Penne Alla Vodka (Without the Vodka!) Recipe


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Are you wondering if you can make penne alla vodka without vodka?

Whether you’re underage and can’t actually buy the eponymous ingredient or have found that the vodka stash you thought you had has been depleted, there are lots of reasons why you might want to make a vodka sauce without vodka. And the good news is that you can and it will be pretty much just as delicious as if you included the spirit in the first place!

It might seem silly to make a recipe for penne alla vodka without vodka, but in my experience, the vodka really isn’t necessary at all to get a sauce that tastes almost exactly the same as the Italian restaurant favourite.

I, personally, actually prefer to make this sauce without vodka because I don’t particularly like vodka and never drink it. The only reason I would ever purchase it would be to make this sauce, which I don’t do on a super regular basis.

So can you make vodka sauce without vodka? Yes! Though it’s not technically vodka sauce, you will end up with very similar results without an excess ingredient.

And the best news of all? The whole dish can come together in under 10-15 minutes – however long it takes your pasta to cook!

Penne alla vodka without vodka!
Penne alla vodka without vodka!

Penna alla Vodka without Vodka Recipe

So how do you make a vodka sauce without the vodka? It’s ridiculously easy, actually. Much like a number of my other pasta recipes (see my fettuccine alfredo recipe, my carbonara recipe or even my mushroom bucatini recipe), this pasta only uses a handful of ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry!

You want to start with putting your pasta on because the sauce comes together in the same amount of time it takes your pasta to cook. Traditionally, this is made with penne, but feel free to use something like rigatoni (my personal favourite) or similar. It doesn’t matter too much.

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water (not just a pinch of salt – a number of hefty pinches!) to a rolling boil over high heat. Add your pasta and set a timer for about 2 minutes less than the package says — we’ll finish cooking the pasta in the sauce later. Give the pasta a stir to prevent it from sticking and then start building the sauce.

Over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet, heat a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil until shimmering. Add half of a diced yellow onion and three or four crushed and peeled cloves of garlic. Sprinkle over a generous pinch of salt and cook the onion and garlic until the onion is softened and translucent and the garlic is lightly browned, about five minutes or so.

Once your onions have softened, add a small amount of crushed red chilli flakes.

Cooking the garlic, onion and chili flakes
Cooking the garlic, onion and chili flakes

This is optional but I personally love adding a bit of heat to my penne alla vodka without vodka and feel like it really adds something. However, if you don’t like spicy food, feel free to leave it out! Your dish will be delicious all the same.

Cook the chilli flakes with the onions and garlic until it’s very fragrant and they have released a bit of their colour, another couple of minutes.

Then, add in a good amount of tomato paste. Using a spatula, combine the tomato paste with your onions and chilli flakes and cook for a few minutes.

Adding the tomato paste
Adding the tomato paste

You want to cook off the tinny flavour the tomato paste picks up from the can or tube while also getting a bit of a caramelised flavour. You’ll notice the tomato paste darken and get a bit more sticky after about two to three minutes have passed.

Once the tomato paste reaches this stage, take a small ladle-full (about 60ml) of pasta cooking water and add it to the pan to deglaze. This is the time where you would add vodka if we were making this sauce traditionally. Stir the sauce so that the tomato paste even disperses in the cooking water.

Now, reduce the heat to low and stir in your cream.

Adding cream
Adding cream

If you’re looking for a penne alla vodka recipe without heavy cream, you can feel free to use something like half and half in this instead. I use a cream with 12% milkfat and it works perfectly. You simply want to have more milkfat than in traditional whole milk (look for 10% or more) in order for the sauce to get the desired consistency.

Next, drain your pasta making sure to reserve about 100-200 millilitres of cooking water before doing so. You may need it to loosen the sauce later.

Add your pasta to the sauce and toss to coat.

Adding the pasta to your sauce
Adding the pasta to your sauce

Cook the pasta in the sauce until it is al dente and completely cooked through – just make sure to taste it to know if it’s done or not! Add a splash of pasta water here and there to loosen the consistency of the sauce as needed to get your desired results.

Turn off the heat and add your grated parmesan cheese.

Topping your penne alla vodka with parmesan cheese
Topping your penne alla vodka with parmesan cheese

Stir this until well incorporated and the sauce is thick and creamy. Then portion the pasta into bowls, top with a bit more parmesan cheese and add a few fresh basil leaves for garnish, a bit of flavour and a pop of colour.

Penne alla vodka without vodka!

Penne alla Vodka (Without Vodka!)

Yield: 4
Prep Time: 2 minutes
Cook Time: 8 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

This vodka-less vodka sauce recipe comes together in the amount of time it takes to boil a batch of pasta. Incredibly tasty and shockingly simple, this is sure to become a weeknight dinner favourite.

Ingredients

  • 500g (1 pound) penne pasta
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed chilli flakes, optional
  • 50g (2 tablespoons) tomato paste
  • 200ml (1 cup) cream
  • 25g parmesan cheese, grated
  • Basil leaves, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Once boiling, add pasta, stir to prevent sticking, and cook for about 2 minutes less than the package suggests -- we will finish cooking the pasta in the sauce
  2. Meanwhile over medium heat in a large skillet, head 2 tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion and crushed garlic (along with a generous pinch of salt) and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened and translucent and the garlic is very lightly browned, about five minutes. Add the chilli flakes, if using, and cook for a further minute or two.
  3. Add the tomato paste and cook for about 2 minutes, or until the paste darkens in colour slightly and becomes sticky, Add a ladle-full of pasta water (about 60ml) to loosen the sauce and deglaze the pan.
  4. Reduce the heat to low and pour in the cream. Stir until well combined with the tomato paste sauce.
  5. Drain the pasta, reserving some of the pasta cooking water. Add the pasta to the skillet and toss to coat in the sauce. Add more pasta water if necessary until the desired sauce consistency is met. Taste a noodle to see if it is cooked thoroughly, then turn off the heat. Add the parmesan cheese and toss to combine.
  6. Portion the pasta into bowls and garnish with a bit more parmesan and some basil leaves.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 416Total Fat: 21gSaturated Fat: 13gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 62mgSodium: 137mgCarbohydrates: 45gFiber: 3gSugar: 4gProtein: 11g

Nutritional information is automatically generated and provided as guidance only. Accuracy is not guaranteed.

So can you make penne alla vodka without vodka? Of course you can! This sauce doesn’t need the vodka to give you delicious (and simple) results in less time than it takes to cook the pasta.

Are you wondering how to make vodka sauce without vodka? Have any questions about this recipe? Let me know in the comments!

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Maggie is the creator behind No Frlils Kitchen. She is a home cook and world traveller who loves to experiment with new cuisines and techniques at every chance she gets. No stranger to improvising and making do with the equipment and ingredients she has available, she is passionate about sharing her knowledge with others.

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