This creamy, spicy homemade vodka sauce is baked in the oven with penne and topped with gooey melted mozzarella. Starting with a simple base of roasted san Marzano tomatoes, fragrant garlic, onions, and red pepper flakes. It's baked and then blended together to create the sauce. This hearty pasta bake is the ultimate comfort food and pairs perfectly with a glass of good red wine! Plan for a special date night, holiday, or special occasion to enjoy this impressive and enhanced baked penne vodka!
How to Make Penne alla Vodka Sauce
This penne alla vodka sauce is a classic Italian recipe that is made from a tomato base, vodka, and cream. It's a super hearty and creamy sauce that pairs well with a hearty noodle, like penne!
It's all about the vodka
What does vodka do to the sauce you ask? Using vodka adds a flavor with a touch of heat and bite that helps balance out the sweetness of the tomatoes. The alcohol evaporates out of the sauce while it's cooking, so you can not get drunk off vodka sauce!
For the vodka, you don't need to use a super high quality vodka. Here are a few great options that can be found anywhere:
- New Amsterdam Vodka
- Svedka Vodka
- Smirnoff Vodka
Roast the tomatoes
Always chose the san Marzano canned tomatoes if you have that option. They have the most balanced flavor for canned tomatoes and make for the most flavorful sauces!
Roasting the tomatoes for the sauce concentrates all the flavors into a super fragrant tomato paste.
You can roast the tomatoes in a dutch oven or you can sauté them then transfer them to a baking dish. They will roast for a little over an hour to really break down the tomatoes and develop an amazing flavor.
Bend it up!
Once the tomatoes are roasted to perfection, it's going to get blended together! It's highly recommended to use a blender for a silly smooth sauce. If you do not have a blender, a food processor works really well!
Once it's blended up, you'll add it to the baking pan with some cream and the noodles to bake.
Boil the noodles al dente
Since this is a heartier pasta sauce, its best to use a thicker noodle to go with it. If you don't have penne there are a few other options:
- Shells- the bigger ones, not the tiny ones.
- Bow ties
You want to boil the noodles al dente, so that the noodles don't over cook being in the oven. If you boil the noodles completely, it will result in mushy noodles.
Al dente basically means the noodle should still have a bite to it.
Tips for the best baked pasta
Keep your pasta from drying out by covering it with foil first. This will retain the moisture in the pasta while the cheese melts and keep it from drying out.
- What can I substitute for heavy cream in the vodka sauce?
- Greek yogurt is a great substitute for the heavy cream. It will still give it that creaminess and tang, but it will not be as smooth texture wise.
- Vodka substitute for the vodka sauce?
- You can not substitute anything for the vodka. If you wish to remove it, you definitely can. It will definitely not taste the same without it!
FAQ + Expert Tips
- I'm don't have penne can I use something else?
- Go for any heartier noodle like shells, bow ties, ziti, or rigatoni! Using a thin noodle like spaghetti will get mushy in the oven. ]
- Can I substitute the heavy cream for something else?
- Greek yogurt makes a great substitution! See more substitutions above.
- Prepare the sauce the day before for the best flavor!
- This is one of those sauces that gets better with age. The sauce is always the best the second day so make it ahead of time then bake it with the noodles.
- Use the full amount of the red pepper flakes for a spicy sauce
- If you like spice but just a hint of it, definitely go for less pepper flakes. The pepper flakes will be baking with the sauce, so the spice will deepen as it bakes.
- Top with fresh basil after baking
- Garnish the pasta with a bit of basil for freshness.
More Comfort Food Recipes
Baked Penne with Spicy Vodka Sauce
- 1 yellow onion, chopped about 2 cups chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, smashed
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- ½-1 tsp red pepper flakes
- ¼ cup vodka
- 1-28 oz can san marzano whole tomatoes
- ¼ cup heavy cream or greek yogurt
- 8 oz penne pasta about 3 cups dry
- sliced mozarella to top
- fresh basil to top
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- In a dutch oven or saute pan, add the olive oil and heat over medium heat. When the oil is fragrant, add the chopped onion and smashed garlic cloves. Season with salt and cook until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes.
- Add the chili flakes and stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute.
- Add the vodka and stir to combine.
- Remove the whole tomatoes from the can and slowly squeeze and crush them before adding them to the pan. Add ½ cup of the tomato juice to the pan. Stir everything to combine then season with pepper and salt.
- Place a lid on the dutch oven or baking dish and bake for 65-75 minutes, or until the tomatoes are reduced.
- Remove the pot from the oven and transfer the tomato sauce into a blender or food processor. Blend on high for 30 seconds until super smooth. Transfer the sauce back to the baking pan. Add the heavy cream or greek yogurt and stir to combine. Set aside while you boil the noodles.
- In a large pot filled with water, boil the penne noodles until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain the noodles and add them to the baking pan with the sauce. Toss to fully coat the penne.
- Top with sliced or shredded mozzarella and cover with a lid or foil. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes.