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Penne Alla Vodka

Penne alla Vodka is an easy recipe perfect for weeknight meals. Creamy, tomato sauce, smoky bacon and fresh basil make this pasta a hit!

This Italian-American Pasta is a classic for a reason. It’s creamy, hearty, and best of all, really easy to make. That means that when you’re rushing around trying to get dinner on the table, this recipe is a gem. It’ll take about 30 minutes to cook and is a restaurant quality dinner you can make right at home.

Penne alla vodka in stainless steel pan.

Don’t worry about the “vodka” in the title. Penne alla Vodka doesn’t taste like you’re taking a shot. Instead, the vodka in this dish enhances the flavors of the tomatoes and by the time it is finished cooking the result is a decadent, creamy, flavorful tomato sauce. 

Let’s talk about everything you’ll need to make it: 

Penne Alla Vodka Ingredients: 

Traditionally the  three major components of vodka sauce are tomatoes, herbs and vodka.  This recipe contains a few more ingredients that really enhance the overall dish.

Penne alla vodka ingredients.
  • BACON: Bacon is not traditionally a part of penne alla vodka but it adds a delicious smokiness to the sauce. 
  • ONION/GARLIC: Sauteed onions and garlic add so much flavor to just about any sauce. This tomato sauce is no different. 
  • CRUSHED RED PEPPER: You’ll just use a pinch for a tiny bit of heat. If you are unsure about the heat, start with a 1/4 teaspoon and work your way up. 
  • CRUSHED TOMATOES: Crushed tomatoes will give the perfect texture to the sauce. It won’t be as chunky as a diced tomato sauce or as smooth as a tomato sauce. 
  • PENNE PASTA: Dried penne pasta is classic. 
  • HEAVY CREAM: Adds a touch of decadence and creaminess to the sauce. 
  • BASIL: Use fresh for the best results. 
  • PARMESAN CHEESE: Like the basil, you’re going to want to use fresh Parmesan cheese in this recipe for the best results. 

Step by Step Photos and Instructions: 

One of my favorite things about making this Penne alla Vodka Recipe is how easy it all comes together. Follow along with these step by step photos and instructions showing you exactly how to make it. 

  • STEP #1: Use a skillet large enough to fit all of the pasta and cook bacon over medium heat until browned through. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the pan drippings. 
  • STEP #2: To the pan that you cooked the bacon in, add the onions, garlic and crushed red pepper and cook until the onions are softened. Pour in the vodka and deglaze the pan. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan to remove any brown bits that have stuck to the bottom, there is so much flavor there! Pour in the tomatoes, bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for 20 minutes.
  • STEP #3: While the sauce is cooking, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside. 
  • STEP #4: Before you add the cream to the pasta, you’re going to want to temper it so that it doesn’t curdle when you add it to the sauce. Temper the cream by whisking 1 tablespoon of hot tomato sauce into the cream. Slowly whisk the tempered cream into the sauce. 
  • STEP #5: Add the pasta to the sauce. Toss to coat. Add the bacon, basil and Parmesan cheese. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve. 

Storage and Leftovers: 

Penne alla Vodka reheats beautifully! Just keep the leftovers in a refrigerator and use within 3 days.

Note: This recipe was originally posted in 2010. It was updated in 2023 with new photos, step by step photos and nutrition information.

Penne alla Vodka in the a white bowl.

Penne alla Vodka Recipe

Penne pasta with tomatoes, cream, basil, vodka and bacon, it doesn't get much better.
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Total Time 35 mins
Course Main Dishes
Cuisine Mediterranean
Servings 4 Servings
Calories 604 kcal



  • 5 slices bacon diced into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion diced
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 pound dried penne pasta
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 5 basil leaves rolled together and chopped
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • fresh cracked pepper and kosher salt


  • In a large pan cook bacon over medium heat until browned, about 5 – 7 minutes. Transfer bacon to a plate and set aside.
  • Reserve 1 tablespoon of bacon drippings. Add onions, garlic and crushed red pepper to reserved bacon drippings and cook until onions are translucent about 5 minutes. Pour in vodka. Cook 3 minutes. Pour in tomatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and allow to simmer for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions. Drain. Set aside.
  • After sauce has simmered for 20 minutes, whisk 1 tablespoon of sauce into cream to temper it. Slowly stir tempered cream into the tomato sauce. Add cooked pasta to the sauce. Stir to combine.
  • Return bacon to the pasta and stir in basil and Parmesan cheese. Stir to combine. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if needed.
  • Serve with plenty of grated Parmesan cheese and crushed red peppers.


Tempering the cream with the hot tomato sauce is important because it will prevent the cream from curdling when adding to the sauce. 
To make this dish vegetarian, substitute 1 tablespoon olive oil for 1 tablespoon pan drippings. 
Nutrition information for estimation purposes only. 


Calories: 604kcalCarbohydrates: 88gProtein: 18gFat: 16gSaturated Fat: 9gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 40mgSodium: 131mgPotassium: 328mgFiber: 4gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 592IUVitamin C: 2mgCalcium: 108mgIron: 2mg
Tried this recipe?Mention @lifesambrosia or tag #lifesambrosia!
Keywords: bacon, cream, dried pasta, heavy cream, italian, pasta, penne, vodka

Leave a Comment

Recipe Rating

  • Reply
    April 4, 2011 at 10:26 am

    In response to Caryn, you can usually find shot size vodka bottles in the liquor store (in Canada anyway), so you can just buy a couple of those instead of a giant bottle!


  • Reply
    February 18, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    B- 1/4 cup of vodka = 2 ounces. Hope you enjoy the pasta!

  • Reply
    February 18, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Hi, this sounds wonderful just wanted to clarify how much vodka you mean by a 1/4 of a cup?

  • Reply
    June 28, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    This is on constant rotation at my house. Such a versatile sauce, I have made it with italian sausage, chicken, pancetta, meatballs and various veggies such as green and red peppers. Thank you!

  • Reply
    February 16, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    I made this for valentine’s day dinner! It was delicious! I used pancetta instead of bacon and added chicken. So so so so good!

    • Reply
      February 17, 2010 at 7:31 am

      Thank you Alicia! I’m glad you liked it and I love the addition of the chicken!

  • Reply
    January 26, 2010 at 7:24 am

    Thank you everyone for your comments! Caryn- There really isn’t a magical substitute. If you leave it out it won’t be penne alla vodka any more but you will still have a delicious creamy, smoky tomato sauce. Or since you only need 1/4 cup you could also buy one of those mini bottles so you wouldn’t have a whole bottle. Hope this helps!

  • Reply
    Red Wines
    January 26, 2010 at 1:26 am

    Vodka and tomatoes!? That sounds crazy….I’m going to have to try this out ;)

  • Reply
    January 25, 2010 at 10:11 am

    That is one of my favorite dishes when we go to Italian restaurants! I should try making it at home as it does seem to be a simple enough recipe. Your photo is gorgeous!

  • Reply
    Neel | Learn Food Photography
    January 25, 2010 at 10:08 am

    I love pasta.

    Absolutely love it.

    This is a very interesting photograph. Reminds me of the 8 inspirational pasta shots I saw couple of weeks back.

    Thank you for sharing, Neel

  • Reply
    January 25, 2010 at 9:36 am

    I’ve made a recipe like this before and absolutely loved it. Since then I have quit drinking and don’t really wish to buy a bottle of vodka for the sole purpose of making one recipe. Any idea? Could I just leave it out or is there some magical substitute that would do that trick. Thanks!

  • Reply
    January 25, 2010 at 8:41 am

    thank for recipe

  • Des

    Hey! I'm Des!

    Welcome to Life’s Ambrosia where Dinner is served and memories are made. Here you will find over 1000 tried and true recipes for every possible occasion. In the last 10 years, this blog has helped millions of families put dinner on the table and create food memories. Let me help you too.

    Read more »

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