The shine, the sauce, the smoke, the spice...There's so much to love about this vodka sauce for pasta recipe so I hope you're ready for your latest food obsession!
Vodka sauce is something I've noticed isn't on a lot of regular menus. In fact, I've searched online menus from restaurants alllll over my city and could only find two places that serve it!
But either way, I think it's one of those things that's worth making it yourself so I just HAD to share my recipe with you.
And luckily, I've got the best vodka sauce recipe ever if I may say so myself.
This recipe includes some smoke and some spice for a little extra something special, and boy, it pays off.
Now, before we get into the details, I know you might have some questions.
Let's start with the big one.
What does the vodka do in vodka sauce?
No – it doesn't get you drunk. (But wouldn't that be nice?)
Instead, the vodka in vodka sauce releases more of the tomato flavour and intensifies the overall taste of the dish!
You only use a bit of vodka, and it gets burned off, but in the process, it just unlocks more of the flavour.
If you've ever deglazed a pan with wine or another alcohol, you'll be familiar with the process.
When you add the vodka, it gets cooked off and evaporates. You'll keep scraping the pan as you go, collecting any solidifying bits and making the dish even better as you go.
Here's how We Like to Cook defines deglazing:
Deglazing is the technique of dissolving the caramelized tidbits of seared foods is dissolved with a liquid in order to make a “pan sauce,” which will maximize the flavor of the finished dish.
What is special about vodka sauce?
What ISN'T special about vodka sauce is the real question here. And the answer is nothing! It's delicious through and through and always a crowd pleaser. Plus, it's pretty easy to make so you can wow your guests without any effort at all.
Is vodka sauce just Alfredo and marinara?
No, no, no. NO!
Vodka sauce is much, much better than that.
But what really sets vodka sauce apart is the vodka itself – it’s added to the sauce early on in the cooking process, and it lends a unique flavor that can’t be replicated by any other ingredient.
The vodka helps to cut the richness of the cream and cheese while still providing plenty of flavor. The end result is a sauce that's luxurious without being too heavy.
What ingredients do I need?
Ready to give this vodka sauce a go for yourself?
Here's what you'll need:
- Fusilli pasta (more on that in a minute) or your favorite noodles
- Diced onion
- Minced garlic
- Olive oil
- Tomato paste (not sauce!)
- Red pepper flakes
- Smoked paprika
- Vodka (the cheap stuff works just fine)
- Heavy cream/whipping cream
- Unsalted butter
- Freshly grated parmesan
- Reserved pasta water
- Salt and pepper
What is the best sauce for fusilli?
My recipe calls for fusilli for a good reason: it's a gorgeous noodle and it captures the sauce perfectly! Each noodle holds on to just the right amount of sauce. Fusilli is PERFECT for silky sauce, as opposed to chunky sauces like a bolognese.
Vodka sauce with penne is something you'll often see, and it's another great alternative. Rotini works well too, but nothing beats fusilli with vodka sauce if you ask me.
How to make pasta with vodka sauce
- Cook pasta in a large pot of generously salted water.
- Drain the pasta, but first, reserve some of the pasta water to use in the sauce.
- Place a large pan over medium heat. Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil.
- Add tomato paste, stir for a few minutes.
- Deglaze pan with vodka and stir together for a few minutes until it's evaporated.
- Add the reserved pasta water and bring the sauce to a simmer.
- Season with smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper.
- Slowly stir in cream and allow the sauce to return to a simmer.
- Add the freshly grated Parmesan and the butter. Stir until the sauce is glossy and well-blended.
- Add cooked pasta and mix together until each noodle is coated.
- Top with more Parmesan and pepper and serve hot.
The Ultimate Smoky & Spicy Vodka Sauce for Pasta
- 12 oz fusilli or other pasta (penne and rotini are great), measured dry
- 2 - 3 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ cup white onion diced
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- ¾ cup tomato paste (not sauce)
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes or more for a spicier dish
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 3 tablespoon vodka
- 1+⅓ cup heavy cream or whipping cream
- 3 tablespoon unsalted butter
- ⅔ cup parmesan freshly grated, plus more for topping
- salt and pepper to taste
- ⅔ cup reserved pasta water
- Cook the pasta according to package instructions in a large pot of generously salted water. Before draining, reserve ⅔ cup of the pasta water for the side. Then drain the pasta and set aside.
- Heat a large pan over medium heat and add 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Saute the diced onions and minced garlic until soft and fragrant, about four to five minutes.Add the tomato paste and stir for about 2 minutes. Next, add the vodka and deglaze the pan for about 3 minutes, or until the vodka evaporates.
- Add the reserved pasta water, smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. Stir well and bring to a gentle simmer. Slowly add the cream, stirring until the sauce comes to a simmer again, about 4-5 minutes. Once the sauce is simmering again, turn the heat to medium low. Add the freshly grated parmesan and the butter. Stir and let cook for 3-5 minutes, or until the sauce is smooth and glossy.
- Add the cooked pasta and mix well until each noodle is coated. Season with more salt and pepper if desired and top with more parmesan when serving. Serve hot and enjoy!
Looking for other easy vegetarian pasta recipes?
Check these out before you go:
- EASY ASIAGO AND BROCCOLI SHELLS PASTA
- SUPER EASY CHEESY TORTELLINI BAKE
- THE SAUCIEST, CREAMIEST, BEST ALFREDO SAUCE EVER
I'm soooo excited about this recipe and I can't wait until you try it! Please let me know what you think of it.
And if you want to follow along for more recipes and behind the scenes stuff, follow along on Instagram.