Penne Alla Vodka. How can a dish taste so good and be so easy to make?

Nothing says comfort as pasta does. A great dish that can be enjoyed in so many different ways.

Penne Alla Vodka

Besides penne pasta, this dish contains cream sauce mixed with tomato sauce, a very unusual combination in Italian cooking.

And vodka is added to the beautiful sauce to create this fantastic dish, the second most popular pasta dish besides Ragu alla Bolognese. 

In this Article

It became an icon of the fashionable cuisine of the time. It remains popular to this day in Italian-American cuisine. 

However, the exact origins of penne alla vodka are unclear. Its history is disputed among Italian and New York City chefs as to which country invented Penne alla Vodka.

In the 1980s, two individuals in New York City claimed they had invented the recipe.

A Columbia University student, James Doty, claimed to have made the first plate of pasta.

The second claim comes from Chef Luigi Franzese of Orsini Restaurant. He originally called it Penne alla Russa – Penne alla Russian – because he used vodka to thin the sauce. 

On the other side of the ocean, in Bologna and Rome, Italy, this dish was introduced around 1970 or 1980. 

Dante restaurant in Bologna claims to be the first to invent this dish,

However, in Rome, a  Roman chef claims that he created this dish upon the request of a vodka company to introduce vodka to the Italian public.

Today you will see this dish practically on every American restaurant menu and rarely on menus in Italy restaurants. 

Can penne alla vodka get you drunk?

No, you cant. As you cook the vodka with the sauce, the alcohol evaporates, leaving behind an excellent taste.

If you have children, do not worry about the alcohol content as it evaporates in the cooking process.

Why San Marzano Tomatoes?

San Marzano is a type of plum tomato. Longer and thinner than your typical plum tomato. Vibrant red in color and rich in flavor.

They also have fewer seeds than your regular plum tomatoes.

Besides having fewer seeds, they have less acidity than other tomatoes. Idyllic for Italian cuisine.

San Marzano tomatoes are regulated and certified authentic by an independent party, making them a bit more pricey than your regular tomatoes.

However, once you cook with them, there is no going back.

Here are a few helpful tips for the ingredients needed

You can find the printable recipe with all the suitable ingredient amounts at the bottom of this post.

Penne pasta: The perfect pasta as it holds the juicy sauce inside, and when you bite into all the flavors are there for you to enjoy. If none are on hand and you do not want to make a run for the store, rigatoni and ziti will be good substitutes. The pasta must be tubular. 

Yellow Onion: Milder and sweeter once you let it sweat out and become translucent. 

Garlic clove: Gives that perfect kick to your sauce. I always toss the garlic as they do in Italy. I leave that one up to you. 

San Marzano Tomato: Long and thin tomatoes that taste amazing with all tomatoes sauces

Vodka: Do not use flavored vodka with this dish. I love Grey Goose. Neutral and perfect for this dish. It gives you a lot of flavors but does not compromise the overall dish.

Heavy Cream: the secret arsenal to bring down the tomatoes’ acidity and enhance your dish’s flavor.

Parmesan Cheese: It could not be an Italian dish if you do not give a few cheese grates to your pasta. Always a welcome addition to all pasta.

Unsalted butter: It will not modify or oversalt your sauce and dish.

Flat-leaf Italian parsley:  Fresh parsley brings great flavor to all dishes. 

Equipment needed

I only recommend what I use and love. To achieve this recipe, I used the following:

Large pot: Cooking your pasta in a large pot is always recommended.

Large skillet: To prepare your sauce

Cutting board

Knife

Colander: To drain the pasta

Cooking utensils Wooden spoons are always my favorite

Penne alla Vodka

Cooking tips and step-by-step instructions to create this excellent Penne alla Vodka.

I must say it is surprisingly easy to make and quite addictive. A large platter was all gone before we knew it.

There are so many recipes for Penne Alla Vodka that it can get pretty confusing. This is my adaptation, easy and tasty.

Have all the ingredients ready when you start boiling the water, as this recipe will go fast, and by the time the pasta is ready, your sauce will be prepared too.

  • Start with the pasta water. Add salt and bring a large pot to a full boil.
  • Meanwhile, a large skillet must hold the cooked pasta, saute the onions with the garlic until translucent.
  • Add the tomatoes and vodka gently in the middle so they will not splatter.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Simmer to let the alcohol evaporate. Add the cream and butter.
  • Save a cup of the cooking water and add the pasta to the tomato vodka skillet. 
  • Toss it until all the pasta is well coated. Add a bit of the cooking water if the sauce is too thick.

Serve on individual pasta plates or a large platter and top with lots of Parmesan and parsley.

See! Easy, right? 

Penne alla Vodka

Storage and reheating instructions

If you have leftovers, I recommend placing them in an airtight glass container. The Penne alla Vodka will store well for up to three days.

When ready to enjoy your leftovers, place the penne with the sauce in a large skillet to hold them well. Add two tablespoons of water and one or two tablespoons of butter.

Please bring it to a hot and enjoyable temperature for you to enjoy it. Make sure the penne does not burn.

Serve hot with some cheese shredded over it.

Equipment needed to create this recipe.

John Boos Maple Wood Cutting Board for Kitchen Prep, 1.5 Inch Thick, Large Edge Grain Rectangular Reversible Charcuterie Boos Block, 20" x 15" x 1.5"
$124.09
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Calphalon Classic Stainless Steel 8 quart Stock Pot with Steamer and Pasta Insert
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Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Iron Handle Skillet, 10.25" (1-3/4 qt.), Cerise
$199.95
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Bellemain 5 Qt Metal Colander with Handle | Pasta, Spaghetti, Berry, Fruit, Vegetable, Kitchen Food Strainer Basket | 18/8 Stainless Steel Colander Bowl | Pot Drainer for Cooking, Sifter Strainer
$23.95
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Miusco Non-Stick Silicone Kitchen Utensils Set with Natural Acacia Hard Wood Handle, 5 Pieces, Grey, BPA Free, Baking, Serving and Cooking Utensils
$22.99
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02/19/2024 02:55 am GMT

Penne alla Vodka

5 from 13 votes
Penne alla Vodka
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 4 people
How can a dish taste so good and be so easy to make.

Ingredients 

  • 1 lbs penne pasta
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • 0.5 yellow onion, chopped in small dice
  • 2 garlic, finely chopped
  • 28 ounces San Marzano tomatoes
  • 0.25 cup vodka
  • 0.5 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tbsps unsalted butter
  • 0.5 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 0.25 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped fresh

Instructions

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to al dente package instruction, 11 to 13 minutes. Reserve ½ cup pasta water and drain pasta.
  • In a large skillet, large enough to hold all of the cooked pasta, over medium heat add olive oil, onions and garlic. Sautee until translucent, about 3 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes, vodka, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes until alcohol burns off. Stir in heavy cream and butter.
  • Add the pasta to the skillet with the sauce. Toss the pasta in the sauce over high heat until well coated. Add a little of the cooking water if the sauce is too thick.
  • Top with Parmesan and parsley and mix gently.
  • Serve immediately.

Nutrition

Calories: 602kcal | Carbohydrates: 70g | Protein: 16g | Fat: 25g | Saturated Fat: 12g | Cholesterol: 57mg | Sodium: 178mg | Potassium: 262mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 890IU | Vitamin C: 5.2mg | Calcium: 164mg | Iron: 1.4mg

Giangi’s Kitchen provides nutritional information, but these figures should be considered estimates, as a registered dietician does not calculate them.

Did you make this?

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Originally published on August 22, 2016. Updated on January 26, 2023.