The Best Vodka Sauce Recipe

4.8 from 15 votes
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This easy Vodka Sauce recipe makes creamy, luscious pasta sauce that is totally addictive. The recipe came straight from my neighbor’s Italian mother, so you know it has to be the best! Make penne alla vodka with result or gluten free noodles, or try it with spaghetti squash or zoodles for a keto-friendly low carb option.

Looking for more classic Italian recipes? Try my Homemade Lasagna Recipe, or this simple Gluten Free Lasagna!

Authentic Homemade Vodka Sauce

Where I grew up in New Jersey, there was a large Italian-American population. We had local pizza and pasta restaurants (some actually named Pizza & Pasta, coincidentally) on pretty much every corner. The restaurants are run by families who, if they weren’t from Italy themselves, were only a generation or two removed from Italian immigrants. So while Italian-American cuisine does have some differences from authentic Italian dishes, the roots of these recipes are the same.

I was also lucky to have friends from that heritage throughout my life, and this helped drive my passion for this food and making Italian-inspired fare in my own kitchen.

It’s not always completely authentic, like when I have to make lasagna with gluten free noodles (links at the top of this post!) or have to forego baked ziti for a spaghetti squash casserole because of my gluten allergy.

Yet it is still made from the heart. Which, if you’ve ever been to Italy or you know an Italian-American family, is truly what makes their food so special and delicious.

But this, my friends, is as authentically Italian-American as it gets. This incredibly luscious homemade vodka sauce recipe comes directly from my old next-door neighbor’s Italian mother.

A dutch oven with homemade vodka sauce

What is Vodka Sauce?

Classic Vodka Sauce is similar to a pink sauce or tomato cream sauce, but with something a little extra – vodka. It is often served as part of a traditional Penne alla Vodka, which is a staple on the menu of many Italian restaurants.

Vodka sauce starts with a simple tomato sauce, then made extra creamy with butter, heavy cream, parmesan cheese. Lastly, the vodka goes in!

Yes, it is sinfully rich. Personally, I think a little of this sauce on my noodles goes a long way. So the indulgence is totally okay with me every once in a while. You can cut the butter a little, but if you are going to make it, then make it for a special treat and go all out. Trust me. The creamy deliciousness is worth it.

Prefer a lighter option?

Try my Lightened-Up Penne with Tomato Cream Sauce. You still get some of that creaminess and zing because it is made with Greek yogurt, but it definitely cuts a few calories.

Homemade pasta sauce in a pot

Why does vodka sauce have vodka?

The vodka in vodka sauce helps emulsify the water in the tomato sauce with the fat from the cream and butter. Thus making for a smoother sauce, as well as enhancing the flavors. And the tangy zing balances the richness of the dish.

Also, as it cooks, the alcohol evaporates. So while it does not taste like vodka, the evaporation of the alcohol helps carry the aromas into the air. This helps to both intensify and balance the flavors.

Can you get drunk on vodka sauce?

This vodka sauce recipe makes about twelve servings and calls for a total of two-thirds of a cup of vodka (for reference, this is about three and a half shots, or one-third of a shot per serving). Vodka is typically 80 proof, or 40% alcohol by volume. This would mean that prior to cooking, there are about 4 Tablespoons of alcohol in the sauce or about a teaspoon per serving.

For those who are concerned, based on the amount of time this dish simmers, 60% of this would cook off. Thus leaving less than a half a teaspoon of pure alcohol, of the equivalent of less than one-tenth of a shot.

So no, you won’t get drunk from vodka sauce.

A white bowl with penne alla vodka and a fork

What You’ll Need

Now that we have talked about what it is and why it is so delicious, let’s talk about how to make it. First, let’s start with a quick look at what goes into vodka sauce:

  • Butter – I typically use unsalted butter.
  • Vodka – Any brand will work just fine, but be sure it is not a flavored vodka.
  • Red pepper flakes – You can omit this if you are sensitive to spice, but it isn’t very spicy. It just adds a nice bit of background warmth to the dish.
  • Canned crushed tomatoes – I recommend Tuttorosso Canned Crushed Tomatoes. It has been my favorite for years and is the only one I use in this recipe.
  • Heavy cream – For the best flavor and creaminess I do not recommend substituting this with anything else like milk or half and half.
  • Grated parmesan cheese – I prefer to freshly grate it or buy a store-grated parmesan cheese that does not have added fillers.
Small bowls with ingredients for vodka sauce

How to Make Vodka Sauce

Here is a brief overview so you can see just how easy it is to make. Scroll down to the printable recipe card for the full quantities and details.

  • Melt butter in a saucepan.
  • Add the vodka and red pepper flakes.
  • Bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes to cook out the alcohol.
  • Add the crushed tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened.
  • Stir in the cream and cook to heat through.
  • Stir in the cheese.
  • Serve!

How to Serve Vodka Sauce

  • Pasta: Vodka sauce has so much flavor that you can simply serve it as-is over past for a fabulous meatless meal. In fact, the traditional way to enjoy it is penne with vodka sauce, where penne pasta is simply coated with this delicious sauce, and then simply topped with freshly grated parmesan cheese.
  • Spaghetti Squash or Zoodles: It’s a keto friendly meal with these alternative to noodles. Check out the 5 ways to cook spaghetti squash.
  • Add Protein: If you are looking to add more protein, it’s great with bits of crispy prosciutto, sliced sausage, or sliced grilled chicken if you want some meat, or shrimp for a seafood dish.
  • Add Veggies: Peas or broccoli are also a common and tasty addition, especially if you like to add some vegetables and a little pop of color.
  • Use it on Pizza: You can even use it instead of tomato sauce on a Gluten Free Pizza!
A white bowl filled with pasta in vodka sauce

Is Vodka Sauce Gluten Free?

Yes, you can easily make this vodka sauce recipe gluten free to serve over your favorite gluten free pasta or zoodles for a delicious gluten free pasta dinner!

Most of the ingredients are gluten free foods you can eat without concern. In particular, the dairy products – butter, heavy cream, and parmesan cheese – are naturally gluten free. The only real caution is that some brands of pre-grated parmesan cheese could add gluten-containing fillers.

The same is true for the red pepper flakes and canned tomatoes, though most are fine. Just make sure you know what to look for when reading labels for foods that contain gluten.

Vodka is typically distilled from raw foods like potatoes and corn, meaning it is gluten free. However, some brands are distilled from the gluten grains of wheat, barley, and rye. While the distillation process removes the alcohol from the gluten, some Celiacs may have an adverse reaction to it. However, there are many brands of gluten-free vodka available, such as Tito’s, Smirnoff, Ciroc, Dixie, Deep Eddy, and Crystal Head, to name a few.

A white bowl filled with pasta covered in vodka sauce

Make it a Meal

Wondering what goes with pasta alla vodka? Here are some ideas for what to serve with it:

A white bowl filled with pasta covered in vodka sauce
4.8 from 15 votes

Best Homemade Vodka Sauce

A rich and creamy vodka sauce recipe that takes only minutes to make, but tastes amazing. Serve it over noodles or zoodles as-is, or add chicken, shrimp, prosciutto, peas, or broccoli.
Prep: 5 mins
Cook: 15 mins
Total: 20 mins
Servings: 12 servings (about 1/2 cup each)

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter (2 ounces or 1/2 stick)
  • 2/3 cup vodka
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
  • 28 oz. canned crushed tomatoes (I use the Tuttorosso brand which has basil in it. If you use another brand without basil, you may want to add a pinch)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • Pasta or zucchini noodles for serving

Instructions

  • In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.
  • Add the vodka and red pepper flakes (if using), bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes to cook out the alcohol.
  • Add the crushed tomatoes, bring to a simmer and cook for about five minutes, or until slightly thickened.
  • Stir in the cream and cook for another five minutes, then stir in the cheese.
  • Serve over pasta or zucchini noodles.

Notes

Nutrition values are only for sauce. Does not include pasta.
Nutrition Facts
Best Homemade Vodka Sauce
Amount Per Serving (0.5 cup)
Calories 172 Calories from Fat 117
% Daily Value*
Fat 13g20%
Saturated Fat 8g40%
Cholesterol 41mg14%
Sodium 161mg7%
Potassium 214mg6%
Carbohydrates 6g2%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 3g3%
Protein 3g6%
Vitamin A 613IU12%
Vitamin C 6mg7%
Calcium 83mg8%
Iron 1mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

More pasta and sauce recipes

Enjoy!

41 Comments
  1. Emmi

    4 stars
    I Adore a vodka Rosa sauce! Looking forward to trying this recipe out. I would like to submit some alternatives.
    Lactose Free Half/Half by LandOLakes brand will work beautifully in this recipe for those Who want to use this recipe But are lactose intolerant.

    For a thicker sauce at the end of completing the recipe:
    Use a small cornstarch slurry, equal parts corn starch and water.

    So excited to test out this recipe!!!!

          1. kazy

            Thanks. I appreciate the information. The recipe looks so good, but I do have a family member who can’t drink alcohol. I have cooked with small portions of alcohol, with no problem, but your recipe has a large portion so I’m concerned. Thanks again.

  2. Debra Baker

    5 stars
    It was SO delicious! I made it this evening with lobster ravioli for my Mom and sisters. They absolutely loved it. It was so easy too, and extra sauce to use again! Loved it!

  3. Katie

    5 stars
    Amazing!! I added in some diced tomatoes for some texture at the end & it was great! By far the BEST vodka sauce recipe, thank you for sharing! I never leave reviews but this was so good I had to!

  4. Diane Farinacci

    I am going to make this recipe today. If I add the prosciutto should I use olive oil instead of the butter to saute?

  5. Susan

    Very nice recipe – easy. I’ve made many vodka sauce recipes but this is a good one. I can’t see how you get your sauce so light in color with only one cup of heavy cream though. Mine is more orange unless I use a lot more heavy cream.

  6. Simple and delicious like all good Italian food 🙂 Would definitely love to have a jar in my fridge!! This is my first time participating in Sunday Supper and I’m loving all the fantastic recipes!!

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