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Penne with Vodka Sauce

Penne alla Vodka
Penne with vodka sauce has nothing to do with traditional pasta dishes; it is one of those modern mystery concoctions that snuck its way onto the palates and plates of Americans who can’t understand why Italians have no idea what they are talking about when they ask for penne alla vodka in Italy. But for those of you who must have it, here is my take, and I have to admit, it’s darn good.



4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (or more if you wish),

or hot red pepper paste

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoons capers in brine, drained and minced

2 cups pureed fresh or canned plum tomatoes

1/2 cup vodka

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

1 pound penne rigate or farfalle (butterfly pasta)

Fine sea salt to taste

1/4 cup reserved pasta cooking water


Melt the butter in a large sauté pan (12-14 inches). Stir in the red pepper flakes and cook about 1 minute over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until soft. Stir in the capers and cook 1 minute longer.

Add the tomatoes and vodka and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Slowly pour in the cream and cook over low heat for an additional 5 minutes. Add half the cheese and keep the sauce warm while the penne are cooking.

Cook the penne or farfalle in 4 to 6 quarts of rapidly boiling salted water until al dente. Drain the penne, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water.

Transfer the penne to the sauté pan with the reserved water and stir the ingredients well over medium heat until hot. Sprinkle on the remaining cheese and stir to blend.

Transfer the penne to a serving platter. Serve hot.

This recipe is featured on show 2007 – Give Me Pasta.


  1. Mary's avatar


    Had Carbonarra while in Italy and haven't found the same recipe until I caught your show...anxious to try it. Also copied a couple other delicious looking recipes...will report back how they turned out.
  2. suzanne's avatar


    Best vodka sauce I ever had! Thank you.
  3. Gail's avatar


    Too high in calories and cholesterol for me.
  4. Fran's avatar


    I love Mary Ann's recipes. I own a couple of her books and have given them as gifts.
  5. Grace Campanaro's avatar

    Grace Campanaro

    Dear Maryann: I love watching your show. Some of your recipes remind so much of my Grandma's dishes. She was born in Serra Prato, Avellini in the late 1800's. I always wanted to go and visit my roots. Maybe some day. But till then, I will be watching your shows.
  6. Maryann's avatar


    Have not had penne with vodka in Italy; but had risotto with vodka and tomatoe sauce in Rome.
  7. Barbara Donato's avatar

    Barbara Donato

    I make Penne ala vodka often. I like your recipe, but I add thin sliced ham and peas. Very delicious.
  8. Marcella Frighetto-Rousseau's avatar

    Marcella Frighetto-Rousseau

    I have second cousins in Arzignano (near Venice) and when I visited about 12 years ago, I was told about a pasta and vodka dish. I thought my cousin was crazy because to me vodka is strictly Russian but here you are telling us it's a mysterious concoction puzzling Americans and Italians alike! I am in the process of emailing my cousin's daughter in Arzignano. Maybe she can shed some light on this ; - D

  9. Joanne Schryver's avatar

    Joanne Schryver

    To the previous reviewer concerned about her calories and high cholesterol, so am I. But in moderation, all is possible and necessary. I wonder if the passengers on the Titanic also worried about that on the night the ship went down? Think about it.

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