Vodka sauce is a restaurant favorite that is so, so easy to make at home. You just need a handful of ingredients and 15 minutes to make this ultra rich and creamy pasta sauce.
Have you ever made vodka sauce at home? If not, friend, say hello to your new favorite quick and easy pasta sauce.
Pasta tossed with a quick vodka sauce is perfect for busy weeknights when you need something that feels a little (a lot) indulgent but don’t want to spend a ton of time in the kitchen.
15-minute Pasta Sauce With a Special Ingredient
From start to finish, this sauce takes about 15 minutes. When you factor in boiling time for water and cooking the pasta, you can have a big bowl of pasta drenched in vodka sauce on the table in around 20 minutes.
Many vodka sauces use canned tomatoes, but this recipe uses tomato paste, so you get an ultra-concentrated tomato flavor and a luxuriously rich and creamy texture without having to blend the sauce in a food processor or blender.
Ingredient & Equipment Notes
- Pasta: You can serve vodka sauce over whatever pasta you’d like. Penne alla vodka is the classic, but rigatoni (which I used in these photos) is fast becoming the go-to pasta for vodka sauce.
- Tomato paste: This recipe won’t use an entire can of tomato paste. Check out my post What to Do With Leftover Tomato Paste for storage tips and recipe ideas for the rest of the can. P.S. Measure your tomato paste by weight if you have a kitchen scale! It’s way faster and easier than scooping sticky paste in out out of a measuring cup.
- Heavy cream: And if you have leftover heavy cream, go check out What to Do With Leftover Whipping Cream.
- A large pot: While you can technically make vodka sauce in a skillet, use a large pot because it will help contain splatters while making the sauce.
- A spider skimmer: If you have one, a spider skimmer/strainer is really helpful for scooping up the pasta out of the pasta water.
How to Make Vodka Sauce
1. Boil water and assemble ingredients: Bring a medium pot of water to boil and salt generously. While your water comes to a boil, assemble your ingredients. Parts of this sauce come together pretty quickly, and assembly will go more smoothly if your ingredients are ready to go.
2. Start pasta: Once the water is boiling, add pasta and cook until al dente.
3. Brown garlic: For optimal timing, immediately begin cooking your sauce when you start your pasta. Cook garlic and red pepper flakes in a mixture of butter and oil until the garlic begins to turn lightly golden.
4. Add tomato paste: Stir in the tomato paste and whisk until paste darkens in color and begins to caramelize on the bottom of the pan, 3 to 5 minutes.
This cooks the raw taste out of the tomato paste and really deepens its flavor. Once the sauce reaches this point, you’ll actually be able to smell the difference.
5. Add vodka: Turn the heat down and carefully add the vodka. When the vodka hits the pan, the sauce will begin to simmer and pop quite aggressively. It will settle down within a few seconds. Just whisk the mixture, scraping any cooked-on bits from the bottom of the pan until the vodka is incorporated into the sauce.
6. Add heavy Cream: Keep the sauce over low heat and whisk in heavy cream. Bring the sauce up to just barely a simmer, and let it cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Keep a close eye on the sauce and do not allow it to come to a full boil.
7. Add pasta water: When the pasta is a minute or two from being done, use a heat-proof measuring cup and scoop out ¼ cup of the cooking water and whisk it into your sauce. At this point, your sauce is definitely going to need some salt. Taste, and add salt as needed. Don’t skip this step!
8. Add pasta: Use a slotted spoon or spider skimmer to scoop cooked pasta out of the pasta water and add it your sauce. Stir to combine. The sauce is going to seem a little thin at first, but it will thicken as it sits. Serve up the pasta topped with parmesan and fresh basil if desired, and enjoy!
Many vodka sauce recipe contain onions and/or cheese. While developing this recipe, I tested variations containing both and preferred the ease, texture, and flavor of the vodka sauce without them. But you might differ from me! If you’d like to include them, here’s how to do it:
- Onions: Finely dice ½ small onion and cook over medium heat in 1 tablespoon of the oil (use 1 tablespoon less oil later in the recipe so you still use 3 tablespoons total). Cook for 5 minutes or until the onions soften and begin to turn translucent. If at any time the onions begin to brown, turn down the heat. Once onions are softened, follow the rest of the recipe as written.
- Parmesan: After you stir in the pasta, add cheese and an additional 2 tablespoons of pasta water and stir until the cheese melts into the sauce and becomes smooth, adding more pasta water as needed.
- Chicken: If you’d like to make Penne alla Vodka with chicken, cut 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts into 1-inch pieces and season with salt and pepper. Cook in 1 tablespoon olive oil until cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a plate and deglaze and wipe out your pan before starting the sauce. Once the sauce is finished and pasta added, add the chicken back to the pot and let it sit with the rest of the hot ingredients for a couple of minutes to reheat.
What does the vodka do in vodka sauce?
While vodka is technically flavorless, alcohol helps bring out the flavors or the other ingredients in the sauce. If you compare this sauce made with and without vodka, the sauce with vodka is a little brighter, a little sweeter and more aromatic.
What can I use instead of vodka in vodka sauce?
If you don’t have vodka on hand, you can omit the vodka in vodka sauce. Use a bit of pasta water instead of the vodka to deglaze the pan before adding the cream, but otherwise, make the sauce as written. The flavor of the sauce will be a little muted, with less depth of flavor, but it will still be a good time.
Can I double this recipe?
Yes. This recipe is written to make 2-ounce servings of pasta. If you want to make big restaurant-sized portions, you’ll want to double the recipe. To change the recipe yield, in the recipe card, hover over the servings or click if you’re on mobile and slide the slider.
More Easy Pasta Dishes
- Recommended sides: With a sauce this rich, serve it with something simple like a green salad, roasted zucchini, butter and garlic green beans, or roasted broccoli. And don’t forget a slice of garlic bread!
- Reheating: Vodka sauce does not reheat particularly well once it’s been mixed with pasta. It tends to separate and become oily when reheated. If you know you’re not going to eat a full pot of pasta, make only half of the pasta and mix it with half of the sauce. Store the remaining sauce in the refrigerator and reheat and toss with freshly made pasta when you’re ready for leftovers.
- Reheating II: If you do happen to end up with leftover pasta that’s been tossed with sauce, you can improve the texture of the reheated sauce by adding a generous splash of heavy cream while reheating.
- Freezing: I do not recommend freezing this sauce with or without pasta.
15-minute Vodka Sauce
- 8 ounces penne or rigatoni pasta
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon (14g) butter
- 4 cloves garlic pressed or minced
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes optional
- ¼ cup (66g) tomato paste
- ¼ cup vodka
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Grated parmesan optional for topping
- Fresh basil optional for topping
- Bring a medium pot of generously salted water to boil for the pasta. Once boiling, add pasta and cook until al dente.
- While your pasta is boiling, in a large pot, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook until the garlic begins to turn golden and aromatic, about 1 minutes.
- Add tomato paste and cook, stirring often, until paste darkens in color and begins to caramelize on the bottom of the pan, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Turn heat to low and switch to a heat resistant whisk. Carefully add the vodka (the sauce will sizzle and pop aggressively for a few seconds). Whisk, scraping any cooked-on bits from the bottom of the pan, until the vodka is incorporated into the sauce.
- Whisk in heavy cream. Bring the sauce up to just barely a simmer, and let it cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Do not allow it to come to a full boil.
- When the pasta is nearly done, use a heat-proof measuring cup to scoop out ¼ cup of the cooking water and whisk it into your sauce. Taste the sauce and add salt as needed.
- Once the pasta is al dente, scoop out and reserve another ¼ cup of the cooking water. Drain pasta or use a spider skimmer to scoop pasta out of the water and add pasta to the sauce. Stir to combine.
- The sauce will seem a little thin at first. Allow it to sit for about 5 minutes to thicken. If the sauce gets too thick, stir a bit more of the reserved pasta water into the sauce.
- Serve topped with grated Parmesan and basil if desired and enjoy!
This post may contain affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase using them. There is absolutely no additional cost to you.