Easy Vodka Sauce

I’ll be honest, this is one of those things I wish I tried to make earlier. Because it was SO MUCH EASIER than I thought!

Ugh, regrets. All those days when I ordered in penne alla vodka when I could have just made it myself.

Just kidding, I don’t really regret those days.

Still, for whatever reason I was always scared of vodka sauce (not like, literally, just from a cooking POV). I thought it would be too complicated or too many steps, and really, it wasn’t bad at all. The one step that I highly recommend taking your time with is cooking down those onions. You want them super soft and translucent, but not caramelized, and that takes a solid 15-20 mins.

The other part that’s necessary? Cooking the olive oil with garlic, tomato paste, and chili flakes – it creates an amazing, aromatic flavor base for the sauce.

I think that’s about it. If you don’t have fresh basil, don’t worry about it, but I always love a few leaves of fresh basil swimming around in my sauce!

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is vodka sauce made of? There are many variations, but a crushed tomato, garlic, and onion base is key, as well as vodka, obviously!

Can you make vodka sauce without vodka? Technically you can, but it won’t have the same zingy, peppery bite! I’m told you can replace vodka with water and a bit of lemon juice.

Can you freeze vodka sauce? YES. I do it all the time and pretty much whenever I make a batch of sauce.

Easy Vodka Sauce

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (for onions)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, halved and sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 lb penne pasta
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (for sauce base)
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp chili flakes (more if you like heat)
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup of fresh basil (about 6 leaves)
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt (or more to taste)
  • 2 tbsp finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water (optional)
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter (optional)


  1. In a large saucepan, add the butter and olive oil over low heat. Add the onions and cook for 5-8 minutes until they soften. Add the water and salt and continue cooking for another 10 minutes. You want them to be soft, a little stringy, and borderline caramelized. Remove from pan and set aside. Wipe saucepan clean with a paper towel. 
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add your pasta and cook for 8 minutes or so (follow your box directions) until al dente. Reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water for the sauce. Drain the rest and set aside. 
  3. While the pasta is cooking, add the olive oil to the saucepan you cooked the onions in over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and let it sizzle for about 30 seconds-1 min. DON’T BURN IT. Add the tomato paste and chili flakes and stir together, creating a glorious-smelling paste and let cook for about a minute. 
  4. Add the crushed tomatoes and stir in with the paste. Then add the vodka, heavy cream, sugar, and basil. Stir to combine and cook for a few minutes. Add the onions back in and stir. Then add the salt and parmesan cheese to taste (I will never be mad at you for adding more parm cheese). You can add some pasta water if you like it thinner. I like my sauce on the thicker side. You can also add more heavy cream if you like it lighter pink in color – I always start with 3/4 cup and adjust as needed.
  5. Lastly, when it comes to most creamy sauces, I like to add a pat of butter right at the end before serving, it creates a velvety, luxurious texture that nothing else can. Try it 🙂 
  6. Toss the pasta in with the sauce. Serve in bowls and top with more parm and fresh basil if desired! Enjoy!

Thanks as always to FreshDirect for the ingredients! #fdambassador


  1. Can I leave out the cream, I’m lactose intolerant 😫

    • If you do, it won’t really be a vodka sauce lol but there are non-dairy creams you could try! I would stay away from anything coconut-based because it might be too sweet. But maybe an almond milk or oat would work to give it that thicker consistency and pink color.

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