This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy.

This easy penne alla vodka recipe is a restaurant-quality dish with a silky tomato cream sauce. It only takes 20 minutes to make, so it’s a perfect way to elevate busy weeknights!

Love these classic flavors? You might want to make my One Pan Gnocchi alla Vodka or Easy Pink Sauce Pasta next.

closeup of penne alla vodka with parmesan and basil

Why you’ll love it

Penne alla vodka is one of those recipes that seems super fancy, but in reality it only takes as long to cook the sauce as it does to boil the water for the pasta! It’s quick and easy, and you’ll appreciate how few ingredients you need for it.

The key to making creamy vodka sauce extra amazing is using tomato paste. It’s a total game changer. I’ve tried everything from fresh tomatoes to canned tomatoes, but nothing comes even close to the luxurious, velvety taste when using tomato paste.

Who invented penne alla vodka?

  • I’ve read that the origin of it actually isn’t clear. Apparently, it was a popular dish in the early ’80s in Italy, and then it became a hit in America shortly thereafter. The dish’s invention has been attributed to multiple people, including a chef who worked for a vodka company!

What you’ll need

  • Penne – this is the classic variety for this dish, but if you can’t find it, another similar sized shape will be fine
  • Olive oil and butter – for sautéing
  • Onion and garlic – our flavorful aromatic base. I like sweet Vidalia onions best, and this garlic press makes mincing the garlic totally effortless.
  • Vodka – the signature flavor in the sauce. You don’t need to buy a premium one by any means, but I’d avoid the very cheapest too. Any clean and neutral brand will be fine. We like SKYY or Absolut.
  • Tomato paste – it gives the best taste and consistency. I like a good-quality tube, not the canned kind. Try Mutti or DeLallo. It’s a vibrant and concentrated tomato flavor.
  • Heavy cream – for that irresistible creaminess
ingredients for penne alla vodka on a counter

Does vodka sauce taste like alcohol?

  • Nope! The alcohol is actually cooked off, leaving behind an indescribably delicious and distinctive taste that plays well with the cream and tomato flavors. You’re definitely not going to get tipsy on this pasta dish.

How to make penne alla vodka

This is an overview with step-by-step photos. Full ingredients & instructions are in the recipe card below.

making vodka sauce in a cast iron skillet for penne alla vodka

Boil the penne. Meanwhile, sauté the onion in butter and olive oil until softened, then add in the garlic, followed by the vodka. Let it bubble for about 30 seconds or so, and then stir in the tomato paste, then add the cream.

adding penne pasta to vodka sauce in a cast iron skillet

Stir until combined, and then let the vodka sauce warm through and thicken. Toss with the drained cooked penne. Before serving, add some fresh basil if desired, and season with salt & pepper as needed.

Pro tip

  • This recipe makes 4 reasonably sized servings. With that said, I know many people like to eat more than the suggested 2 ounces of dry pasta per person, which is the standard recommended portion size, so if you’ve got hungry bellies to feed and you’re not serving this with anything else, you may want to double the recipe.
the best penne alla vodka in a white bowl with parmesan cheese grated on top

Substitutions and variations

  • I don’t recommend subbing the heavy cream out for something like milk or half-and-half. The sauce will not be the same, and the acidity from the tomatoes is likely to separate/curdle it.
  • As mentioned earlier in the blog post, I have experimented using fresh and canned tomatoes in penne vodka, but the best results by far are from tomato paste. If you’re really in a pinch, you could use either fresh or crushed canned tomatoes or tomato purée. You’ll need to cook the sauce down for longer, though, and it won’t have that smooth and creamy texture.
  • I love penne alla vodka as-is, but you can always add some leftover Roast Chicken or rotisserie chicken to the sauce if you wish. I suggest adding it right near the end and letting it warm through.
  • Want to make it spicy? Add in some crushed red pepper flakes.

What to serve with it

Leftovers and storage

  • This pasta will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days no problem.
  • Reheat in a small saucepan over a low heat, stirring occasionally. Don’t heat it up too quickly, or the sauce may break.
  • Leftovers won’t freeze well because of the cream in the sauce, and the pasta won’t hold up either when thawed.
a cast iron skillet with penne alla vodka and grated parmesan

I hope you will love this easy penne vodka recipe! Questions, or did you make it? Let me know in the comments below.

closeup of penne alla vodka with parmesan and basil
4.91 from 70 votes

The Best Penne alla Vodka

This easy penne alla vodka recipe is a restaurant-quality dish with a silky tomato cream sauce. It only takes 20 minutes to make, so it's a perfect way to elevate busy weeknights!
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Total: 20 minutes
Servings: 4


  • 8 ounces uncooked penne pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 small onion chopped finely
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste see note
  • 3/4 cup heavy/whipping cream
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Fresh basil, sliced thin optional, to taste
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese optional, to taste


  • Boil a generously salted pot of water for the penne and cook it al dente according to package directions. 
  • Meanwhile, add the oil and butter to a skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onion for about 5 minutes or until softened (ok if it lightly browns).
  • Stir in the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds.
  • Add the vodka and let the sauce bubble for 30 seconds or so.
  • Stir in the tomato paste until you've got a smooth mixture.
  • Stir in the cream, and reduce heat to medium-low. Let the sauce warm through. I find this sauce thickens up very quickly (within a couple minutes), but feel free to cook it a little longer to thicken it up even more.
  • Season with salt & pepper as needed. Stir in the fresh basil if using. Toss with the drained pasta (if needed, thin the sauce out a bit with a splash of hot pasta water prior to draining it). Serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese if desired.


  • I don’t recommend subbing the heavy cream for something like milk or half-and-half because the sauce is likely to curdle/get grainy, and it won’t be as thick or delicious.
  • Use a good quality tomato paste! For this recipe, I prefer the kind sold in the tubes (like DeLallo and Mutti sell). 
  • This makes 4 reasonably-sized portions (not huge ones, and I suggest serving this recipe with something like a salad since it’s quite rich by itself). If you’re feeding hungry people who will eat more than 2 oz pasta each and no side dishes, I recommend doubling the recipe.
  • I used a 10.25″ Le Creuset skillet to make this recipe (any skillet is fine).


Calories: 500kcal, Carbohydrates: 48g, Protein: 9g, Fat: 27g, Saturated Fat: 15g, Cholesterol: 76mg, Sodium: 201mg, Potassium: 346mg, Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 4g, Vitamin A: 1081IU, Vitamin C: 5mg, Calcium: 50mg, Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

© Salt & Lavender Inc. Content and photographs are copyrighted. Sharing this blog post is much appreciated, but copying and pasting full recipes without authorization to social media is strictly prohibited.

Leave a star rating and comment below!

This recipe was originally published on August 17, 2018. It’s been tweaked to be even easier, tastier, and has new photos!

Hi! I’m Natasha.

Salt & Lavender is a recipe blog with a focus on delicious comfort food using everyday ingredients. Beat the weekday grind with hundreds of easy-to-follow and hassle-free recipes!

Leave a comment

Please leave a recipe rating!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. 5 stars
    I have questions. I plan on making this for a Christmas get together. However, a family member will not eat onions! If I omit the onion will it not taste as good? And will the sauce travel well on warm in a crockpot for 2 hours? Thank you!

    1. Hi! You could try it without the onion. I think it would be ok, but it definitely does add more flavor as it is a pretty minimalist recipe to begin with. I don’t think it’ll travel too well in the crockpot as it is a creamy sauce and they can separate fairly easily unfortunately. You may want to do a test run beforehand if you’re able to, and that’ll give you an idea of how it ends up. Ideally you’d make the sauce separately, warm it slowly over a low heat, and then toss with freshly cooked pasta.

  2. Hi there,
    If I wanted to add veggies to this – what would you recommend? And at what step should I add them in? Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi! For something like this I would either cook them separately and add them in right at the end or just serve it with a salad.

  3. I absolutely love this recipe! I wanted to ask if the sauce can be made ahead for easy assembly when we have dinner guests?

    1. I’m so glad you like it! I think you could make the sauce ahead, but I would boil the pasta right before serving, then add a splash of the hot pasta water to the sauce when reheating it (slowly) over a low heat.

  4. 5 stars
    My daughter loves pasta and found this recipe. She made it for the first time and fell in love with it. So I made it for thanksgiving dinner and her cousin also fell in love with it. Her dad ask for the recipe.
    Thank you so much!

  5. This recipe looks amazing and I would like to use it to make my very first penne alla vodka, but I’m wondering what quantity of tomato paste should be used? I bought the kind in tomato paste that is in tubes, but not sure of the quantity. I reread the recipe a few times, but maybe I’m missing something.

    1. Hi Adri! All the quantities are in the recipe card (right above the comments section). It’s a 1/4 cup of tomato paste. I hope you love the recipe! Let me know how it goes. 🙂

  6. 5 stars
    I just made this tonight and I loved how easy it is to make and delicious as well. I like the tubed tomatoe paste instead of the canned.

  7. 5 stars
    Very easy to make. I used concentrated tomato paste and it worked just fine. I used a little less than called for. I did the exact recipe and it’s delicious. I made it again another time and subbed 1/2&1/2 for heavy cream and olive oil for butter for a lighter version. It’s less decadent but still full of flavor. I also added a little crushed red chile flakes to the lighter version. I hoped the heat would mask the lack of fat and it worked for my family. Everything comes together quickly and is an easy under 30 min dinner. You can double the pasta amount if you want leftovers and prefer a less soupy dish. I did because I want leftovers! Definitely adding this recipe to my repertoire.