Pasta with Vodka Sauce

May 11, 2012

Vodka sauce is one of my favorite pasta sauces, but restaurant and bottled versions are unpredictable and don’t always live up to my expectations. When made well, it has just the right balance of tomatoes and cream, not too rich but not too thin. When made poorly, the texture is bland and the flavors are often one-note. I decided that I wanted to try making it myself to see if I could do better than the many disappointing versions I’ve had. This recipe from the Gourmet cookbook looked promising: in addition to finely chopped ham, softened diced onions would add a bit of texture.

Although penne is the traditional pasta to serve with vodka sauce, I didn’t have any in my pantry. Fusilli worked very well, but you could choose to substitute any medium-sized spiral or tubular pasta. I wouldn’t recommend long, thin pastas such as spaghetti or fettuccine because they lack crevices or hollows to catch the sauce.

It was amazing. Just what I was looking for! The flavors were full and well-rounded. The ham and onions provided just the right amount of texture, so that each bite wasn’t exactly the same smooth sauce on chewy pasta. And what made this recipe even better was that it only took about a half hour to make, so it’s perfect for a weeknight supper. Just add a green salad and you’re all set!

Vodka sauce

Serves 8 as a first course or 4 to 6 as a main course


  • 1/2  stick (4 tablespoon) unsalted butter
  • 1  medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2/3  cup vodka
  • 3/4  cup canned tomato purée
  • 1  cup heavy cream
  • 1/4  pound cooked ham, finely chopped
  • 2  drops Tabasco, or to taste
  • 1/2  teaspoon salt
  • 1/4  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1  pound penne, or other pasta of your choice
  • 3/4  cup finely grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano, plus additional for serving


  1. Melt butter in a deep 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately low heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in vodka, bring to a simmer, and simmer for 4 minutes. Add tomato purée and cream and simmer, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in ham, Tabasco, salt, and pepper. Keep sauce warm over very low heat.
  2. Meanwhile, cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water and drain pasta.
  3. Add pasta to sauce and toss with sauce and cheese, adding some of the reserved cooking water if pasta seems dry. Serve with additional grated cheese on the side.

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