Penne Alla Vodka

I would always get some mighty strange looks whenever I told people, at the age of four, that my favorite food was not the typical pizza or chicken tenders, but penne alla vodka. This recipe has continued to be one of my favorite meals for the past two decades. Somehow, it tastes much different from many vodka sauce recipes that I’ve ordered at restaurants- less tomatoey, perhaps. And definitely made with far more love. This is also the recipe that most reminds me of my dad. As a result, Penne alla Vodka has been lovingly selected as the first recipe to be posted on Three Peas in a Pod. I hope you enjoy!

Penne alla Vodka has also become a standby at family gatherings due to its ease of preparation and its versatility. It can be served chunky with pieces of tomatoes or be blended into a luxuriously smooth and creamy sauce. You can wilt spinach into the sauce prior to adding the pasta, toss it with grilled chicken or shrimp, or serve it alongside a nice juicy steak. I’ve even developed a new version which I have named Penne alla vodka goes to Provence (soon to come) which incorporates the flavors of the Provencal region of France into my favorite pasta dish.

Penne alla Vodka

Serves: 4-6


  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 28 oz. can Italian plum tomatoes, drained, seeded, chopped (San Marzano preferred)
  • ¼ cup vodka (I use Three Olives)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • 1-pound penne or bowtie pasta (only use ¾ lb. if you like an extra saucy pasta)
  • Freshly grated Parmesan Cheese, for serving
  • Minced fresh chives, for serving


  1. In a large saucepan over med-high heat, melt butter with oil, then add onion. Sauté until onion is translucent, about 6-8 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and add the tomatoes. Cook until almost no liquid remains, 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. It’s okay to see some browning on the bottom of the pan.
  2. Meanwhile, boil pasta according to package instructions, until al dente. Reserve ½ cup pasta water. 
  3. To the tomatoes, add vodka and cook 2 minutes. Add heavy cream and red pepper flakes and bring to a boil. Cook until thickened slightly, about 2 minutes. 
  4. Options: some people are opposed to the little pieces of onion and tomato in the sauce, this is easily rectified. Use an immersion blender, or alternatively place the sauce in a food processor and blend until desired consistency is reached. Return to the stock pot. If the sauce is too thick, add some reserved pasta water to thin it out.
  5. Add pasta to sauce and toss to coat. I like to finish cooking the al dente pasta in the sauce to really infuse it with flavor. Serve with parmesan cheese and chives. 

Notes: You may ask why you can’t just use already chopped tomatoes in a can, but it’s because there is way too much added liquid, even if they have been drained. It is really worth the extra step to drain, seed, and chop whole plum tomatoes.

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