Penne Alla Vodka

True story: This is the best vodka sauce any of us in the test kitchen have ever had. It's creamy but bright. The secret: tomato paste. Yep, the lack of canned (crushed, pureed, or whole) tomatoes is no mistake. Tomato paste has a more concentrated flavor, and texture-wise, it makes for a smoother, almost velvety sauce. To make sure that each piece of pasta is coated, we like to stir the pasta directly into the sauce while it's still in the skillet before adding the last bit of Parmesan. 

A note about pasta:  As you can see from the picture, you don't need to use penne. In fact, we prefer the fatter rigatoni tubes because the middles catch more sauce. Rigatoni alla vodka just doesn't have the same ring to it, ya know? 

While this pasta is certainly delicious on its own, it also lends itself to add-ins to make it extra hearty and boost flavor. 

Pancetta, bacon, or diced prosciutto

Starting with a cold skillet, cook 6 ounces of diced pancetta, bacon, or prosciutto over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the pork is crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Wipe the skillet clean and start the recipe from the top. Toss the pancetta, bacon, or prosciutto into the finished pasta just before the final addition of Parmesan and basil. With the addition of salty pork, you may not need as much salt, so be sure to wait until after adding the pork to do your final seasoning.

Italian sausage

In 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat, cook 6-8 ounces of hot or sweet Italian sausage, casing removed, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Once the sausage is cooked through and beginning to brown, remove from the skillet with a slotted spoon and let drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Wipe the pan clean and start the recipe from the top. Toss the crumbled sausage into the finished pasta, just before adding the final addition of Parmesan and basil. 

Rotisserie chicken  

Separate the breast meat from the chicken, remove the skin, and use your hands or a fork to shred the meat into bite-sized pieces. Toss into the pasta and sauce, just before topping with Parmesan and basil. 

Sauteed veggies

Broccoli, mushrooms, and zucchini are all great options for adding an extra serving of veggies to this dish. Toss 1 cup of sauteed, seasoned vegetables into the finished pasta and season to taste with salt. 

Need more inspo? Check out our 15+ Homemade Pasta Sauces

Made this yet? Let us know how it went in the comments below! 

Editor's note: This recipe was updated on February, 13, 2022, to provide more information.

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Yields: 4 servings
Prep Time: 0 hours 5 mins
Total Time: 0 hours 35 mins
3 tbsp.



shallot, minced


cloves garlic, minced 

1/2 c.

tomato paste

1/2 tsp.

crushed red pepper flakes

2 tbsp.


Kosher salt

1 lb.

tubed pasta, such as penne or rigatoni

1/2 c.

heavy cream

1/2 c.

freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving

Basil, for serving

  1. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Add shallot and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes.
  2. Add tomato paste and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring frequently, until paste has coated shallots and garlic and is beginning to darken, 5 minutes. 
  3. Add vodka to pot and stir to incorporate, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Turn off heat.
  4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta until al dente. Reserve 2 cups of pasta water before draining.
  5. Return sauce to medium heat and add 1/4 cup of pasta water and heavy cream, stirring to combine. Add half the Parmesan and stir until melted. Turn off heat and stir in cooked pasta. Fold in remaining Parmesan, adding more pasta water (about a tablespoon at a time) if the sauce is looking dry. Season with salt if needed. Serve topped with more Parmesan and torn basil leaves.

Parker Feierbach
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