This pasta with vodka sauce is really easy to make, and it’s a step up from regular jarred sauce. This recipe uses simple pantry ingredients that you probably have on hand already. Plus, you can use some of that vodka you’ve had sitting on your bar for a couple of years.
The vodka sauce comes together quickly and the rest is just boiling some pasta. Serve it with homemade garlic bread and a side salad and you’ll have a wonderful weekend meal.
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- Olive Oil – we used extra virgin because it’s what we had on hand but regular and extra light will work too.
- Butter – regular salted butter
- Aromatics – onions and garlic add extra flavor and give the sauce that homemade taste.
- Tomatoes – regular tomato sauce and canned diced tomatoes, use regular or fire roasted. You can also use canned whole tomatoes and chop them up with kitchen shears (we used fire roasted diced tomatoes)
- Pasta – penne is the go-to for this popular dish. The sauce sticks to the ridges and gets in the tube shaped noodle. But really, any moderate-size tube shaped pasta will do, like rigatoni or ziti (we used penne mezze, which is a shorter version of penne)
- Vodka – use whatever you have on hand
- Cream – half and half or heavy cream if it’s what you have on hand
- Salt – for the pasta water, we use kosher salt
- Cheese – parmesan cheese, fresh grated is best
- Garnish – chopped parsley or basil, parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper for a little extra zing, if desired.
The prep work for the meal is very easy. Dice the onions, mince the garlic, grate the parmesan cheese and gather and measure out the remaining ingredients. Organize the prepped ingredients in glass nesting bowls for simple, stress-free cooking!
Tips and suggestions
- Don’t overcook the pasta; cook it only to al dente. It will continue cooking once it’s drained plus it’s going into the hot sauce. If the pasta is overcooked it will get mushy.
- When making pasta and sauces always reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water before draining it. You can use the pasta water to loosen the sauce a little bit if it’s too thick, or to make the pasta slippery again if it dries out while you finish things up.
- Don’t let the sauce come to a simmer or boil once the half and half/cream has been added. Heat it gently and enough to warm through.
- Hold off until the end before adding salt to the vodka sauce. Canned tomato products and parmesan cheese contain salt already. Taste at the end and decide if it needs more. If you’re sensitive to salt, use low sodium products and adjust at the end.
- Heat the olive oil and butter in a large, heavy pot over medium heat.
- Add the onions and cook until they start to soften.
- Next, add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
- Carefully add the vodka and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated.
- Add the diced tomatoes and the tomato sauce.
- Simmer the sauce to let the flavors develop and come together.
- Process the vodka sauce in the pot with an immersion blender or use a blender. An immersion blender, also called a stick blender, is a fantastic tool for blending soups and sauces right in the pot they were cooked in.
- Return the pot to low heat, stir in the half and half, parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper (if using). Cook gently to warm through – do not let the sauce come to a boil.
If you’re using a blender to process the vodka sauce, do not fill it to the top with hot liquid, process in small batches. Remove the center piece (feeder cap) of the lid. Replace the lid (without the feeder cap) and cover with a clean, folded kitchen towel. Hold the towel down while blending. Start at a very low speed and increase gradually if necessary.
Finish the dish
While the sauce cooks make the pasta; cook to package directions for al dente. Remember to salt the pasta water (1 or 2 tablespoons should do it). Reserve about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water before draining.
Taste the sauce and add salt if needed. As a reference we did not add any extra salt to ours.
Add the pasta to the vodka sauce and stir to combine, or serve the pasta and top with the sauce, either way it’s delicious! Garnish with fresh chopped parsley or basil, extra parmesan cheese and a little crushed red pepper, if desired.
Store the leftover pasta with vodka sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. If freezing, it is best not combine the pasta with the vodka sauce. Let the sauce cool a bit and store in airtight containers. Leave space in the container to allow for expansion when it freezes. Place the container in the refrigerator to let it cool further. Then freeze the sauce for 3-4 months.
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Pasta with Vodka Sauce
- 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
- 1 tablespoon Butter
- 1 small Onion diced
- 3-4 Garlic Cloves minced
- ½ cup Vodka
- 1 (28 ounce) Can Diced Fire Roasted Tomatoes (use regular canned diced tomatoes if you don’t have fire roasted)
- 1 (15 ounce) Can Tomato Sauce
- ½ cup Half and Half
- ¼ cup Parmesan Cheese grated, plus some for serving (fresh grated is best)
- Pinch of Crushed Red Pepper plus extra for serving, if desired – leave it out if you don’t like spicy
- 1-2 tablespoons Salt for the pasta water, plus extra if needed for the finished dish (we use kosher salt)
- 16 ounce Tube Shaped Pasta (penne, rigatoni, ziti, etc.) cooked to package directions for al-dente
- Fresh Parsley or Basil for garnish optional
- Heat the olive oil and butter in a large pot over medium heat.
- When the butter is melted and foamy add the onions. Cook the onions gently for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add the garlic, cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently.
- Carefully add the vodka to the pot and cook for 2-3 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated, stirring frequently.
- Add the diced tomatoes and the tomato sauce; stir to combine. Raise the heat to high and bring the sauce to a boil.
- When the sauce starts to boil, lower the heat to medium-low and cover the pot. Keep the sauce at a simmer; if it’s boiling too vigorously lower the heat a bit.
- Cook the vodka sauce for 20-25 minutes to develop the flavors. Stir occasionally.
- While the sauce cooks. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1-2 tablespoons of salt to the pasta water. Cook the pasta to package directions for al dente.
- Before draining the pasta reserve about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water just in case it’s needed to loosen the sauce. Drain the pasta completely and place it back in the pot, keep warm and reserve until the sauce is done.
- Take the sauce off the heat and let it cool for a few minutes. Process the vodka sauce in the pot with an immersion blender. If you don’t have an immersion blender, use a blender (see notes).
- Return the pot to low heat, stir in the half and half, parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper (if using). Stir the vodka sauce to combine the ingredients well and cook gently to warm through – do not let the sauce come to a boil.
- Taste and add salt if needed. As a reference we did not add any extra salt to ours.
- Add the pasta to the vodka sauce and stir to combine, or serve the pasta and top with the sauce, depending on preference.
- Garnish with fresh chopped parsley or basil, extra parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper.