If you ever need evidence that I do not shy away from embarrassing myself here, look no further than one of the earliest posts on this site, where I tell the story of inviting a guy I’d recently begun dating over for dinner. I’d watched Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute Meals that morning, equally hungered by her making one of my favorite pastas, penne alla vodka, and horrified by the fact that she renamed it the “You Won’t Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Pasta.” I decided to make it, you know, tongue-in-cheek, sarcastically, sure Deb, except it “worked” — we are 15 years married (although everyone agrees the last year counts as two) which works out to about 17 years of repeating this awkwardness as part of our “how it started in the kitchen” story.
But when I look back at that recipe, do you know — after the name — what makes me cringe the most? Rachael Ray told me to put chicken broth in my vodka sauce! I shudder for me, and you. In the years since, she’s moved forward and so have I. I now know that well-seasoned pasta water is the only “broth” your sauce needs. I’ve made a few other changes to the way I make, too:
- More garlic and more heat
- Less vodka, and I add it earlier and cook it off. Kids make you so square, huh?
- Tomato paste, one of my favorites, instead of chopped tomato for a smoother, quicker sauce.
- A level of cream adjusted to my mood that day, orange or pink.
- Rigatoni > penne because I prefer wide, flat, double-decker bites of pasta and it feels good to get this truth out.
This new version is as delicious as ever, but faster, more flavorful, and now, instead of early-date awkwardness, it’s more like this.
6 months ago: Collard Greens with Cornmeal Dumplings
1 year ago: Perfect Vegetable Lasagna
2 year ago: Bodega-Style Egg and Cheese Sandwich and Chocolate Puddle Cakes
3 years ago: Slow-Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Korean-Braised Short Ribs
4 years ago: Small-Batch Tiramisu
5 years ago: Miso Black Sesame Caramel Corn and Hot and Sour Soup
6 years ago: Oven-Braised Beef with Tomatoes and Garlic and Pecan Sticky Buns
7 years ago: Chocolate Hazelnut Linzer Hearts and Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake
8 years ago: Italian Stuffed Cabbage
9 years ago: Lasagna Bolognese
10 years ago: Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake
11 years ago: Best Cocoa Brownies and Chana Masala
12 years ago: Chocolate Whiskey and Beer Cupcakes and Crispy Black Bean Tacos with Feta and Slaw
13 years ago: Seven-Yolk Pasta Dough and Best Chocolate Pudding
14 years ago: For Beaming, Bewitching Breads
Rigatoni alla Vodka
- 1 pound dried rigatoni
- Kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 large or 2 small shallots, minced
- Red pepper flakes, to taste
- 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup vodka
- 1/2 cup tomato paste
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 to 1 cup heavy cream, to taste
- A few basil leaves, chopped, to finish
- Grated parmesan or pecorino cheese, to serve
Cook pasta in well-salted water to al dente, about 1 minute shy of doneness. Scoop out 1 1/2 cups of pasta water and set aside. Drain pasta.
In your empty pasta pot, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add shallots, garlic, and pepper flakes (1/2 teaspoon for a moderate kick), and cook until shallots are softened but not brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add vodka and cook, stirring up anything stuck, until vodka disappears. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes, until the tomato paste is one shade darker. Add 1 cup of the reserved pasta water, scraping up any stuck tomato paste, stirring until the mixture becomes a sauce. Season it now — I add just about 2 teaspoons kosher salt and many grinds of black pepper — simmer for 2 minutes. Add cream; I begin with 1/2 cup and then add more, a splash at a time, until I get the shade of orange/pink that I am craving.
Add drained pasta to sauce and toss to coat and adding last 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water, a splash at a time, as needed to loosen the sauce. Cook pasta and sauce together for 1 minute.
Sprinkle with basil and scoop into bowls, garnishing each with parmesan or pecorino and extra red pepper flakes, to taste. Eat immediately.
A few questions, answered:
- What does the vodka do? Depending on who you ask, the vodka serves to improve the consistency of the sauce and/or heightens the flavor and fragrance, but others argue it does nothing and was just the result of aggressive marketing on the part of vodka importers. My take: It’s mostly Tradition, but you can also make it show up more by not cooking it off.
- Can I skip the vodka? Yes.
- Do I need to cook the vodka off? Not at all. Vodka is traditionally added later in the dish, so the flavor stays. I’ve got little kids, so I cook it off earlier. You can skip cooking it off or add it after the tomato paste if you’d like it to be more present.
172 comments on rigatoni alla vodka
O. MY. GOSH. ! My husband made this for me 15 years ago when we first met! I’ll never forget because of that silly name! HAHA! I guess it DOES work. We got married 5 years later. I can’t wait to try your recipe!
Embarrassing name aside, I have to agree! The guy I’d been on a couple of dates with was coming over for dinner and I made the old recipe… it was the first time I’d ever cooked for him. We were engaged in less than a year. My happy husband still loves vodka sauces so I’ll have to give this variant a try!
This was such a delicious and quick dinner! Definitely will make again!
I am in the middle of reading the latest Stephanie Plum novel by Janet Evanovich, and last night’s reading ad everyone craving vodka rig and ordering carryout. Your recipe posting the day after I read this is the universe telling me I need to try it. Thank you for being something to look forward to in my news feed!
Can I use half and half rather than heave cream? I always have it on hand, so much easier to make on a whim 😊.
For recipes like this, I’ve always found that half and half works perfectly well in place of cream or whole milk! We are childless and never have milk or cream on hand, but always have half and half for coffee. I’m sure some of the velvet texture from cream is lost but it’s never so much that we mind or notice.
I keep a can of evaporated milk in the pantry to use as an emergency sub for cream, works perfectly and never curdles.
I used soy cream to keep it light and vegan!
I’m so happy I’m not the only one who gets powerful food cravings while reading those books! Polish, Italian, or donuts – she makes it all sound so good.
Oh, Deb–your story about the cringe-worthy recipe name reminded me of a time I brought brownies to an office party, and when asked the name, had to confess they were called “Boy Bait Brownies.” I was, and am, very much married, but it was still mortifying!
Haha! i made my “man catcher” brownies the other day, and i’ve been married almost 20 years. The recipe is old and name is definitely cringe-worthy, but those brownies are amazing!
My mom’s brownie recipe is called “Make Friends Fast Brownies”! She said she made them a lot when she and my dad were just married and would move someplace new, and that it did indeed make friends fast.
I love this recipe by Deb which is beloved by my whole family. We love the name, “Blueberry Boy Bait.” The name pulls us in, but the recipe keeps us coming back!
Haha, love that recipe! My husband asks for it regularly and it is the only cake I make that he knows the full, correct name.
I’m going to have to try yours. I’ve been making this for years–yes, including early dates with my husband–based on the recipe from the 365 Days of Pasta book! Remember those 365 Day books? It’s my favorite thing to make but I don’t make it often these days because I literally cannot stop eating it.
Tomatoes contain flavor compounds that are only soluble in alcohol. If you skip it, or sub something non-alcoholic, the sauce won’t taste the same. Kind of like how drinking water doesn’t help if you’ve eaten a hot pepper – the capsaicin is not soluble in water, only on fat.
what flavor does the vodka impart? what is the point? not being facetious, just don’t understand why we are wasting it here since vodka has no real flavor.
I was wondering the same thing. Why the vodka? By definition, vodka is tasteless, so what part does it play in the flavor of the recipe?
I made this tonight. I had some ground beef thawed in the fridge, so I seasoned and cooked that and tossed it with the rigatoni and sauce at the end. The sauce was very good and came together so easily. Someone commented here that pancetta would be good in this dish, and I’m betting they’re right. Ground beef was alright, but I wouldn’t have missed it and won’t add it next time I make this.
It unlocks flavor compounds in tomatoes that are only soluble in alcohol.
Oops, sorry, was trying to leave a comment, not a reply to you!
Cream often splits when added to acidic tomato sauces. The alcohol/ethanol in vodka helps bind the lipids and acid, and precisely because vodka has no flavour it doesn’t get in the way of the flavours you actually want to taste.
I thiiink there’s some debate about whether the ethanol also highlights certain flavours in the tomato that would otherwise be lost, but I’ve no idea how true that is, or how much the average diner would pick up on that. (Especially with average supermarket ingredients!)
Interesting. Is there a non-alcoholic substitute that would achieve the same? Could I use cooking sherry? It does have a flavor but I think it would be complementary.
Amelia, I too am always looking for substitutions for alcohol in recipes! However, cooking sherry does contain alcohol. I think I will just skip the vodka, as Deb suggests. Deb, thanks for paving the way for me to make this! ;-)
Does anyone know if it matters what brand of vodka and how to choose one brand over another? Thank you
Wodka is actually not flavourless (try tasting it side by side with pure alcohol diluted with water). Also, you probably won’t cook it off completely, just concentrate it, also leaving in quite a good portion of the alcohol. Alcohol cooking off within minutes is a kitchen legend.
I was just researching this myself. Check out https://www.seriouseats.com/2013/03/ask-the-food-lab-does-vodka-sauce-really-need-vodka.html
That’s a great article and explains it! Thanks for sharing!
If you were to add a protein to this, what would it be and when would you incorporate it?
Laura- vodka sauce is really good with pancetta or sliced or crumbled Italian sausage!
i made the original just the other night, it’s still wonderful. i brown some whole italian sausages (sweet or hot) before i put in the garlic and shallot. once browned, remove to a plate. make the sauce and then put the sausages back in and let it all simmer together until the sausages and sauce are ready. then i take the sausages out again to put in the pasta and any pasta water i need.
Shrimp (cooked), add at the end.
I came here to ask this, too. I’ve never eaten this dish for some reason, I guess there are other things I’ve always wanted to eat at an Italian restaurant so never got around to trying it. Maybe if I’d tried it I’d understand? In any event, I’d love to know Deb’s take on this. I’m not at all against using vodka, just didn’t understand why.
Depending on who you ask, the vodka serves to improve the consistency of the sauce, heightens the flavor and fragrance, but others argue it does nothing and was just the result of aggressive marketing on the part of vodka importers. It’s mostly Tradition. If you don’t cook mostly off, as I do, you’ll notice it more at the end.
You absolutely don’t need the vodka. I grew up eating the most incredible pasta dishes with out of this world tomato sauces from Italian American great grandparents, grandparents, mom, and sisters. Never did any of them consider using vodka. Skip the idea and just start with great Cento San Marzano tomatoes and you’ll never look back.
What does the vodka add to the recipe, since the directions say to stir until it disappears?
Depending on who you ask, the vodka serves to improve the consistency of the sauce, heightens the flavor and fragrance, but others argue it does nothing and was just the result of aggressive marketing on the part of vodka importers. It’s mostly Tradition. If you don’t cook mostly off, as I do, you’ll notice it more at the end.
Funny enough, I’m pretty sure it was this recipe that introduced me to your site many years ago, so that I could make penne alla vodka for my then-boyfriend now-husband. So really, Rachel Ray brought a lot of people together.
This is such a dumb question, but beers with me. I feel like I don’t have an accurate gauge of what “well-salted” pasta water means. How much salt are we talking here? A two finger pinch? A palmful?
Haha *bear with me that is.
I remember being mortified the first time I noticed how much salt my mom put in pasta water. When I asked how much to use, my mom said to just add a lot more than I think. Not exactly precise, but I’ve slowly gotten to the “I know it when I see it” place for salted cooking water. Samin Nosrat, in her incredible book, Salt Fat Acid Heat, says to salt until it tastes like your memory of the sea. She says that works out to about 2 tablespoons of kosher salt per quart of water. Hope that helps!
I know others have responded, but I go for an almost sea water-level of salty, i.e. a lot. You can’t season pasta later, only the sauce, but a well-seasoned pasta needs a less salty sauce.
I have always heard this, and cook pasta in very salty water. But, once while I was camping with a group of friends, I actually used sea water to cook pasta. We all found it inedible because of how salty it was. I guess there is a line you shouldn’t cross.
So glad you asked this. I was wondering the same thing. Thanks for the answer Deb!
I made this tonight, it was delicious. The only hiccup was that I drained the pasta and forgot to save the water! I confess to using a bit of chicken stock paste and water to make up for it, so didn’t use any salt in the finished dish. My first generation Italian-Canadian husband loved it as did the three kids. Paired it with sautéed rapini and broccoli for the rapini averse kids. Was quick and easy!
Cannot WAIT to try your version of this dish. I have been making Just a Taste’s recipe for years and more recently Grossy Pelosi’s “vodka sawce” which reminds me of yours since it uses tomato paste. So excited to try yours now!!
“Grossy Pelosi”??? 🙄🤔
Would coconut cream be an OK substitute for the heavy cream?
My family is dairy free and we often substitute coconut milk (from the can) for heavy cream in recipes. I’ve not made this recipe yet, but I have added coconut milk to tomato soup recipes and I like the combo (you will taste the coconut milk, but we expect that).
I’d do cashew cream, the flavor of coconut does not sound appetizing here! Cashew cream just requires unroasted cashews, water, and a blender (soak the cashews in boiling water first if your blender isn’t high powered) and it’s a great cream substitute for savory recipes.
Has to be nut AND dairy free unfortunately…
i think oat milk would be a good dairy/nut free sub here or coconut cream but would give a little coconut flavor which i think would be okay.imho :)
Oatly brand makes an excellent full-fat oatmilk with no sugar or other flavorings added. I use it in place of cream and half-and-half in cooking and baking. Works great.
I really want to try this recipe but i’d like to avoid vodka. Is there a non-alcoholic substitute that can be used?
I’m interested in this too…we’re a happily dry house.
You can skip the vodka.
hilarious timing — i just made pasta with vodka sauce for the first time the other night, thought of your posted recipe and knew it was a very old one, and opted to just do a search for a simple recipe elsewhere. i love that you posted a new one just a couple days later!
i promise to try this one :)
I used Earth Balance margerine (usually get the soy-free version, but they’re all great for cooking, baking & toast) and full-fat Oatly oatmilk, with no sweeteners nor flavorings plus Tito’a vodka. Mine came out fantastic!
Thank you for this! I’m going to try it this way for my husband who is vegan now and vodka sauce used to be one of his faves.
Not sure if this was a test to see if folks would miss the photos, but I missed them :) Well, I went to flickr and found them, but wondered if they were missing deliberately or accidentally.
Hope things are going well!
The photos should be showing — I wonder if there’s some sort of blocker on your browser, or if you might just need to reboot it. Are they still not showing?
Same here! Only the header photo is showing up. Firefox 78.7.0esr (64-bit) on Debian 10 (Linux) in case that helps. I updated and restarted Firefox and same result. I don’t have an ad blocker.
actually, same here too. i’m on mobile on whatever the latest version of chrome is on whatever the latest version of ios is. i saw the header and i guess since in my mind this was an update and not a brand new recipe i didn’t think too much about it, since i don’t see missing images (like empty squares/space or broken links) i just don’t see any pictures beyond the intro image at all.
I’m so sorry — I forgot to add the rest of the images! It’s a first. Hopefully now fixed for everyone. :)
I only see the picture of the completed dish at the top of the page, since you asked.
Nope, no photos (except the top one) on phone or laptop. Had to reboot laptop for other reasons, still no photos. Maybe you just didn’t save the post after adding photos or published before adding them?
Also here to report I don’t have the photos :-(
But I tried the pasta and it was awesome, so thats good.
Omitted red pepper bc kids, and used pecorino bc you can really taste the cheese bc the pasta is relatively straightforward and pecorino > parmesan flavor-wise
Oh my goodness. I am PROFOUNDLY embarrassed. Do you know why the images aren’t showing? I forgot to add them. Forgot. To. Add. Them. I’ve been blogging here for 14.5 years. This might be a first. Give me 5 minutes and I’ll get it all fixed for you and I’m so sorry I just assumed you were having a rendering issue.
Thank you! Love the ingredients pics…
For some reason I had never made vodka sauce but I saw it on Instagram in December and decided to try it. When I told my teenagers (14B, 16G)what we were having for dinner, they immediately said “Oh, that’s Gigi Hadid’s pasta”. For some reason she has been behind a huge resurgence in this recipe, which is probably why it ended up on my feed… Seriously, Google “Gigi Hadid” and before you finish typing her name, the second result will be “Gigi Hadid pasta recipe”… anyway, it has become a staple in our house since then. I like the Cooks Illustrated version but am intrigued that you’ve posted this today, will give it a try. Since December I have made it with chicken breast, shrimp, and italian sausage and it’s always good. And I was actually in the middle of making it tonight (with shrimp) when I saw your post!
I made this tonight exactly as described, and it was so so good. And so easy! I also love how exacting of a recipe it is. Two teaspoons of kosher salt led to a perfectly salted dish. I know that’s a small thing, but it was genuinely nice not to have to play around nervously with “salt to taste.” My boyfriend loved it. Given the history of this dish for Deb and the subsequent comments here, that feels like an important detail :)
I just made the old recipe for the first time a couple of weeks ago and my main thoughts were: “that’s a lot of vodka,” “wow, Deb didn’t warn us about the giant column of flame” (my vodka flared!) and “huh I wonder why canned tomatoes instead of tomato paste.” So I feel quite validated by this update! (The original was still pretty good!)
I also made Rachel Ray’s recipe many years ago. It was delish but I’m interested to try your new version. I loved it then…..
Hi there. I don’t comment ever really but you got me on this one. Discussion about when to add the vodka. If you add it so early and cook off the booze then the tomatoes which have alcohol soluble compounds will not be able to get that flavor released. Would you try it to just flip flop the paste and vodka and see what happens? Did you already try this and notice a difference? I know most recipes go brown first vodka second thought usually much later in the dish at the end. I like doing it early like this but after tomatoes. Lmk
Vodka is traditionally added later in the dish, so the flavor stays. I’ve got little kids, so I cook it off earlier. You can skip cooking it off or add it after the tomato paste if you’d like it to be more present.
I am going to try this recipe, thanks Deb. Up until now, Ina’s has been my go-to recipe: https://barefootcontessa.com/recipes/penne-alla-vodka, but am curious to try it with tomato paste (it is similar to the Carbone recipe).
Anybody have an idea whether this would work with gin? I often have it around the house, but not vodka.
Used gin (Barr Hill) and loved it. Could taste some sweet/spice, was not overpowering.
This hit the spot last night – I have a large unused contained of vodka I only bought to make vanilla extract with, so was happy to have another use for it. I just used the whole 6 oz can of tomato paste because I didn’t feel like saving it and I think it turned out great. Thanks for the perfect winter pantry meal!
This was so good! The only thing I changed was to add the vodka after the tomato paste; I would say you could sense there was something other than tomato in the sauce, but it didn’t taste like alcohol at all. I also used a bit less salt in sauce itself, because I was very generous with the salt in my pasta water. After one bite, my teenage son asked when I was going to make it again. Such nice comfort food on a cold winter night.
Deb! If I wanted to make this a baked dish, what time and temp would you recommend? I’d like to keep it a little sauce. Thanks :)
To bake it, I’d suggest making it saucier first, using a full can of tomato paste, the full amount of cream, etc.
Can’t wait to make this 90s (in how many dates did it feature? MANY of mine!!!!) dish in a New Light!! Wondering why you advise cooking the pasta first and holding it while the sauce is made? Why not cook it at the same time? Is it just a number of pots issue?
Three reasons, one, pot use. I’d rather not dirty two. Two, I need the pasta water to make the sauce. Three, the sauce is really quick to make so it just doesn’t add much time at all.
I love vodka sauce and really love it with the tomato paste!! Must try your version very soon 🙂
We cooked together as a family tonight with our two teens. Since we hadn’t cooked up our fresh pasta yet, we used the Better than Bouillon mushroom paste (made a light concoction) instead of pasta water and decided to add the vodka (good quality Tito’s) AFTER the tomato paste. Followed all the other instructions …. the resulting sauce was overall delicious but had a slight bitter note to it. We made sure that we cooked the sauce for a good while (to burn off any alcohol). Any thoughts on this? Tips for the future? Thank you.
Hello! Totally off topic but I wanted you to know that I made the chicken and rice, street cart style (from smitten kitchen everyday) for my picky eater and he thinks it’s the greatest chicken dish ever and asks for it. Not being pizza, pancakes, or ice cream this is high praise. :-)
I completely agree that Rigatoni > Penne. Live your truth! :)
Made this for our Valentine’s Day dinner and it came together so quickly and easily and tasted delicious. Perfect comfort food on a chilly night. I’ll definitely be making again!
I have never made this before and kind of thought of it as a so-so dish from the 90s. But was intrigued and made for Valentines Day tonight as I completely trust Deb’s recommendations. It was super delicious. Barely needed Parmesan. Will for sure be making again.
I’ve looked at this recipe a number of times, and to be honest was always skeptical because of the only tomato in this being tomato paste.
But oh my goodness. I made this tonight, following the recipe as is…. and it was So. Good.
The best homemade vodka rig I’ve ever made.
Tasty! Not sure what the effect of the vodka was (even though we added it at the end to minimize effects of evaporation), but tomato sauce with cream, fresh basil and pecorino sure is nice. Secretly added some fresh chopped tomatoes and used the sauce on fresh parpardelle instead of rigatoni.
Just made this and the flavor was very good. Added vodka after the tomato paste but don’t think I cooked it long enough before adding cream because can definitely feel the alcohol. My 12 year old doesn’t seem drunk but his stomach hurts :). In the future, how long should I cook it to cook off the alcohol? I saw one website said 1/4 cup of vodka cooked for 20 min would result in 40% of the alcohol being cooked off.
This was excellent and I’ll be making it again soon. I prepared the dish as written with a few modifications to suit my diet.
-I used cashew cream in place of the dairy (about a half cup of soaked cashew whirled up with about a cup of water in the vita mix)
– I don’t eat onion or garlic so I used about a cups of finely chopped carrot, celery and mushroom. I sautéed the carrot and celery in garlic infused oil and added the mushrooms to brown a bit before proceeding the the tomato paste step of the recipe. I added the vodka with the tomato paste since we have no concerns about that cooking off.
My modifications make the dish vegan and allium intolerance friendly.
Whoops — fixed!
I love your recipes, as always. But what just makes my day, every time, is the writing. Unparalleled in the food blog world. Thank you!
Coincidentally, I made this last night and then your newsletter came today suggesting the recipe! I like to use conchigliette pasta (the large pasta shells) to catch all that delicious sauce! :) I usually end up burning my mouth because I can’t wait to start eating. Sometimes, if I’m feeling more gluttonous, I also add some sliced mushrooms, halved olives and tuna to the sauce, which works a treat. Yum!
I made this a few days ago. Simple, easy and delish. Would make again. It’s a good one when you’re just thinking of dinner at 6 PM. Or just home from vacation and everyone starving with not much in the fridge. (Unfortunately?) I always have heavy cream in my fridge. :)
Also re the post today about Google’s ratings being useless: this is a known fact in our house. My son likes to cook a lot and he’ll find a recipe, then ask if the site is “trustworthy.” You’ll be happy to know that Smitten is the pinnacle of trustworthy. It’s not infrequent that we’ll make a recipe found off the internet, decide, “meh” and lament , “shoulda checked smitten first.”
Is there a vegan version of this, omitting cream and butter?
I haven’t tested it but several commenters here mention using all olive oil and coconut cream or another non-dairy milk.
Yum. But, I will have to pass on this deliciousness. I have no doubt I would eat the whole dish. I am turning into a “Panda” shape due to the pandemic.
The name doesn’t lie—I made this for my husband and kids for Valentine’s Day, and if he hadn’t already proposed, I’m sure he would have for the pasta alone. I’m ready to propose to you for providing a recipe that I can put together in the time it takes for the pasta to boil that tastes like it’s been cooking for hours (also a shoutout to your pasta e ceci/quick chickpeas, which fills a similar place in our lives, but without the veneer of Fancy). We are all in love.
Soooooo good. Just made this, it was really very good!
Wow that tasted restaurant quality! Thank you for the recipe! I think next time I will make a double or triple batch of sauce and freeze the extra sauce for use later. For the record, I skipped the butter and just used extra olive oil. I also just used a splash of vodka, which seemed like the easiest way to maybe get some flavor but also not worry about whether I cooked it off enough (because toddler).
I’ve always wanted to make this dish, but vodka isn’t something I would normally have on hand. I know you can leave it out, but I’d rather do it properly, so I’m interested know whether the quality of the vodka make a big difference. As someone pointed out, I can use any excess to make my own vanilla essence, so it won’t be wasted.
*makes a big difference (I hate typos!)
This was great! I hesitated because I didn’t have vodka, but it was wonderful without. I did use a whole can of tomato paste so I didn’t have to deal with any leftover, and thought the depth of flavor was excellent so would do that again. I used just 1/2 cup of heavy cream.
I didn’t have rigatoni and had only whole wheat penne, so used casarecce, the only other short pasta I had on hand. The servings felt small using such a compact noodle, so I will definitely use rigatoni next time! But this was so easy and quick, and will definitely go in my regular rotation. Thanks!
I never keep vodka around. Is there another spirit that would pair well with this?
Made this for dinner tonight! Used 13oz pipette pasta, full 6oz canned tomato paste, and about 1/2 to 3/4 cup heavy cream. I think it came out very well; much better than that time I attempted penne alla vodka back in high school. Thanks so much for sharing the recipe!
I undercooked the pasta and oversalted the pasta water. Other than that, it was good.
Amazing. Simple. Delicious. Kids and adults alike loved it, and I know this is one I’ll be adding to my regular rotation. (Didn’t use vodka, as I had none, but looking forward to using it next time and comparing the two.)
This was just wonderful. I had been thinking about this dish for at least a week after you posted it and recommended it to my mom, who has been in a wee bit of a dinner slump lately. She made this Saturday night (and invited me! yay!) and it was one of the best pasta dishes we’ve eaten over the past year. “This is restaurant-worthy!” my mom exclaimed. “No, it’s better,” I responded. We will definitely be repeating this lovely, simple, speedy-but-doesn’t-taste-like-it dish. Brava, Deb!
I’ve made the awfully names Rachael Ray version (years ago) and absolutely love the flavor and simplicity of this version! From previous recipes, I know you advise people to use half the salt in a recipe if Morton Kosher salt is being used…I’m so glad I remembered that advice! It turned out to be the perfect amount of salt. Next time, I will be sure to buy fresh basil for the finish. And then I’ll get to watch my husband gobble up four bowls of pasta instead of just three! Haha!
What a hit! My three boys adored it and the seven year old declared it his favorite ever (none had tried this type of sauce). Many thanks for a super easy delicious meal. Keep it up! I’ve been following your blog since 2009 btw but finally started commenting. I don’t Facebook. brain not there on social etc but your recipes have been amazing and honestly gotten better and easier for us super busy moms over the years which I deeply appreciate. So happy for all your growth and successes over the years (and I come back all the time now for these winners)!
This used to be a staple recipe when my kids were younger. We’ve steered away from pasta main dishes over the past several years, but you had me at the name :-) I’ve never had (or cooked) gluten-free pasta before, but thought I’d try it out with this recipe. Curious if anyone has suggestions – why kind and if this sauce would do well with a non-gluten type pasta?
I never have cream but I always have whole milk. Is it possible to sub the former for the latter? Or should I just buy the cream?
Came here just to see if this had been asked before! Same boat!
I’d buy the cream tbh. I tend to always have a small package of cream that holds longer and does not need to be stored in the fridge in my pantry. You never know when it comes in handy. We have these in 200ml (6 fl oz) where I live , so you are never stuck with too much left over.
I made this, as written with the exception of the addition of some prosciutto, for lunch and it is very good. I will make it again however next time I will halve the amount of pasta as I would like the sauce to be the star. Easy and tasty-thank you!!!!
Oh boy Deb. I remember when you first posted “you wont be single for long” and had made that recipe several times for family. They loved it. I loved it. And I thought it couldn’t possibly get better. But after trying this recipe…Wow, just wow. The sauce is just so smooth and coats the rigatoni perfectly. My partner and I had a wonderful time comparing the new version to the previous. Ill be keeping this one at the top of my “dishes to wow my friends with” list. Thanks for all you do.
This was SO good!! Will certainly keep it in my regular repertoire for those days where I days I don’t have a lot of time, energy or inspiration to cook. We all need recipes that can be cooked with staples that we have in our fridge/pantry at all times anyway. (Yes I read the article about your pantry too!! :-) )
This was amazing! Easy peasy, didn’t take long, and was delish. My husband who is typically not so enthusiastic about food (yeah, I don’t get it either) RAVED about it and said it was without question the best penne (bc that’s what I used) a la vodka dish he ever had, including restaurants. I didn’t have any parmesan or pecorino, so I just skipped them and even though I am a cheese-aholic, I still thought it was amazing. I also just used a couple small yellow onions since I didn’t have any shallots. So. Good!!!!!
Thank you Deb for this recipe!!!!
Could I make the sauce in advance and store it in the refrigerator? If so, I wouldn’t be cooking any pasta until later and thus won’t have any pasta water, so could I use regular water instead (perhaps with a touch of starch added)?
I haven’t tried to make it in advance, sorry; I’m more concerned it could split when reheated, but it might not. I wouldn’t add starch. Definitely rewarm with pasta water to loosen.
I never made pasta alla vodka before and this was really good! Very easy.
I switched out the heavy cream to Ripple, which is a vegan dairy free alternative and I used Miyoko’s dairy-free butter and this was sooo good. Thanks for sharing such an amazing recipe! :-)
This was delicious but came out too salty for me. When I added the recommended amount of salt, it was so salty that I needed to add almost another can of tomato paste to mellow it out.
Oh madonna mia, this is SO. GOOD. Made this last week for my fiancé, and I think if he wasn’t my fiancé he would have proposed to me that night anyway. It was that good. I made it with boring old penne that we had lying around, so can’t wait to try with the rigatoni.
Only tweaks I made were to add the vodka after the tomato paste as you mentioned in your notes, because we’re naughty. Could definitely still get some of that vodka bite in the sauce, which I loved. Added a little less salt (probably about 1.5 tsp) than you mentioned because it seemed like a lot, and I figured I could always correct later. Didn’t end up needing more, in my opinion. I used around 3/4 heavy cream in the end, and closer to 3/4 tsp red pepper flakes, which was QUITE the kick but went beautifully with the rest. Thank you!
That looks incredible. Funny on the chicken broth… I would redo the recipe too. Love this dish. :)
So easy and delicious. Just…wow. Added the vodka after the tomato paste had cooked a bit, then cut the pasta in half so it was really saucy and I lapped up the extra sauce with bread. My bf doesn’t LOVE pasta dishes, so I don’t make often, but this is going on *at least* monthly rotation. Going back for seconds now.
Made this last night and my 15 month old son LOVED it! He ate so much and was dipping his dessert cheerios into the sauce.
That is a great story! I was pretty sure my partner was a keeper when he ordered pork belly on our first date. I knew for certain when he came over to cook dinner and he started to put together chicken with a lemon sauce without using a cookbook.
I’ve always made the vodka sauce from Shirley Corriher’s Cookwise (she calls it “fresh tomato-basil sauce with garlic and roasted almonds”). The almonds get roasted and then pureed. I wonder if the almonds were intended to sub for cream?
How can something so simple be so tasty?
Yum! Made this – skipped the vodka because I didn’t have any. It was still SO good but I want to try it with the vodka one day. Sautéed some shrimp in butter and pepper on the side for some added protein which went very nicely with the dish. Another smittenkitchen hit! And I cannot believe how easy this was!
I grew up seeing penne a la vodka as a bland catering hall dish, but when I saw this recipe I felt compelled to try it. It came out SO good! I followed the recipe exactly as-written, except I used penne instead of rigatoni. There was excellent depth of flavor, and sauce texture was perfect. Miles away from the Long-Island-communion-party offering I almost never enjoyed. Husband also loved it, so we plan to make this often.
Fabulous. I used penne because that’s what I had. I also had some Mutti San Romano style tomatoes and a small amount of tomato past to be used up. I blended the two together and it measured two cups. Perfect amount. I followed the rest verbatim.
And… it was great! Much more flavorful and generally delicious than the previous recipe I used. Thank you!!
so good!! I made with gin cause I didn’t have vodka, and threw in some sausage and mushrooms. extremely yummy, made me feel like I was in an delicious Italian-American restaurant.
Made the recipe as mentioned to the T and it was delicious! Lasted my boyfriend and I for 2 meals because it was so rich and filling! Loved it and will make it again.
Hi! Made this tonight and it was great – thank you! If I was to add things like peas and / or diced prosciutto, at what step would you recommend doing so?! Thanks so much!
Peas, I’d probably add with the cream and let it simmer a minute or two (or to your desired level of softness). Diced proscuitto, you could crisp and then add the shallot and garlic.
WOW! This is super, super good….I’ve made variations of this from an another source before and the last time it was meh. So I thought I’d try SK to see if a slight difference would make a difference. Before I’ve used penne, this time rigatoni–that’s a toss up. The sauce was a the difference: I added the vodka after the tomato paste and let it cook down a bit. I think the difference was using tomato paste instead of canned tomatoes–the sauce was much more creamier and succulent. Used real cream, as well.
It didn’t seem like it was worth wasting vodka for barely detectable flavor so I skipped it and the outcome was heavenly. Just thought I’d mention it in case anyone else also prefers to save their vodka for nobler causes, i.e., cocktails.
Well, this was a mega-hit. Even with my extremely picky 6-year-old, who literally danced with joy. It’s amazing how much flavor you get with a pretty simple ingredients list.
This is easy and quick, even for a weeknight! I used the full can of tomato paste, and I made the whole amount of sauce but I only used half of the pasta. There are only two of us! It was saucy, but in a good way. Great for mopping up with bread!
The leftovers are great too. I had a little extra pasta water left that I added to the container when I put it away, to make sure it didn’t get too dried out. I had them this afternoon with some pepperoni for a little spice.
Restaurant quality pasta dish! The best pasta recipe I have ever made!
Originally from New York but currently living in Boston where quality Italian food is seriously lacking. This brought me back to Italian restaurants in NY where simple pasta dishes are extraordinarily tasty and satisfying. Thank you, Deb!
This was bloody delicious exactly as written!
This sounds delicious. It says “eat immediately” but I want to make it and take it to a friend’s house. Does it reheat well? or at least reasonably well?
It does. It’s more of an issue that if you’re saucing the pasta, it often keeps drinking the sauce, so it can seem more dry on the second day or later. But it still tastes great.
This is hands down one of my favorite home cooked meals of all time! The whole family absolutely loves it.
This is truly the best vodka sauce. I think using shallots instead of good old onions is a great move. As someone who makes it at least once a week, I cannot recommend it enough.
This is a really great recipe. Quick and easy and delicious. My kids really love it too.
I absolutely love this recipe – made it all the time last winter and with autumn’s arrival it is back in near-weekly rotation!
Made a bastardized version of this tonight! Silk has a newish, dairy free, coconut based heavy whipping “cream” and it works great! Tiny bit of coconut note in the final product but only if you are really looking for it. Highly recommend if, like me, you have most a cartoon of the stuff leftover from Thanksgiving.
I made this for dinner tonight and it was amazing! I added some bite sized, floured, sautéed chicken at the end with a side of broccoli. Big hit!
I have no idea how such simple ingredients can create such a SPECTACULAR mouthful. But this is amazing! Truly a one pot meal. Don’t skimp on the shallots/red pepper flakes/salt so you have enough heat.
Oh man, this is so good. We made this on a whim and I had to make a lot of subsititutions with what we had on had (onion instead of shallot, whole milk and butter instead of heavy cream, penne instead of rigatoni 😢) but let me tell you, it was soooo good with the imperfection that I’m making again tonight- with every right ingredient this time! So excited to see just how much better it will be when actually made correctly.
I made this tonight, and my husband and tweens loved it. One of our favorite fancy pizzas has a vodka sauce with prosciutto, so I crisped up some and added it to the adults dishes and my husband thought it was fancy restaurant worthy. I also decreased the salt a bit to take that into consideration.
Hi! Wondering whether you think crème fraiche would work as a substitute for the cream? Thank you!! And thank you for the delicious recipes! They always help me get back in the kitchen when I’ve been in a funk.
This was absolute perfection!
My husband’s favorite ever dish is penne vodka, but he is so picky about how he likes it that he’s constantly disappointed when we get it out at any of our local Italian joints.
I made this tonight and it was so delicious, quick, and easy. He does like bacon/pancetta in his penne vodka so I added bacon here since I had it on hand. Also, he far prefers rigatoni to penne, so this worked out beautifully.
He requested this go on the regular rotation- though it’s so decadent I’ve only agreed to once a month. I’d gladly make this over takeout ANY DAY.
This was delish! Vodka isn’t something I keep in the house so I omitted it and replaced with a splash of Rosé that was lingering in the fridge. Otherwise made it as written and it was a hit.
Added the tiny meatballs from this site from the baked rigatoni recipe to bulk it up a little and was super satisfied on our first wet, cool day of the fall here in the PNW.
This very easy to make! I only had half and half instead of heavy cream and the results were still great! Will def keep this in the rotation.
Yum!!! Used coconut milk in place of cream but followed everything else. Thank you!
My family loves this dish! My husband doesn’t like red pepper flakes, so I substituted a teaspoon of diced Calabrian chilis, and reduced the salt. So easy and delicious. It’s on the regular menu now for sure.
Love this recipe and make it all the time! It’s such a great addition to our rotation of simple weeknight recipes. We always just use a full 6oz. can of tomato paste, and it works great.
This has literally become my go to pasta night recipe! Making it with an addition of spicy italian sausage for Valentine’s Day this year. The use of tomato paste instead of canned tomatoes makes this absolutely the best most perfect way to make a vodka sauce! Not soupy ! Just perfect every time
Great recipe, but the SECRET INGREDIENT is to add 2 tablespoons of marscapone at the end with the cream. I learned it at the cutest Italian restaurant in Chicago…can’t remember the name but they had the best rigatoni alla vodka there. The waiter told us the secret to it…
Hi Deb, am I able to make the sauce one day ahead (for a dinner party)? Thanks!
Do you still use the whole tube of tomato paste if it says double concentrated? I’ve noticed most tubes say that.