw it in the refrigerator overnight until defrosted. Once defrosted, pour into a pot and heat over low heat until warmed through. Whisk the sauce if any separation occurs from the cream.

penne alla vodka in a bowl with a fork full of pasta

Can Kids Eat Vodka Sauce?

Most of the alcohol cooks away when you make this sauce properly, so don’t worry about giving it to the kids. In fact, so many kids enjoy penne vodka that sometimes people forget there’s actually vodka in it until they make it from scratch at home.

More Pasta Recipes To try

penne vodka in a black bowl from the top

Creamy Penne Vodka Recipe

  • Author: Dan
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 35 minutes
  • Total Time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: 6 servings 1x

Our Penne Vodka Recipe is made with the most amazing, homemade vodka sauce! So good it tastes just like you ordered it at a restaurant, or maybe even better.



  • 1 pound penne pasta (16 ounce box)
  • 3/4 cup onion, diced small
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (depending on the level of spiciness you want)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup vodka
  • 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh black pepper
  • 3/41 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup shredded or grated parmesan cheese
  • Fresh basil (for garnish)


  1. Start a large pot of water over high heat to boil the pasta. Cook the penne 1-2 minutes shy of the package directions and drain. Do not rinse.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, make the vodka sauce by heating a large skillet with olive oil over low heat. Add the onions and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often so the onions don’t burn.
  3. Once the onions have softened and browned slightly add the crushed red pepper flakes and the garlic. Stir and cook for a minute longer and then stir in the tomato paste.
  4. Carefully pour in the vodka, whisk and let it reduce for 2 minutes.
  5. Pour the crushed tomatoes in the skillet and whisk until smooth. Add the oregano, basil, salt and pepper, stir and then simmer partially covered with a lid for 20 minutes. Stir the sauce occasionally.
  6. Whisk in the cream to finish the sauce, taste for seasonings and then remove from the heat.
  7. Add the drained pasta back to the pot that it was cooked in. Pour in the vodka sauce and the parmesan cheese and stir to combine with the penne.
  8. Serve with extra parmesan cheese on the side and fresh basil if desired.

Recipe Notes

If you are cooking on a gas stove, turn off the flame before you pour in the vodka.

Store: Store leftovers in an air tight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Reheat: Reheat leftovers in the microwave or in a pot on the stove until just warmed through. Add a splash of cream if you need to loosen the sauce.

  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Stove Top
  • Cuisine: Italian / American

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10 Responses
  1. Michael Quinn

    FYI: The dish was created in Florence, at a fantastic osteria called La Vecchia Bettola.
    The most common name for this dish here in Italy is “Penne alla Vecchia Bettola”. Food historian Giuliano Bugialli (RIP) attributes the origin to this very traditional restaurant…I have eaten it there many times.

  2. John Del

    I tend to scour internet recipes for dishes I’ve never made, and this dish is no exception. After reading a dozen or so, I liked the way it looked and settled on this one – so I thought I would try it last Memorial Day (picnic, remember those?). Well, it turned out fabulous. One of our guests sought me out to tell me this is one of her favorite dishes and she never had one this good in any restaurant. Thanks.

    1. Dan

      Thank you so much John! Such a thoughtful comment, we really appreciate it! And no, I can hardly remember days of having picnics with family and friends…I can’t wait to go back to those days! Be well:)

  3. Tricia Clark

    I made this tonight and it was great! I used a whole, medium-sized sweet Vidalia onion (which was probably about 3/4 cup anyway once I peeled and chopped it) and two large garlic cloves instead of measuring precisely. I also added 3/4 lb. hot Italian sausage to the sauce before simmering and a teaspoon of sugar after simmering, then adorned my serving with a little Datil pepper sauce for a little more heat and sweetness. Absolutely lovely, A+ recipe!

  4. Jaime

    I’ve tried many recipes for vodka sauce but this, this right here, is the best! I’d give it 10 stars if I could. So easy and so good. I have made this a few times (and again for tonight’s dinner lol) and it’s always amazing. Thanks for such a great recipe!

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