The Best Vodka Penne

I love pasta. Whether I’m making it from scratch. Or just making up a big bowl of store-bought pasta. But there’s one recipe that is a total favorite in our house. It comes from 101 cookbooks, which is one of the first food blogs that I started following. When I pulled the recipe out, I realized that the print date was 2006, which means we’ve been eating this for almost 10 years. My guess is that I made it to impress my husband, and I think that worked pretty well (hi hon!). And to be honest, it still works well. He loves this one.  It’s just so dang good.  There are a couple of things that I’ve changed, but it stays pretty true to her original recipe. It’s also become a favorite for when we have guests over. It makes a ton of pasta, and it’s easy to make with people around (there’s not a lot of prep), so it’s perfect if you’re feeding a crowd.  Mix up a big salad, throw a baguette in the oven, and you’ll have a delicious meal in about 30 minutes.

Vodka Penne

Since there are only a few ingredients – tomatoes, olive oil, cream, vodka – you want to make sure you’re using the highest quality ingredients. If you have a nice olive oil and an okay everyday olive oil, use the good stuff. Better quality ingredients will definitely make a better tasting dish. And a few notes if you want to make this healthier:

  • The recipe calls for heavy cream – it’s only 1/2 cup for the entire batch – but you can also sub in half and half if you prefer. It doesn’t get that same creamy texture that you get with the heavy cream, but it is a smidge healthier.
  • Parmesan cheese. Cut back if you’re feeling boring healthy. It calls for 3/4 cup but you could easily get by with 1/2 cup.

The recipe also calls for fishing out your garlic cloves, which – while I was taking Italian classes – I learned is a very Italian thing to do. My teacher mentioned that her family never ate garlic, they just used it in sauces as a light seasoning, and then fished them out before eating. You can read more on the interesting history of Italy and garlic here.

Vodka Penne
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 8
  • One 35-ounce can of diced Italian tomatoes, with their liquid
  • 1 pound penne
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (use the good stuff)
  • 10 garlic cloves, peeled and whacked with the side of a knife to split them open a smidge
  • crushed red hot pepper
  • ⅓ cup vodka
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2½ Tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • ¾ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (use the good stuff)
  • salt and olive oil to season
  1. Bring a big pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Cook the penne according to the directions, usually for 8-10 minutes.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the olive oil is hot, add the garlic cloves and cook them until they're lightly browned, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes and tomato liquid to the pan, being very careful as it will splatter. I recommend being quick and getting those tomatoes in there as fast as you can. Stir the tomatoes into the olive oil and bring to a boil.
  4. Season the tomato mixture using salt and red pepper (keep in mind that you'll add a bit of salt with the cheese too) and boil gently for 2 minutes. Pour the vodka in and allow the sauce to simmer until your pasta is ready (or 3-4 minutes if your pasta is ready already).
  5. Drain your pasta and return it to the pot.
  6. Fish the garlic cloves out of the sauce and add the cream. You can also add another 2 tablespoons of olive oil or butter if you want to bump up the flavor even further. If you're aiming to make it a bit healthier, I wouldn't. Gently stir the sauce together.
  7. If your pan is large enough, add the drained pasta to your pan. If it's not large enough, add your tomato sauce back into the pasta pot with the pasta.
  8. Bring the sauce and pasta to a boil, stirring to coat the pasta with the sauce. Check your seasoning and adjust if necessary. Add your parsley and continue to cook until the sauce is sticking to the pasta. It should take 2-4 minutes.
  9. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese.


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