The Best Vodka Sauce with Penne Pasta

I recently made this for some close friends when I was in Arizona at my parent’s house over the past two weeks. It was a dinner party consisting of some excellent cooks, real Italians who know their stuff when it comes to good food, and my daughter Maya who only cared about the brownie that was for dessert. With a group of foodies, I needed to make something good!

This sauce is slow cooked in the oven to intensify and concentrate the onions, garlic, herbs, and plum tomatoes. The final touch is adding cream, fresh parmesan, and fresh oregano. I found the recipe after watching the Barefoot Contessa where Ina cooks with her friend and chef from a local Italian restaurant in the Hamptons. I had to give it a try after watching the episode and it is now my favorite vodka sauce I have made. You will not find a better sauce for penne pasta. I think all my dinner guests would agree. Enjoy!

Slow roasted garlic, oregano, red pepper, plum tomatoes, and onions make this sauce irresistible.

Slow roasted garlic, oregano, red pepper, plum tomatoes, and onions make this sauce irresistible.

The Best Vodka Sauce with Penne Pasta


1/4 cup good olive oil
1 medium Spanish onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, diced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 cup vodka
2 (28-ounce) cans peeled plum tomatoes
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound penne pasta
4 tablespoons fresh oregano
3/4 to 1 cup heavy cream
Grated Parmesan cheese


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a large oven proof saute pan over medium heat, add the onions and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until translucent. Add the red pepper flakes and dried oregano and cook for 1 minute more. Add the vodka and continue cooking until the mixture is reduced by half.

Meanwhile, drain the tomatoes through a sieve and crush them into the pan with your hands. Add 2 teaspoons salt and a pinch of black pepper. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and place it in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente. Drain and set aside.

Place the tomato mixture in a blender and puree in batches until the sauce is a smooth consistency. Return to the pan.

Reheat the sauce, add 2 tablespoons fresh oregano and enough heavy cream to make the sauce a creamy consistency. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and simmer for 10 minutes. Toss the pasta into the sauce and cook for 2 minutes more. Stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan. Serve with an additional sprinkle of Parmesan and a sprinkle of fresh oregano on each plate.


From the Barefoot Contessa

Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?

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  50. Sounds wonderful, Katie! I plan to make this dish. How many adults could be fed using this recipe?

    • Anonymous Reply

      Hi Karla! I would say six people. Hope you like it!