This Vodka Sauce Pasta Recipe is made with whole San Marzano tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, heavy cream, butter, garlic, and vodka.
When it comes to pasta sauces, the classics like marinara and Alfredo often steal the spotlight. However, there is one tantalizing sauce that embodies a unique and sophisticated character, capable of elevating any dish to extraordinary heights. Say hello to vodka sauce! This delectable creation strikes the perfect balance between creaminess and tanginess, boasting a mesmerizing flavor profile that has captured the hearts and palates of food enthusiasts around the world.
Originating from the Italian-American culinary tradition, vodka sauce stands out as a delicious fusion of Italian and Russian influences. Its creation is often attributed to Italian immigrants who, after settling in the United States, were introduced to vodka from their Eastern European neighbors. Inspired by the spirit's smoothness and its ability to bring out flavors, they ingeniously incorporated it into their pasta sauces, giving birth to the beloved vodka sauce we know today.
- What is Vodka Sauce?
- Why you will love this Vodka Sauce Pasta Recipe
- Vodka Sauce Pasta Recipe Ingredients
- How to make Vodka Sauce Pasta
- What to serve with Vodka Sauce Pasta
- Vodka Sauce Pasta Recipe Variations
- How to store Vodka Sauce Pasta
- Vodka Sauce Pasta Recipe Top tips
- Vodka Sauce Pasta Recipe
- Food safety
What is Vodka Sauce?
Vodka sauce, also known as penne alla vodka, is a rich and creamy pasta sauce that combines the flavors of tomatoes, cream, onions, garlic, herbs, and, of course, vodka. Despite its name, vodka sauce does not have a strong alcoholic taste as the alcohol evaporates during the cooking process, leaving behind a subtle essence that enhances the overall flavor profile.
The sauce is believed to have originated in the Italian-American community, particularly in the mid-20th century, where Italian immigrants in the United States were introduced to vodka by their Eastern European neighbors. Inspired by the smoothness and transformative properties of vodka, they began incorporating it into their traditional tomato-based pasta sauces, resulting in the creation of this uniquely flavorful sauce.
Why you will love this Vodka Sauce Pasta Recipe
- Irresistible Creaminess: The combination of tomatoes and cream in vodka sauce creates a luscious and velvety texture that coats every strand of pasta. The luxurious creaminess adds a level of indulgence and decadence to the dish, making it a delight to savor.
- Harmonious Flavor Balance: Vodka sauce strikes a perfect balance between tangy tomatoes and the subtle sweetness of the cream. The addition of vodka amplifies the flavors of the other ingredients, creating a symphony of taste that is both rich and well-rounded. Each bite offers a harmonious blend of flavors that will leave your taste buds dancing with joy.
- Versatility: This recipe offers endless possibilities for customization. You can pair it with your favorite pasta shape, be it penne, spaghetti, or rigatoni. You can also add your choice of protein, such as grilled chicken, succulent shrimp, or even seared mushrooms for a vegetarian option. The sauce adapts effortlessly to different ingredients, making it a versatile canvas for your culinary creativity.
- Quick and Easy Preparation: Making vodka sauce pasta doesn't require hours of labor in the kitchen. This recipe is relatively simple and can be whipped up in no time. With just a handful of ingredients and straightforward steps, you can have a scrumptious meal on the table in less than 30 minutes.
Vodka Sauce Pasta Recipe Ingredients
You'll only need a few simple ingredients to make this. The exact measurements are listed in the recipe card below. Here's an overview of what you'll need:
- San Marzano Tomatoes
- Sun-dried tomatoes
- Heavy cream
- Salted butter
- Crushed red pepper flakes
- Parmesan cheese
See recipe card for Vodka Sauce Pasta Recipe quantities.
How to make Vodka Sauce Pasta
In a large saucepan, combine the butter, garlic and red pepper flakes on medium low heat. Cook and stir often, until the butter is melted and the garlic is fragrant, about 5 minutes.
Add the vodka and simmer for about 3 minutes, or until ⅓ of the vodka has reduced. Add the tomatoes and sun-dried tomatoes. Sprinkle salt and pepper and simmer sauce over medium heat for about 10-15 minutes.
With a large spoon, put the sauce into a blender and add the heavy cream. Blend until smooth and return to the saucepan. Add the grated cheese and on low heat, stir until the cheese melts.
Garnish with basil and parmesan.
What to serve with Vodka Sauce Pasta
- Garlic Bread: Crusty garlic bread is a classic side that pairs perfectly with vodka sauce pasta. The warm, toasted bread with a garlicky and buttery flavor complements the creamy and tangy notes of the sauce. It's great for dipping into the sauce or mopping up any remnants left on the plate.
- Salad: A fresh and vibrant salad provides a refreshing contrast to the rich and creamy pasta. Consider a simple green salad with a tangy vinaigrette dressing or a Caprese salad with ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil. The crispness and acidity of the salad add brightness to the meal. Check out my Burrata Peach Arugula Salad.
- Protein Additions: If you'd like to incorporate protein into your meal, there are various options to consider. Grilled chicken, sautéed shrimp, or seared salmon can be served alongside the pasta to add a protein element and make it a more substantial meal. The flavors of the protein work harmoniously with the creamy vodka sauce.
- Roasted Potatoes: Roasted potatoes make for a comforting and satisfying side dish. The crispy exterior and tender interior of the potatoes provide a delightful contrast to the pasta. Season them with herbs like rosemary or thyme to add extra flavor.
- San Marzano Tomatoes:
- Canned crushed tomatoes: Substitute with high-quality canned crushed tomatoes for a rich and tangy tomato flavor.
- Canned diced tomatoes: Use diced tomatoes as an alternative, providing texture and a burst of tomato flavor.
- Fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped: Opt for ripe and juicy fresh tomatoes to create a homemade tomato base.
- Sun-dried Tomatoes:
- Tomato paste: Use tomato paste for concentrated tomato flavor and a slightly thicker consistency.
- Roasted red peppers, chopped: Add roasted red peppers for a sweet and smoky flavor that complements the pasta.
- Heavy cream:
- Half-and-half: Substitute half-and-half for a lighter option that still adds creaminess to the sauce.
- Greek yogurt: Use Greek yogurt to provide a tangy and creamy element to the sauce.
- Salted butter:
- Unsalted butter: If you only have unsalted butter, you can add a pinch of salt separately to achieve the desired seasoning.
- Garlic powder: Substitute with garlic powder for a milder flavor, adjusting the quantity according to taste.
- Crushed red pepper flakes:
- Chili powder: Use chili powder to add a hint of spice and depth to the sauce.
- Paprika: Substitute paprika for a milder heat and smoky flavor.
- White wine: Replace vodka with white wine to add acidity and depth of flavor to the sauce.
- Parmesan cheese:
- Pecorino Romano: Use Pecorino Romano cheese as a substitute for a similar sharp and tangy flavor.
- Grana Padano: Substitute with Grana Padano cheese for a nutty and slightly milder taste.
- Dried basil: Use dried basil as an alternative, adjusting the quantity based on preference and intensity of flavor.
- Choose your favorite type of pasta, such as penne, spaghetti, or fettuccine, based on personal preference and availability.
Vodka Sauce Pasta Recipe Variations
- Grilled Chicken Vodka Pasta:
- Add grilled chicken slices to the pasta for an added protein boost and a heartier meal. Marinate the chicken with herbs and spices of your choice, grill it, and then slice it before adding it to the sauce.
- Shrimp and Vodka Pasta:
- Incorporate succulent shrimp into the dish for a delightful seafood twist. Sauté the shrimp separately with garlic and olive oil until cooked, and then mix it into the vodka sauce.
- Vegetarian Vodka Pasta:
- Skip the meat and create a vegetarian version of the dish by adding vegetables like mushrooms, bell peppers, spinach, or zucchini to the sauce. Sauté the veggies before adding them to the sauce to enhance their flavor.
- Spicy Vodka Pasta:
- If you enjoy some heat, increase the amount of crushed red pepper flakes or add some fresh chili peppers to the sauce. Adjust the level of spiciness to your liking.
- Roasted Red Pepper Vodka Pasta:
- Include roasted red peppers in the sauce for a smoky and slightly sweet flavor. You can use jarred roasted red peppers or roast fresh red peppers and blend them into the sauce.
- Tomato-Basil Vodka Pasta:
- Enhance the herbaceous notes by adding more fresh basil to the sauce. Chop fresh basil leaves and stir them into the sauce just before serving for a burst of freshness.
- Mushroom Vodka Pasta:
- If you're a mushroom lover, sauté a variety of mushrooms, such as cremini, shiitake, or portobello, and add them to the sauce. The earthy flavors of the mushrooms pair well with the creamy vodka sauce.
- Lemon Vodka Pasta:
- For a refreshing twist, add a squeeze of lemon juice or some grated lemon zest to the sauce. The citrusy notes will brighten up the dish and add a zesty flavor.
Check out my Mushroom Pasta Recipe.
- Saucepan or Skillet: A medium to large saucepan or skillet is essential for cooking the sauce. It should be deep enough to hold the sauce and allow for stirring without any spillage.
- Wooden Spoon or Spatula: A wooden spoon or spatula is useful for sautéing ingredients, stirring the sauce, and ensuring it cooks evenly without scratching the surface of the pan.
- Immersion Blender or Regular Blender: An immersion blender is handy for blending the sauce directly in the saucepan, providing a smooth and creamy texture. Alternatively, you can use a regular blender, allowing the sauce to cool slightly before transferring it in batches to the blender for blending.
- Cookware for Pasta: You'll need a large pot to cook the pasta. Make sure it's spacious enough to hold the pasta and an adequate amount of water for boiling.
- Colander: A colander or strainer is necessary for draining the cooked pasta and removing excess water.
- Cutting Board and Knife: A cutting board and a sharp knife are essential for chopping ingredients such as garlic, basil, and sun-dried tomatoes.
- Grater: If you're using fresh Parmesan cheese, a grater is needed to grate the cheese before adding it to the sauce or garnishing the finished dish.
- Measuring Cups and Spoons: Measuring cups and spoons are helpful for accurately measuring the ingredients, especially when it comes to liquids like heavy cream and vodka.
- Serving Bowls or Plates: Finally, you'll need bowls or plates for serving the cooked pasta and sauce. Ensure they are large enough to hold the desired portions and accommodate any additional toppings or garnishes.
How to store Vodka Sauce Pasta
To properly store vodka sauce pasta, follow these guidelines:
- Let it cool: Allow the vodka sauce pasta to cool down to room temperature before storing. This helps prevent moisture buildup and the growth of bacteria.
- Separate the sauce and pasta: If possible, separate the sauce and pasta. This makes it easier to store and prevents the pasta from becoming mushy.
- Sauce: Place the leftover vodka sauce in an airtight container and refrigerate it. It can typically be stored in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.
- Pasta: If the pasta is already mixed with the sauce, transfer the entire dish to an airtight container and refrigerate. It should be consumed within 2 to 3 days.
- Sauce: Vodka sauce can be frozen for longer storage. Pour the sauce into a freezer-safe container or resealable freezer bags. Leave some headspace to allow for expansion during freezing. The sauce can be frozen for up to 3 months.
- Pasta: Freezing pasta with sauce is not recommended as the texture of the pasta may suffer upon thawing. It's best to freeze the sauce separately and cook fresh pasta when needed.
- Thawing and reheating:
- Sauce: When ready to use the frozen sauce, transfer it to the refrigerator and allow it to thaw overnight. Reheat it on the stovetop over low to medium heat, stirring occasionally until heated through.
- Pasta: Cook fresh pasta separately and then combine it with the thawed and reheated vodka sauce.
- Check for freshness: Before consuming any stored vodka sauce pasta, ensure it hasn't developed an off smell or unusual texture. Discard any leftovers that appear spoiled.
Vodka Sauce Pasta Recipe Top tips
- Quality ingredients: Opt for high-quality ingredients, such as San Marzano tomatoes, fresh basil, and good-quality Parmesan cheese, as they can greatly enhance the flavor of the sauce.
- Sauté the garlic properly: When sautéing garlic, be cautious not to burn it. Burnt garlic can give a bitter taste to the sauce. Cook it on low to medium heat until fragrant and lightly golden.
- Simmer for flavor development: Allow the sauce to simmer for a sufficient amount of time. This allows the flavors to meld together and intensify, resulting in a rich and flavorful sauce.
- Control the heat: Adjust the amount of crushed red pepper flakes or other spices according to your preferred level of spiciness. Remember that the heat can intensify as the sauce simmers, so it's better to start with a smaller amount and add more if desired.
- Add vodka with caution: When adding vodka to the sauce, pour it gradually and stir well. Vodka can have a strong flavor, so start with a smaller amount and adjust to taste. The vodka helps to enhance the flavors of the sauce and balance the acidity of the tomatoes.
- Creaminess factor: Use heavy cream or a suitable substitute to achieve the desired creaminess. Be careful not to boil the sauce once the cream is added, as it can cause separation or curdling. Keep the heat on low and stir well to incorporate the cream smoothly.
- Season and taste: Don't forget to taste and adjust the seasoning before serving. Add salt and pepper as needed to enhance the flavors. Remember that Parmesan cheese adds saltiness, so adjust accordingly.
- Fresh basil at the end: To preserve the vibrant flavor and aroma of fresh basil, add it to the sauce at the end, just before serving. This ensures that it retains its freshness and brightness.
- Properly coat the pasta: When combining the cooked pasta with the sauce, ensure that each strand or shape is evenly coated. Toss the pasta and sauce together in a large bowl or in the skillet to distribute the sauce evenly.
- Garnish and serve: Before serving, garnish the dish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and additional basil leaves. The garnishes add visual appeal and extra flavor to the dish.
- Cook to a minimum temperature of 165 °F (74 °C)
- Do not use the same utensils on cooked food, that previously touched raw meat
- Wash hands after touching raw meat
- Don't leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods
- Never leave cooking food unattended
- Use oils with high smoking point to avoid harmful compounds
- Always have good ventilation when using a gas stove