This recipe elevates tomato pasta sauce to new culinary heights. With heavy whipping cream, crushed tomatoes, and of course vodka, Olivia’s Vodka Sauce is so ridiculously good, you could drink it from a cup. It’s infused with loads of flavor that permeate the sauce from a combination of spices and herbs. I think you will find this sauce to be restaurant-worthy.
I’ve never minded when someone else wants to get in my kitchen and throw something together. My philosophy is “the more, the merrier” when it comes to sharing that space. And let me tell you, when Olivia, my son’s fiancé wanted to fix her vodka sauce for our family, I gave her all the space she wanted. WOW, was it worth it!
I am embarrassed to admit it, but to the best of my knowledge, I had never tried Vodka Pasta Sauce. I’ve made creamy tomato sauces, sauces with wine in them, but vodka was a new concept for me. So when she had mentioned it, it really piqued my interest. It’s too good not to share with the world. So I give you this Vodka Pasta Sauce.
How to make Olivia’s Vodka Pasta Sauce
Step #1 – Sauté Onions and Garlic
Onions and garlic are the foundation and flavor boosters of almost every savory dish that I make. I’m never without either of these in my pantry. They subtly kiss this Vodka Pasta Sauce with an umami-rich essence. Onions and garlic are the bedrock of this recipe and if left out would show a noticeable absence of flavor in the overall taste.
The key to sautéing onions is the heat. You don’t want to cook them too high where they burn or become charred. Somewhere between medium and medium-high is what you’re looking for. Add a little bit of oil to the pan, some chopped onions, and cook until they are tender but not brown. You’ll want to stir often. This takes about 6 to 8 minutes. Add some salt and pepper to your preferred taste.
Chopped garlic is not added until the onions are cooked because it only takes about a minute to sauté these little jewels. The last thing you want to do is burn the garlic. And it’s okay if they’re not completely tender. They will continue to soften while the sauce simmers.
Step #2 – Adding the Vodka
Vodka – There’s no need to go out and buy a super expensive vodka, what you have in your cabinet and what you like to drink will definitely suffice.
If vodka is flavorless, which it is, why use it in the sauce? The vodka refines and enhances the sauces’ other flavors. It also acts as a “heat” counterpart to the sweetness of the tomatoes and the richness of the cream. Vodka operates as an emulsifier keeping the cream and the tomatoes from breaking apart which creates the rich creamy tomato sauce.
Once the onions and garlic are satuéed, pour in the vodka. Using a spatula, remove any particles stuck to the bottom of the pan.
Step #3 – Adding Cans of Crushed Tomatoes
Canned tomatoes are one of the staples that you should always have on hand. Olivia informed me that her Nana preferred Tuttorosso crushed tomatoes which is what I always purchase now.
Add the tomatoes and stir. Add a small amount of water to the tomato cans and swirl it around to get all the crushed tomatoes out. As the sauce cooks you may need to add some extra water if it thickens. Let these ingredients cook over medium heat for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally.
Step #4 – Adding the Cream, Spices, and Herbs
This is where the magic happens. Up until this stage, you only have a pan of somewhat tasteless tomato sauce. And here is where the sauce begins to really take shape.
Heavy Whipping Cream – it seems like a lot of heavy cream (1 1/2 cups to be exact) especially if you are trying to watch your waistline. And to be completely frank with you, this is not a recipe if you’re trying to diet. Olivia’s Vodka Pasta Sauce is for one of the evenings you just want to splurge and not apologize for it. And if you’re going for the gusto, don’t reach for the half and half, it does not produce the same creamy rich results.
Onion and Garlic Powder – You may be wondering, “why use these powders if I’ve already added chopped onions and garlic?” The powders contribute an extra “oomph” if you will to the Vodka Pasta Sauce. While the fresh provide body and texture, the powder is a pure flavor bomb because of how concentrated it is. Both fresh and powder together give it its full richness.
Dried Italian Seasoning – while I’m on the “seasoning” subject, my advice is to spend a little extra and get a good quality bottle of whatever you’re purchasing. Your spice rack should contain brands that are fresher and more flavorful than the cheap brands you spend a dollar or two on. You really do get what you pay for and it really does make a significant difference in the outcome of your dishes.
Fresh Basil – the dried Italian Seasoning (above) works great in this recipe, but for basil in tomato sauces, I always choose fresh. There are a few herbs that change or lose their flavor when dried. Basil is one of those. A couple of others are dill and parsley. Also, dried herbs usually will not last longer than a year. If they’ve lost all of their green color, it’s probably time to buy another bottle. Old herbs tend to taste dusty.
Granulated Sugar – you can use white or brown. Adding sugar highlights and brings to the forefront the sweetness of the tomatoes. It also balances out the acidity.
Red Pepper Flakes – My family likes the heat of the red pepper flakes so I always add extra to whatever dish I’m preparing. The measurement in this recipe is more moderate but you can definitely taste the warmth. What I would suggest, is to start with one teaspoon or less and ratchet it up from there.
Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese – when choosing parmesan cheese, don’t go for the green can on the grocery shelf. Also, freshly grated just before you add it to the sauce is so much better than purchasing a pre-packaged grated one. Parmesan cheese enriches the sauce with a deep savory note and a touch of saltiness.
After all of these ingredients are combined, I do a taste test to see if everything is balanced. Do I need more sugar or more salt? Is there enough garlic or onion flavor? If not I pull out the powders again. Then once it’s where I want it to be, I turn the heat down to a simmer and let all the flavors fuse together for at least a couple of hours.
Step #4 – Cooking the Penne Pasta
What type of pasta is best for this Vodka Pasta Sauce? My recommendation is a short tube pasta like penne, rigatoni, ziti, cavatappi or camanelle. If it includes the name “rigate,” the pasta shape will include ridges, which makes it easier for sauces to cling to the pasta.
Just prior to when you’re ready to serve, prepare the pasta according to the package directions. You’re looking for tender but firm pasta, not mushy, which is considered “al dente.”
Step #5 – Serve with Garnishments
You can either mix the sauce and the pasta together and dish it out or plate the pasta and spoon the sauce over it. For added creaminess, add a dollop of whole-milk ricotta onto the sauce then sprinkle some julienne fresh basil leaves. This literally is heaven in a bowl. Grab a fork and dig in. The only thing you might want to include is a loaf of fresh-out-of-the-oven crusty garlic bread.
If you’re looking for more pasta recipes, check these out:
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Olivia’s Vodka Pasta Sauce (penne alla vodka)
This recipe elevates tomato pasta sauce to new culinary heights. With heavy cream, crushed tomatoes, and of course vodka, Olivia’s Vodka Sauce is so ridiculously good, you could drink it from a cup.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes
- Total Time: 3 hours
- Yield: 10 servings 1x
- Category: Sauces
- Method: Stove-top
- Cuisine: Italian
- 1 1/2 large Sweet Onions, chopped
- 1 Bulb Garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons Olive oil
- Salt and Black Pepper to taste
- 1 cup Vodka (I like Tito’s)
- 2 – 28 ounce cans Crushed Tomatoes (Tuttorosso brand)
- 1 1/2 cups Heavy Whipping Cream
- A handful of Fresh Basil, chopped
- 3 tablespoons Garlic Powder
- 3 tablespoons Onion Powder
- 2 tablespoons Granulated Sugar or Brown Sugar
- 2 teaspoons Italian Seasoning
- 1 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
- 4 ounces Fresh Parmesan Cheese, freshly grated
- Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese, for garnishment (optional)
- Julienne Basil Leaves, for garnishment (optional)
- Cooked Penne Pasta to al dente
- Heat a heavy bottom pan (Dutch Oven works great) over medium to medium-high heat. When heated add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
- Add 1 1/2 large chopped sweet onion. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Sauté for 6-8 minutes or until onions are tender but not browned. Stir frequently as to not burn.
- Add 1 garlic bulb (chopped) to the onions and sauté for 1 minute.
- Add 1 cup of vodka. Using a spatula, loosen any particles on the bottom of the pan.
- Add 2 -28 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes (Tuturosso brand).
- Add a small amount of water (maybe 1/4 of a cup) to each tomato can, swirl to get all the tomatoes out, and pour it into the tomato sauce. You may need to add more water as it cooks so that it’s not too thick.
- Turn the heat to medium-low and cook for 30 minutes. Stirring occasionally.
- Add 1 1/2 cups of heavy whipping cream and stir.
- Add a handful of chopped fresh basil leaves, 3 tablespoons of garlic powder, 3 tablespoons of onion powder, 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning, 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes. Bring to a low boil.
- Turn the heat down to a simmer and cool for at least 2 hours. Stirring occasionally as to not burn the sauce.
- Just prior to serving, cook penne pasta according to package directions.
- Serve the vodka sauce over the penne noodles. Add a dollop of whole milk ricotta cheese. And garnish with julienne basil leaves.
- The key to sautéing onions is the heat. You don’t want to cook them too high to where they burn or become charred. Somewhere between medium and medium-high is what you’re looking for.
- There’s no need to go out and buy a super expensive vodka, what you have in your cabinet and what you enjoy drinking will definitely suffice.
- While the fresh onions and garlic provide body and texture, the powders are a pure flavor bomb because of how concentrated they are. Both fresh and powder together give it its full richness.
- Your spice rack should contain brands that are fresher and more flavorful than the cheap brands you spend a dollar or two on. You really do get what you pay for.
- Dried herbs usually will not last longer than a year. If they’ve lost all of their green color, it’s probably time to buy another bottle. Old herbs tend to taste dusty.
- The amount of heat in this recipe is more moderate but you can definitely taste the warmth. What I would suggest, is to start with one teaspoon or less of red pepper flakes and ratchet it up from there according to your preference.
- When choosing parmesan cheese, don’t go for the green can on the grocery shelf. Also, freshly grated just before you add it to the sauce is so much better than purchasing a pre-packaged grated one.
- Serving Size: 1/10 of Recipe
- Calories: 501
- Sugar: 7 g
- Sodium: 509 mg
- Fat: 22 g
- Saturated Fat: 11 g
- Unsaturated Fat: 4 g
- Trans Fat: 0 g
- Carbohydrates: 66 g
- Fiber: 4 g
- Protein: 14 g
- Cholesterol: 58 mg
Keywords: vodka pasta sauce, penne alla vodka, penne vodka, penne vodka recipe