Pasta with Vodka Sauce

5 from 4 votes

This vodka sauce recipe takes everything you love about creamy tomato sauce and sends it into overdrive: fresh basil, juicy tomatoes, spicy red pepper flakes, and even the salt taste almost brand new in this surprisingly simple recipe! Serve with any of your favorite Italian bakes and pasta dishes.

extreme closeup: pasta with creamy vodka sauce

Some approach the name “vodka sauce” with a little trepidation. But this “flavorless” liquor has some unexpected value in the kitchen — it can even make your pie dough extra flaky!  And when used to make something as simple as pasta sauce, it makes some real magic happen.

The alcohol adds a bit of heat – not necessarily spice, but a tastebud-tingling sensation that’s truly spectacular. Actually, vodka activates flavors in the tomatoes and herbs that usually lie dormant and heightens the aromatics to a new degree. Simply put, it takes simple sauces to a whole new level! Check out the video below in the recipe card to see how it’s made.

extreme closeup: pasta with vodka sauce recipe

It’s a versatile topping along the lines of ragu and marinara! In fact, this easy vodka sauce recipe can take the place of any marinara in your favorite Italian meals like baked ziti with savory Italian sausage or chicken parmesan.

overhead: ingredients needed for vodka sauce and pasta

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions

  • Pasta – Any pasta is fine, but I usually go with rigatoni or penne. Preparing the pasta is the first step in this vodka sauce recipe. You could even prepare it ahead of time, but be sure to retain a cup of the pasta water for later on. 
  • Vodka – There’s no need to splurge on high-quality liquor, but you do want to avoid the bitterness of bottom-shelf vodka. I personally like to use Grey Goose.
  • Tomato Paste I prefer to use the tubed, double-concentrated tomato paste rather than the small canned paste. The tubed paste is preserved with salt, keeping the flavor vibrant and robust. Plus, it’s more bang for your buck!
  • Heavy Cream – It is possible to make vodka sauce without heavy cream – it simply won’t be as thick or creamy. Try unsweetened coconut milk to get close to the original flavor and texture without dairy! 
  • Red Pepper Flakes – Add more or less per your own heat preference. 
  • Basil – Fresh herbs are heightened and invigorated with the addition of vodka! Thyme, parsley, and oregano are other options, and you could use any combination of them.
overhead: wooden spoon sitrring a big pot of vodka sauce recipe

Tip From Kevin

What does vodka do to pasta sauce?

Vodka in pasta sauce works magic—it’s not just a splash for flair! It actually bonds with tomato flavors, taming acidity and unlocking a depth you won’t believe. It’s like a flavor conductor, melding ingredients for a smoother, more complex sauce.

Vodka sauce for pasta originated in Italy, particularly in the region of central Italy, around Rome. Its exact origins are debated, but it gained popularity in the mid-20th century. The sauce traditionally combines tomatoes, cream, vodka, and various herbs to create its distinctive creamy and flavorful profile.

overhead: rigatoni with vodka sauce and fresh basil on top in a large pot

How to Make Vodka Sauce

  1. Prepare the Pasta. Boil the pasta in heavily salted water for 11 minutes. Strain the pasta (but don’t rinse it), reserve 1 cup of water, and set aside.
  2. Saute the Aromatics. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and stir for 5 minutes. Then, add the garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes and cook for another 2 minutes.
  3. Build the Sauce. Stir in the tomato paste, scraping the browned onion and garlic from the pan. Simmer for 5 minutes. Pour in the alcohol while continuously stirring. Then, add the heavy cream, stirring still until everything is well combined and bright orange in color.
  4. Add the Pasta & Simmer. Now, return the strained pasta to the pot along with the retained pasta water. Pour the sauce into the pot and stir to coat. Simmer for a few minutes while the sauce thickens and emulsifies. 
  5. Garnish & Serve. Plate the pasta and garnish with the basil leaves. Grate fresh parmesan onto each serving, if desired, and enjoy right away.
  • Large Pot – An 8-quart or 12-quart stainless steel pot is a must for those who enjoy homemade pasta on a regular basis! 
  • Cheese Grater If you’re topping with parmesan, you’ll want to grate it fresh off the block. Same goes with any hard cheese – the shredded bags are coated with preservatives to prevent smooth melting, so fresh is always best. 

Storing and Reheating

Refrigerate leftover sauce for up to 5 days. This is one of those dishes that tastes even better as the days go on and the seasonings seep and meld more and more. That makes this a great make-ahead vodka sauce recipe! 

To reheat, return to the stovetop and simmer until warmed through. You could also microwave it, but I find the pasta still tastes a bit dry in comparison to the stovetop method.

extreme closeup: rigatoni with vodka sauce

Frequently Asked Questions

What meat goes best with vodka sauce?


A better question might be: “What meat doesn’t go well with vodka sauce?” Pork, lamb, seafood, beef, and everything in between is made better with a bit of this creamy, zesty recipe.

Beef is probably my favorite choice! For example, sometimes I serve it with classic beef meatballs with spaghetti or with pasta alongside my melt-in-your-mouth Italian prime rib roast.

Can you freeze vodka sauce?


You can! Pour the cooled sauce into a freezer bag, then squeeze out as much air as you can and seal. Date the bag and freeze for up to 3 months. 

Move to the refrigerator the day before you plan to use it, and don’t freeze again after thawing.

What pasta shape is best for vodka pasta?


Tubed pastas are excellent because they hold all of the sauce inside for a delicious burst of flavor with each bite. Penne or rigatoni are my top choices – they’re rigate, or ridged, so there are even more spaces for the liquid to pool into.

But you truly can’t go wrong with any noodle. Farfalle, ziti, shells, or linguine, any one will do the job!

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Pasta with Vodka Sauce

5 from 4 votes
Creamy vodka sauce builds flavor on flavor with tomatoes, garlic, herbs, and pepper. Use it to level up any of your go-to Italian recipes!
Servings: 4
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Total: 20 minutes

Ingredients 

Instructions 

  • Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Cook pasta for 11 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water, set aside and start the sauce.
  • Heat the oil over medium high heat in a skillet and sauté the onion for for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, kosher salt and red pepper flakes. Stir and cook another 2 minutes.
  • Add tomato paste and stir, scraping up browned bits. Cook this for 5 more minutes. Deglaze the pan with the vodka, stirring constantly and then add the heavy cream. Stir until smooth and creamy. The sauce with be a bright orange. Season to taste.
  • Drain pasta, but do not rinse it. Put it back into the large pot with the reserved cup of pasta water and pour vodka sauce on top. Stir to coat and simmer for a few minutes, or until sauce thickens and is shiny and emulsified.
  • Serve immediately with basil leaves to garnish and top with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Video

Notes

  1. Look for the double concentrated tomato paste in a tube as opposed to the single version in the small cans.

Nutrition

Calories: 760kcal | Carbohydrates: 96g | Protein: 18g | Fat: 30g | Saturated Fat: 15g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 11g | Cholesterol: 67mg | Sodium: 281mg | Potassium: 690mg | Fiber: 6g | Sugar: 10g | Vitamin A: 1436IU | Vitamin C: 10mg | Calcium: 87mg | Iron: 3mg

The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

Course: main dishes
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Kevin
Have You Made This Recipe? Let Me Know on InstagramTag @keviniscooking or tag me #keviniscooking!
titled image (and shown): vodka sauce rigatoni

Kevin

I was bitten by the cooking bug as a kid cooking and baking along side my mom. After an ROP restaurant course in high school, I went to work in restaurants and catering. My love of travel and food has led me across the world and I love to share those foods with family and friends.

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8 Comments

    1. Yahoo! So glad you enjoyed this one. Appreciate you taking the time to come back and let me know, too Kellie! 🙂