For my anniversary dinner at home, I had a simple but elegant meal of Penne with Vodka Sauce prepared for us with love by my twelve-year-old son! If he can make it, you can make it, and I bet you’ll love it as much as I do!

Penne with Vodka Sauce Recipe
Looking back on these photos is making me seriously consider going and eating the leftovers right now! #missmy25yometabolism

How do you make Vodka Sauce?

I have been making this vodka sauce since 1992. Hard to believe I was old enough to purchase vodka back then, but yes, I am that old! (Legal drinking age in Alberta is 18!) I like this recipe because it is so simple and doesn’t take anything fancy, so just when you think there’s NOTHING you can make for supper, BOOM! Delicious, elegant meal in no time! It’s so easy that my 12-year-old son, who is showing a keen interest in cooking lately, made it perfectly on his first attempt.

Recipe for Vodka Sauce
Thank you Jesus for giving me kids that like to cook!
Vodka Sauce Recipe
You start by slowly cooking onions in butter and olive oil, then you add drained tomatoes and cook them down slowly, then add cream, vodka, and red pepper flakes and done!

Though this recipe is simple, it can’t be rushed.  Patience is the key which is probably why my son was such a good chef for it. He is an incredibly patient kid (unlike his mother).  Jar vodka sauce cannot even compare to the flavour you get from slowly simmering this sauce.

Is Vodka Sauce alcoholic?

Before you call child services, the amount of alcohol per serving is less than your average cough medicine AND a good portion of the alcohol in the vodka cooks off. So yes, it’s fine for the kids to eat it! In fact, this Penne with Vodka Sauce is so good that even my picky eater liked it! I could not believe it; she even asked for more.

Vodka Sauce Recipe served with Penne
I was too afraid to whip out my phone and capture her eating more of the sauce lest that disrupt her experience and change her mind!

Is Vodka Sauce spicy?

The amount of red pepper flakes you add to this recipe is up to you. Since a) my son was making this Vodka Sauce recipe for the first time and b) I was playing with fire by even hoping my picky eater would try it, I used a minimal amount of heat.  It could easily be doubled for a little a more kick.

Vodka Sauce Recipe
Still thinking about the leftovers…

I usually complete the meal by serving  Penne with Vodka Sauce with a baguette, side Caesar salad, and a glass of very fancy wine for the adults. I could have asked the kids to set a romantic table a deux but we enjoy family meal time, so my 19th wedding anniversary dinner was a family affair.

Whether you make Penne with Vodka Sauce for a special occasion or on an ordinary evening, you’ll appreciate this simple but delicious meal!

xoxo Nicole

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Penne with Vodka Sauce Recipe by the Spirited Thrifter

Penne with Vodka Sauce

Simple, slow simmered ingredients come together for delicious flavour perfect for an ordinary meal or a special occasion. Simple, tasty food at its finest.

Course Main Course
Keyword vodka sauce
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 6 people who like a lot of vodka sauce on their penne
Author The Spirited Thrifter


  • 1/4 cup salted butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped small (I use white onions because they're sweeter)

Melt butter with oil in large saucepan. Add onion and saute until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. It's never a bad idea to set a timer.

  • 1 28oz can diced tomatoes, drained but reserve juice

Add tomatoes to the saucepan and cook over low to medium heat until almost no liquid remains, stirring frequently. This takes a good 25 minutes. No judgment if you sip some vodka while you're cooking. *Except if you're a kid chef THEN NO.

  • 1 cup cream (I used half and half here but have also made this recipe with 18% and heavy whipping cream and it tastes great with any of them)
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (adjust to taste BUT heat builds up before you know it, so add a bit at a time and let the flavours combine before adding more)
  • 1 tbsp white sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Add cream, vodka, red pepper flakes and sugar to the saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for about 2 minutes till thickened - thickness will vary depending on the cream you used.

Add some of the reserved tomato juice to the saucepan get the desired saucy thickness you prefer. I like lots of sauce on my pasta so I added a good 1/3 cup to the saucepan.

  • 1 box penne unless you're me (poor judge of pasta) then you make 2 boxes which is actually enough to feed A LOT of people, so don't do that.

Cook pasta while making the sauce.

  • 1 block Parmesan cheese, freshly grated


  1. You could toss the pasta and sauce together IF YOU'RE CRAZY or if you don't have kids and can act with such wanton abandon. 

  2. I prefer to serve the pasta and sauce separately and let people make up their own minds how much sauce they want on their pasta. My daughter had a bit, I had a lot and everyone was happy. #balance

  3. Top with a healthy dose of Parmesan cheese.

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