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Published January 13, 2023. This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
This incredibly easy-to-prepare Penne Alla Vodka is one of the most flavorful kinds of pasta with penne pasta tossed in a tomato-vodka cream sauce. You will be blown away at these delicious this dish is.
If you love pasta and exploring new flavors, you should try my Pasta Pomodoro or Pasta Carbonara.
Penne Alla Vodka
Penne alla vodka is a pasta dish featuring penne pasta tossed in a tomato and cream-based sauce with vodka. This pasta is the dish that made me fall in love with pasta. Since I was a kid, I only had spaghetti and meatballs. There are a few variations to this recipe depending on where you are eating it, and who is making it. Classically there will be pancetta, onions, and chiles in the sauce.
The origins of this pasta are contested by a couple of different sources who claim they created the dish. First, Orsini restaurant in New York City claims they invented the dish in the 1970s. Second, a Columbia University graduate also said he made it in the 1980s. Then, finally, in Italy, there are two cookbooks written by Italian authors who say they created the vodka sauce. Regardless of where it came from, I can assure you, that you are in for a treat.
- Tomatoes – I prefer to use whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, or freshly canned tomatoes, that are then crushed by hand.
- Pork – Pancetta is best to use. However, you can use guanciale, bacon, or prosciutto.
- Onions – Yellow, white, or sweet onions will work.
- Chiles – A spicy red pepper that is seeded, such as a Fresno or red finger pepper, will work.
- Cheese – You can use pecorino Romano or Parmesan Reggiano.
- Cream – Full fat heavy whipping cream is used in the sauce.
- Oil – Always use a good expeller-pressed olive oil.
- Pasta – Penne rigate or regular penne will work in this pasta recipe.
- Vodka – You can use any brand of vodka
How to Make Penne Alla Vodka
Add the oil to a large saucepan over low to medium heat and heat it up for 1 to 2 minutes.
Next, add the pancetta and cook until it becomes crispy and browned. This will take about 5 to 7 minutes.
Remove the pancetta and set it to the side.
Add the onions to the pan with the hot oil and cook while frequently stirring until browned. This will take about 8 to 10 minutes.
Next, add in the peppers and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the pancetta back to the pan and stir to combine.
Turn the heat to low and deglaze with the vodka. Then, turn the heat up to medium.
Stir and cook the vodka until the amount of liquid is reduced to a few tablespoons.
Pour the tomatoes and cook for 8 to 10 minutes to reduce the liquid. See the video for what to look for. Turn the heat off.
Drop the penne pasta into a large pot of salted water and cook for 7 to 8 minutes or until al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, add the cream to the tomato sauce and salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Set aside.
Drain the pasta and add it to the saucepan.
Add pecorino Romano cheese, fresh basil, salt, and pepper, and stir to combine.
You may need to add ½ cup of hot pasta water to help loosen up the pasta.
Serve the pasta with additional cheese and crushed red pepper flakes
Make-Ahead and Storage
Make-Ahead: This is meant to be eaten as soon as it is finished being made.
How to Store: Cover the pasta and keep it in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. This will not freeze well.
How to Reheat: Add the desired amount of pasta to a medium-sized saucepot and add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water. Heat over low to medium heat while stirring with a spoon until hot. Adjust seasonings and serve.
Chef Notes + Tips
- If you are using prosciutto, use 2 ounces instead of the full 4 with pancetta.
- There is no substitute for vodka. If you can’t have alcohol or do not have access to it, skip it or deglaze with a tablespoon or two of water.
- Substitute the fresh chiles with 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes.
- Al dente means to the tooth. The pasta should be firm but not hard or chalky.
- Cooking time can be saved if you drop the pasta while cooking the tomatoes.
More Pasta Recipes
Penne Alla Vodka Recipe
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ pound large diced pancetta
- 1 peeled and small diced yellow onion
- 1 seeded and small diced fresno pepper
- ¼ cup vodka
- 28 ounces whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- ½ cup shredded pecorino Romano cheese + more for garnish
- 4 torn fresh basil leaves
- 1 pound dry penne rigate
- sea salt and pepper to taste
- Add the oil to a large saucepan over low to medium heat and heat it up for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Next, add in the pancetta and cook it until it becomes crispy and browned. This will take about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Remove the pancetta and set it to the side.
- In the pan with the hot oil, add in the onions and cook while frequently stirring until browned. This will take about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Next, add in the peppers and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add the pancetta back to the pan and stir to combine.
- Turn the heat to low and deglaze with the vodka. Then, turn the heat up to medium.
- Stir and cook the vodka down until the amount of liquid is reduced to a few tablespoons.
- Pour in the tomatoes and cook for 8 to 10 minutes to reduce the amount of liquid. See the video for what to look for. Turn the heat off.
- Drop the penne pasta into a large pot of boiling salted water and cook for 7 to 8 minutes or until al dente.
- While the pasta is cooking, add the cream to the tomato sauce, along with salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Set aside.
- Drain the pasta and add it to the saucepan.
- Add in pecorino Romano cheese, fresh basil, salt, and pepper, and stir to combine.
- You may need to add in ½ cup of hot pasta water to help loosen up the pasta.
- Serve the pasta with additional cheese and crushed red pepper flakes
This is a fantastic recipe! I have made it several times and it has become a family and friends favorite. Leftovers keep and reheat well, BUT do not last long.
A new favorite, so easy and delicious. Will definitely be making this again.
***** love it
Delicious! Will definitely make it again.
Thank you so kindly!!
Simple and delicious!
Another great recipe! You’re the best!
thank you so kindly!!
Another great recipe!! You’re the best!
thanks for giving it a shot!!
Easy to follow recipe and quite easy to make! Was absolutely delicious and my picky daughter even loved it! Leftovers the next day were even better!!
Thank you for sharing this and all of your other wonderful recipes! I have made quite a few and they never disappoint and are always consistently outstanding! Chicken Tinga was absolutely delicious too and so fun to make!
thank you so kindly!!
This is a favorite of my son when we eat out and he rated this top notch!
Delicious! My son loves Penne Alla Vodka and this did not disappoint! We like light spice so I used red pepper flake and it was great. Thank you Chef Billy!
I made this recipe and it was wonderful! If I need an Italian recipe I always use Billy Parisi’s web site for advice and direction…
Thus is the best recipe. My husband loves Penne a la vodka. Thank you so much
Best Vodka Sauce I’ve ever made
Made this several times
thank you so kindly!!
The best pasta ever. Used your perfect roasted chicken breast recipe and add it to the sauce. Now one of my favorite Italian dishes
I made this recipe on Saturday, April 22nd, 2023 for the first time; served to Kyle, Cliff and myself. Recipe is simple to follow; I could not get pancetta so I used a good bacon. Also couldn’t find a fresno pepper, so substituted with a jalapeno. Very flavourful; I liked the creaminess of the sauce and the Pecorino was a nice change, for me, from parmigiana.
I will try this recipe again when I can find pancetta and will continue to look for fresno peppers. I would rate this recipe 8/10 (my own personal critique).
Great. Next time for sure use the recommended ingredients, I can imagine the jalapeño was a bit overpowering.
By far the best of the best its my absolute favorite. Thank you chef for posting your recipe
thanks for giving it a shot!!
Easy and delicious.
I made this and it was delicious, and it even looked just like the picture!!!
Fantastic and easy to make!!!
One of our favorite Chef Billy recipes. I use bacon and it is a phenomenal recipe! Easy to make and tastes fantastic!
Phenomenal recipe and so many ways to improvise with this sauce. Went on a kick deglazing my onions with vodka in every sauce I made😂.
Thanks for giving it a shot!!
Thanks for trying it.
Love this recipe. Thank you! You’re my favorite 😍
I appreciate the love
This is a great WOW tasting recipe!!! I really love how Billy leads, teaches and guides me through the entire process of preparing it. Food is so expensive today, I’m afraid of trying new things because I can’t afford to throw away food. Billy gives me confidence that I’ll be successful.
Delicious! I made this for guests this past weekend and they loved it.
Absolutely delicious and recipe was VERY easy to follow! Amazing how good food tastes when it’s prepared correctly!
I made this without the bacon because i didn’t have any in the house however it was so damn good, i made it twice – this is def going into my favourites. Here in Portugal, very difficult to find heavy cream, so i used mascarpone and it was amazing. It’s the vodka that gives it an amazing flavour.
One of my all-time favorites. Great job on making it work for you.
Yummy and easy !
Wonderfu! The recipe was explained so well, it couldn’t not turn out!
Love the that he teaches techniques! I’ve applied so many of them over the months of watching and learning on FB! All the recipes I’ve tried are fabulous! Thanks Billy!
Yes! We made it tonight. Quick, easy, and delicious! Thank you!!❤️
Wonderful recipe. Easy and pretty easy. Thank you chef🥰
Your recipes are always very welcoming.
Always amazing! Your recipes are fried and true. Even as a professional chef, I love the content! Many thanks.
Just made this tonight…AMAZING! So delicious. Couldn’t find any pancetta, substituted thick cut bacon and it worked beautifully!
Whole family loved it…this will be a new family staple.
Hi Chef Billy,
Just a quick question please.
Can I just make the Vodka Sauce, then freeze it for use at a later date?
Thank you. Blessings!
Sister Barbara Aydelotte sfcc
I think you could. You may need to loosen it up when reheating.