If you love vodka sauce, but have never tried making it yourself, try my simple and amazing vodka sauce recipe! It has an incredible, restaurant-quality flavor and comes together in one pot.
My Favorite Vodka Sauce Recipe
Smooth, rich, incredibly flavored…the list of adjectives to describe this homemade vodka sauce recipe are truly endless and most definitely hunger-inducing!
Remember the penne alla vodka I shared a few months ago? Today I’m sharing a standalone recipe for the sauce, just in case you don’t feel like serving it over penne pasta (like on a pizza with plenty of fresh basil?!).
Why you’ll love it:
- Restaurant-quality flavor at home. Every step of this recipe is carefully crafted to imbue rich depth of flavor–serve this to dinner guests, and I guarantee they’ll be impressed!
- Enjoy as a vegetarian dish or pack on the protein. Chicken, shrimp, sausage, or meatballs all work well with this sauce.
- Simmers for just 30 minutes on the stove before it’s ready to serve. And if you want to make it in advance, it tastes even better the next day.
- Practically begs to be sopped up with breadsticks or garlic knots.
What You Need
None of the ingredients are too fancy, and that’s one thing I love about this dish. However, the way we bring them together is going to give the vodka sauce incredible complexity of flavor. Let’s go over them!
- Tomatoes. While crushed tomatoes will technically work, I prefer to use whole tomatoes and crush them myself. If you can get your hands on them, San Marzano tomatoes are an excellent choice here and my personal preference.
- Vodka. Use whichever brand you like–it does not have to be expensive! Just make sure whichever vodka you use is plain/unflavored.
- Cream. Heavy cream or whipping cream will work here. This mellows out the sauce, adds body, and makes it so velvety.
- Parmesan. As when making macaroni and cheese, I recommend that you grate your own cheese here. Pre-grated or shredded cheeses contain anti-caking agents that prevent them from melting nicely, and we want a super smooth vodka sauce. Don’t forget to grate some extra for serving over your pasta.
- Basil. Fresh basil has the BEST flavor and will greatly impact the quality of your sauce. I highly recommend using fresh if you can, but if you cannot find any, you can use 2 teaspoons of dried basil instead.
I didn’t include pasta in this ingredient list because this recipe is technically just for the sauce.
SAM’S TIP: You can adjust the crushed red pepper flakes to suit your taste; if you like a spicier pasta, add ½ teaspoon (and try my arrabiata sauce while you’re at it!). If you prefer your pasta milder, use ¼ teaspoon (or you can leave it out).
Remember, this is just an overview of the ingredients I used and why. For the full recipe please scroll down to the bottom of the post!
How to Make Vodka Sauce
- Saute the onions in melted butter and olive oil until softened, then stir in the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds or until fragrant.
- Stir in the tomato paste, spices, and seasonings and cook until the tomato paste turns a deep red color. When the tomato paste has deepened, it means it’s slightly caramelized, which is yet another way we intensify the flavor of the sauce.
- Drizzle in the vodka, scraping the bottom of the pan as you go. Let this cook, stirring frequently, until the vodka loses its strong smell and the mixture reduces by half.
- Pour in the tomatoes and basil and use your spoon to break them up. Stir in the cream.
- Use an immersion blender (or pour your sauce into a regular blender, blend, and return it to the pan) to blend the sauce until it is velvety smooth. Reduce the heat to low and let the sauce simmer uncovered for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in the parmesan cheese and any additional fresh basil and cook just a few minutes more until the parmesan melts. Pour over or toss with pasta, and enjoy!
SAM’S TIP: If you are serving this sauce with pasta, save some of the pasta water before draining your noodles. As you toss the noodles and sauce together, drizzle in some of the pasta water; it will help the sauce cling to the noodles. I suggest doing this with all pasta dishes (like my ragu), not just with this vodka sauce recipe.
Frequently Asked Questions
While we are adding alcohol to this sauce, we are also cooking off most (if not all!) of it before serving, so there will be a very small amount once you portion it out and serve.
Use your best judgement and do what feels comfortable for you and your family, but I feel safe serving this vodka sauce recipe to my kids.
Penne is a classic choice, but farfalle, rigatoni, fusilli, or any other pasta that has areas for the sauce to cling to it are ideal. Really though, any pasta will technically work
Yes! Simply store in an airtight container in the freeze and enjoy with a few months.
I have a few more pasta sauce recipes coming for you soon, but are there any in particular you’d like to see? Let me know in the comments!
- 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 Tablespoons (28 g) butter salted or unsalted
- 1 (140 g) medium yellow onion finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¼ – ½ tsp red pepper flakes adjust based on desired spiciness
- ⅓ cup (80 ml) vodka
- 28 oz canned whole peeled tomatoes or crushed tomatoes, undrained
- 10 large fresh basil leaves torn or cut into ribbons (may substitute 2 teaspoons dried basil)
- 1 cup (265 ml) + 2 Tablespoons heavy cream
- ¼ cup (20 g) freshly grated parmesan cheese plus extra for serving
- 16 oz pasta if serving with pasta
- In a large pot, warm the olive oil and butter over medium heat until butter is melted.2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 Tablespoons (28 g) butter
- Add the onion and saute until softened and beginning to turn translucent, typically about 3-5 minutes.1 (140 g) medium yellow onion
- Add the garlic to the pan and cook, stirring, until fragrant (about 30 seconds).1 Tablespoon minced garlic
- Add tomato paste, Italian seasoning, salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes, stirring until everything is well combined. Continue to cook, stirring, until tomato paste deepens in color.2 Tablespoons tomato paste, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, ¾ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon ground black pepper, ¼ – ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- Gradually pour in the vodka, scraping the bottom of the pan as you do to scrape up any browned bits. Cook, stirring frequently, until vodka reduces by half and loses its potent alcohol scent.⅓ cup (80 ml) vodka
- Add tomatoes and basil, breaking/mashing them up with your spatula as you cook28 oz canned whole peeled tomatoes, 10 large fresh basil leaves
- Stir in the cream.1 cup (265 ml) + 2 Tablespoons heavy cream
- Puree. If you have an immersion blender, use it to puree the sauce until completely smooth. Otherwise, transfer the sauce in batches to a blender to process until smooth, then return to the pot.
- Reduce heat to low and bring the sauce to a simmer. Allow it to cook, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If serving with pasta, this is a good time to begin preparing it according to package instructions. You can serve sauce over cooked pasta or toss the two together before serving. See note for serving with pasta.16 oz pasta
- After simmering, add parmesan cheese and stir in until melted. Use as desired or store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to a week before using.¼ cup (20 g) freshly grated parmesan cheese
To serve with pastaYou can serve sauce over cooked pasta or toss the two together before serving. To toss together (my preference), once pasta has cooked, reserve about half a cup of pasta water before draining the rest. Add the drained pasta to the pot along with a splash (about 2 Tablespoons) of reserved pasta water. Stir until well combined, and simmer over low heat until sauce clings to the noodles (several minutes). Add more pasta water if/as needed (if the sauce becomes too thick). Serve, topped with more parmesan cheese and basil, if desired.
Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered an estimate only. Actual nutritional content will vary based upon brands used, measuring methods, cooking method, portion sizes, and more.