Best Easy Vodka Sauce Recipe
Homemade vodka sauce is creamy and luscious, and way too easy to taste this good. The recipe came straight from my neighbor’s Italian mother, so you know it has to be the best. Only six ingredients and a few minutes to make, this rich pink sauce is traditionally served over penne pasta, hence the name Penne Alla Vodka. But this kicked up tomato cream sauce is delicious over any kind of regular or gluten free noodles, or even zoodles or spaghetti squash.
Originally published Apr 3, 2016
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 Best Lasagna Recipe with Gluten Free Lasagna Noodles 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.
What is Vodka Sauce?
Penne alla Vodka is a staple on the menu of many Italian restaurants where I am from in New Jersey, as well as around the country. The star of this dish is the Classic Vodka Sauce, which is similar to a pink sauce or tomato cream sauce, but with something a little extra – vodka.
You’ll start with a simple tomato sauce and make it extra creamy with butter, heavy cream, parmesan cheese.
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.
If you prefer a lighter option, you can 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.
And yes, it also has vodka. This is what differentiates it from a basic pink sauce or tomato cream sauce.
Why does vodka sauce have vodka? Does it taste like vodka?
The vodka in vodka sauce actually does have a purpose. It actually helps to 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.
How much vodka is in vodka sauce?
This 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, unless you eat the entire pot, you won’t get drunk from vodka sauce.
The Best Vodka Sauce Recipe
Now that we have talked about what it is and why it is so delicious, let’s talk about how to make it. I’m going to give you a brief overview here, but you can get the full amounts and instructions in the printable recipe card at the bottom. But if you want to see the step-by-step photos and get some tips, don’t skip this part!
- 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.
How to Make Vodka Sauce:
- 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.
Gluten Free Vodka Sauce Recipe Tips
Yes, you can easily make this 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.
How do you serve vodka sauce?
Vodka sauce has so much flavor that you can simply serve it as-is over pasta or zoodles 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.
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.
And peas or broccoli are also a common and tasty addition, especially if you like to add some vegetables and a little pop of color.
What can you serve with pasta and vodka sauce?
- Roasted Balsamic Vegetables
- Meatballs with Red Gravy
- Italian Wedge Salad or a simple tossed salad with Creamy Balsamic Dressing
- Spinach Artichoke Cauliflower Breadsticks
- Rosemary Focaccia from Curious Cuisiniere
- Tomato Caprese with Burrata from Casa de Crews
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What are other pasta and sauce recipes?
- Eggplant Parmesan Pasta Casserole
- Italian Noodle Casserole
- Vegan Vegetable Tomato Sauce with Chickpeas
- Cauliflower Pumpkin Alfredo
- Bucatini with Roasted Garlic Tomato Sauce from The TipToe Fairy
Best Vodka Sauce Recipe
A rich pasta sauce recipe that takes only minutes to make, but tastes amazing. A basic tomato sauce becomes even more creamy and delicious with the addition of butter, cream, and parmesan cheese. And, of course, a little vodka to enhance all the flavors. Serve it over noodles or zoodles as-is, or add chicken, shrimp, prosciutto, peas, or broccoli.
I hope you’ll leave a comment and give it a FIVE STAR rating or share a review on Pinterest or photo on Instagram!
Tag me @cupcakekalechip and use #cupcakesandkalechips!
Best Homemade Vodka Sauce
- 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
- 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.