Coming to school in New York from Massachusetts I discovered this dish that everyone was obsessed with, a dish I had never even heard of. Penne alla Vodka is the clear favorite amongst my friends, and they were astonished when I admitted to not knowing what it was or what the hype was, even with eating out at fancy Italian restaurants back in Massachusetts frequently. 

After researching the origin of Penne alla Vodka, I discovered that this was in fact not authentic Italian and was created by vodka companies. In the 1970s vodka companies wanted to increase vodka consumption in Italy, suggesting to combine this with heavy cream tomato sauce. This trend did not last with stubborn southern Italians, yet created a trend in America. 

I was determined to try making this homemade sauce to see what all the boost was about, and was surprisingly impressed with the results.

Penne Alla Vodka

  • Prep Time:30 mins
  • Cook Time:30 mins
  • Total Time:1 hr
  • Servings:8
  • Medium


  • 16 ounces penne pasta
  • 4 cans Pastene "Kitchen Ready" tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbs minced garlic
  • 2 pinches black pepper to taste
  • 2 pinches oregano to taste
  • 2 pinches basil to taste
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbs unsalted butter
  • 2 tbs fresh parsley
  • 1/3 cup Romano cheese
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup fresh mozzarella cheese
  • Optional: Ricotta cheese
  • Optional: Fresh Italian Bread
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  • Step 1

    Gather all you ingredients together. This sauce is enough to make with 2 boxes of pasta and there would still be leftover sauce, which can be refrigerated and/ or frozen and enjoyed later.

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  • Step 2

    In the sauce pan saute crushed fresh garlic with some olive oil.

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  • Step 3

    Add in the cans of tomatoes once browned. Keep on medium heat and let boil down for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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  • Step 4

    Add in oregano, basil, salt, pepper, and any other spices to taste.

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  • Step 5

    Add in vodka then let simmer for about 10 minutes, still stirring occasionally.

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  • Step 6

    Add in the cut butter until melted, while stirring.

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  • Step 7

    Mix in heavy cream, adding a little more if needed.

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  • Step 8

    Stir in cheeses together. I used both Romano and Parmesan but you could use one or the other if that is easier. I also added in a little fresh mozzarella, which is also optional.

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  • Step 9

    Keep stirring until mixed. The sauce will now be lighter in color from the added cream and cheeses.

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  • Step 10

    Chop up the fresh parsley and add to the sauce, to taste.

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  • Step 11

    Once everything is added and seasoned to taste, stir and keep on low heat. This will make sure the sauce is boiled down to the correct consistency and keeps it hot while everything else cooks.

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  • Step 12

    While the sauce cooks down, bring a pot to boil for the pasta. Optional: Then add some olive oil to a skillet and place down the Italian sausages to cook until browned, turning over halfway.

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  • Step 13

    Add in the Penne to an already boiled pot of water, cooking for about 11- 12 minutes.

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  • Step 14

    Optional: In a small pot of boiling water add in the mushrooms cooking until soft.

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  • Step 15

    Optional: I love Italian bread with pasta dishes, especially when fresh. It is easier to get the already cut bread if planning on making an appetizer, which is described in the next step.

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  • Step 16

    Optional: Add some olive oil to the fresh bread and place on the extra mozzarella cheese. Place in the oven at 350° until the bread is browned and the cheese is melted.

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  • Step 17

    Add a spoonful of sauce to a large bowl, then add the drained cooked pasta, mushrooms, and cut sausages on top. Since there will be leftover sauce, add enough to stir around with the pasta and sausages, saving the rest for later.

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  • Step 18

    Enjoy your home cooked dinner together with family or friends, a glass of wine, and nice dish ware (for the perfect pictures of course!)

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Making this sauce is not as intimidating as it may seem with the flexibility in how cheesy and creamy it is, as well as how many seasonings you would like to add in. Adding in the Italian sausage and mushrooms are also optional, yet they nicely compliment the flavor of the sauce. 

This sauce recipe is enough to satisfy even the most loyal Penne alla Vodka fans, and maybe will even leave them with a new favorite asking for more. I enjoyed making this from scratch and was impressed with the combination of creamy and tomato sauce flavors. I also now understand how the dish creates such a hype in the New York area, even if it is not authentic Italian.