If you’re looking for an elegant, hearty pasta dish, look no further than this Penne Alla Vodka recipe! You can certainly leave out the shrimp, but we love the delicate flavor it adds to the creamy vodka sauce.
Here’s why we love it so much:
- It’s a true 30 minute meal! Making it perfect for busy weeknights.
- Feels fancy! Vodka sauce is a humble pasta dish, but the addition of cream makes it luscious and velvety smooth, coating each and every noodle. The shrimp elevates it, too!
- Mostly pantry staples! Between the dried penne pasta, cans of crushed tomatoes, crushed red peppers, and a little garlic and onion, we pretty much always have all ingredients on hand. The only special addition is fresh shrimp (though certainly you can use frozen, just do NOT buy pre-cooked!). So easy to pull together!
Whatever the reason, this dish is perfect for any occasion and is sure to impress.
- Penne pasta, or other tubular pasta. We love the way the sauce hides inside each individual piece of penne
- Shrimp, peeled and deveined. Do not use pre-cooked shrimp, as it will be rubbery and is often overcooked.
- Kosher salt, divided, plus more for seasoning pasta water.
- Freshly ground black pepper, to season everything!
- EVOO (aka extra virgin olive oil), to cook the shrimp.
- Medium onion, diced and sautéed to make the dish more flavorful.
- Garlic, finely chopped — this adds the best flavor to the vodka sauce!
- Crushed red pepper flakes to add a little heat!
- Tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, and vodka (alcohol) to make the base of the sauce.
- Pasta water, reserve for finishing the sauce. The starchy pasta water will help to thicken the vodka sauce.
- Heavy cream, adds to the richness and flavor of the sauce, giving it a smooth, creamy texture.
- Grated Parmesan, a must for this Italian classic! Freshly grated, if possible!
- Basil leaves, for serving.
You’ll also need a large pot (to boil water for the pasta) as well as a pan to make the sauce and assemble the dish. We’re using our Staub braiser.
Alternatives To Shrimp
Not a fan of shrimp? Feel free to substitute with hot Italian sausage, crispy pancetta, bacon, or chicken breasts in the sauce! You can also completely omit to make it vegetarian.
How To Make Penne Alla Vodka
- Boil the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then add pasta, give it a stir with a slotted spoon, then cook until al dente. Before you drain, be sure to reserve about 1 cup pasta water for the sauce.
- Cook the shrimp. Season shrimp with salt and pepper, then cook in olive oil or butter over medium-high heat in a large skillet or cast iron frying pan and cook until pink on each side. Cool slightly, then chop into pieces.
- Sauté onion. Add diced onion and cook until softened. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and Kosher salt.
- Make the sauce. Stir in some tomato paste, then deglaze with 2 oz vodka. Add crushed tomatoes, heavy cream, and the chopped shrimp then simmer for just a minute. Add the cooked pasta, then toss to thoroughly coat, adding reserved pasta water and plenty of parmesan cheese!
- Serve. Serve with a drizzle of EVOO, extra grated Parmesan cheese, some flaky sea salt, and fresh basil leaves, then dig in! The basil is a MUST!
You cannot begin to know how absolutely delicious this Penne Alla Vodka with shrimp is!
Prep, Storage, and Substitutions
Make ahead! The cooked pasta will keep for up to 2 days in a refrigerator in an airtight container.
Freeze! Pasta sauces with cream tend not to freeze quite as well, so we prefer this dish fresh. However, yes, it can be frozen for up to 3 months. Allow to cool completely to room temperature, then store in an airtight freezer-safe container. To thaw, defrost overnight in a refrigerator.
To make gluten-free: Feel free to substitute with your favorite gluten-free pasta!
How To Serve
Here are a few of our favorite Italian recipes to round out the meal:
- Salads: Arugula Salad, Lemon Kale Caesar Salad, Shredded Brussel Sprouts Salad
- Vegetable Side Dishes: Stuffed Artichokes, Sicilian Cauliflower, Blistered Haricots Verts, Oven Roasted Broccoli
- Entrées: Chicken Florentine Recipe, Cheese Stuffed Oven Baked Meatballs, Weeknight Chicken Milanese with Fennel Salad
This classic Italian dish is one of my all time favorite pasta recipes, and we are so excited to share it with you!
If you make this Penne Alla Vodka recipe, please let us know by leaving a review and rating below!
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Creamy Penne Alla Vodka With Shrimp
- 1 lb penne
- 1 lb medium shrimp peeled and deveined, see note below
- 1¼ tsp Kosher salt, divided plus more for seasoning pasta water
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tbsp EVOO
- 1 medium onion diced
- 3 cloves garlic finely chopped
- ¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 3 Tbsp tomato paste
- 2 oz vodka
- 1 (15oz) can crushed tomatoes
- ½-¾ cup reserved pasta water
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan plus more for serving
- Fresh basil leaves for serving
- For serving: high quality EVOO, flaky sea salt
- Cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil, then season with about 3-4 Tbsp of Kosher salt. Add penne, stir, then cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Before draining, reserve at least 1 cup of pasta water.
- Cook the shrimp. Season the shrimp on both sides with 1 tsp Kosher salt and ¼ tsp black pepper. Heat 2 Tbsp EVOO in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add shrimp and cook until they just turn pink on each side, about 2 minutes per side. Use tongs to remove shrimp to a cutting board, allow to cool slightly, then chop into bite size pieces. Set aside.
- Sauté the onion. To the same skillet, add diced onion and cook 4-6 minutes over medium-high heat, until softened, stirring occasionally. Add chopped garlic, ¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes, and remaining ¼ tsp Kosher salt, then cook 1 minute more.
- Add tomatoes and vodka. Add 3 Tbsp tomato paste, then stir and cook until dissolved, about 1-2 minutes. Deglaze with 2 oz vodka, then continue cooking about 2 minutes more.
- Finish the sauce. Pour in a 15oz can of crushed tomatoes. Add ¾ cup of heavy cream and the chopped shrimp. Stir until well mixed. Add the cooked pasta, ½ cup of reserved pasta water, and ½ cup grated Parm, stir until the cheese has melted and the sauce is luscious and creamy. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed, adding remaining pasta water if you want more of a sauce.
- Garnish, then serve. Serve immediately with a drizzle of high quality EVOO, extra grated Parmesan, a pinch of flaky sea salt, and lots of fresh basil leaves!
- Shrimp: Feel free to use any size shrimp, as long as they are not pre-cooked. Cook time will vary based on the size of the shrimp, so adjust accordingly.
- Freezing pasta: Pasta sauces with cream tend not to freeze quite as well, so we prefer this dish fresh. However, yes, it can be frozen for up to 3 months. Allow to cool completely to room temperature, then store in an airtight freezer-safe container. To thaw, defrost overnight in a refrigerator.