Pasta alla Vodka

We’re in “twiddling our thumbs” mode here on the homestead as far as harvesting, just waiting for our flowering plants to become fruits and veggies. Some deliciousness is trickling in – we’ve been gathering herbs from the porch plants and the dill flourishing in our pepper row for a few weeks now, and we’re finally, finally getting berries from our brambles:

We’ve also been hard at work preparing spaces – the coop, the run, and the tractor – for some new feathered friends coming in this week. Woohoo! More on that next week, when they’re actually, y’know, here. Until then, you can have a look at our coop and run:

chicken coop and run

So, as we wait for summer’s (later) bounty and supplement our veggie cravings with market trades (boy, do I love trading bread for produce and meat) and canned goods, I bring you one of our favorite dishes to make, regardless of the season: pasta alla vodka, or tomato cream sauce.

Why is this one of our favorite dishes around here? Glad you asked!

  1. It comes together in 30 minutes or less.
  2. It can be made with canned tomatoes or fresh tomatoes, and it’s delicious either way.
  3. Once you get the basics down, you can improv it without a recipe, which makes the process go even faster. Woohoo!
  4. It’s a tomato cream sauce. Good lord, do I need any other explanation?
  5. The vodka works to give the sauce depth of flavor, rather than add anything boozy. In other words, it brings out the brightness of tomatoes and tames the unctuous quality of the cream. Oh yes.

Husband and I like to argue over the best pasta to use for this dish – he prefers penne, while I like rotini. At least we can agree that short pasta that can hold pockets of sauce, as penne and rotini do well, are the winners for this recipe.

You can make it without tomato chunks (so, all crushed tomatoes), but I like the contrast in texture, as well as tomatoes to go along with the diced onion. I default to canned tomatoes (crushed and diced) here, but you can sub in the same quantity of crushed Roma or other paste tomatoes for a similar sauce.

Another note on the vodka: unlike cooking with white wine, which adds saltiness to a dish when it’s reduced, vodka does no such thing. Be sure to taste and add salt as needed throughout the process.

Mmmm, I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. Let’s end this yabbering session and get on with the recipe, shall we?

pasta alla vodka

Pasta alla Vodka

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Print

Canned or fresh tomatoes work here - just account for the extra juice that fresh tomatoes will produce, especially if they’re not a paste variety, like Roma.

you will need:

  • 14 oz crushed tomatoes or tomato puree
  • 1 c chopped tomato (optional)
  • 1 medium onion, diced (about 1 c)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3-4 tbsp butter or olive oil (I like a combination of both)
  • ½-¾ c vodka
  • ¾-1 c heavy cream
  • ½ tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • ⅛-¼ tsp red pepper flakes (use more for a spicier sauce. The cream will tame the heat)
  • black pepper to taste
  • ¼ c fresh basil, sliced into strips (optional)
  • parmesan cheese to taste
  • choice of pasta, plus the cooking water for thinning the sauce as needed


  1. Heat butter or oil in a non-reactive skillet (so, no cast iron here) over medium heat until melted, then add the minced onion to the skillet. Cook until translucent, stirring frequently, about 3-5 minutes. Add in the garlic and cook for another minute. Pour in the vodka, stir, and allow to cook for about 3 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by about ⅓.
  2. Stir in the tomato puree and chopped tomatoes, if using, and cook, stirring frequently, for another minute or so. Add in the pepper flakes, black pepper, and salt. Reduce heat to medium low, and add in the cream. Taste, and add salt and cream as necessary for taste and richness. Heat until hot, but not boiling over.
  3. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to, well, its cooking directions, and reserve about 1 c of the salted pasta water for thinning the sauce to your liking. Serve the sauce on top of the pasta, and sprinkle with basil strips and parmesan cheese to taste. Yay!

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