This vodka cream sauce combines the heartiness of a traditional marinara with the silky smooth texture of a creamy Italian-herbed sauce. It’s the perfect topping for your favorite pasta but it can upgrade nearly any other dish you might smother with tomato sauce.
What I love about this tomato cream sauce is that it’s so easy to make and store. You can make it on the fly for last-minute guests or you can make it ahead and just reheat when you’re ready after work — or you can whip it up and serve it for an elevated dinner, too.
The next time you’re looking for a homemade sauce that’s easy and affordable, try this delicious vodka cream sauce.
What is Vodka Cream Sauce?
Vodka cream sauce is a rich, decadent sauce with a tomato base that is infused with cream, herbs, aromatics, and vodka. It’s a heavenly mixture of flavors that will elevate anything from pasta to proteins.
There are debates about its origins in the 1970s — either Italy or New York. However, few will debate about whether or not this is an incredible savory sauce.
Why You’ll Love Creamy Vodka Sauce
This sauce is a classic that’s loved by all, but here are a few specific reasons why we love it.
- Delicious – This sauce has the brightness of tomatoes, silkiness from the cream and butter, and just the right amount of saltiness from the pancetta. And, of course, it has the slight bite from the vodka.
- Versatile – There are plenty of ways to use this sauce other than with pasta. Plus, while it’s perfect for parties or date night, it’s also easy enough to make on a busy weeknight.
- Customizable – You can make your own signature vodka sauce by adding or substituting your favorite ingredients.
These ingredients all mingle together to create a perfectly balanced, creamy sauce.
- Butter – You can use salted or unsalted butter. If you choose salted, make sure to taste as you go before adding more salt to the sauce.
- Yellow onion – Dice onions evenly so that there aren’t any large chunks in the sauce.
- Garlic – Mince the garlic cloves so that the pieces are fine. You can also use a grater or microplane to achieve perfectly fine slices.
- Pancetta – You can often find diced pancetta at the grocery store which makes preparation even more of a breeze. If you can’t find pancetta, use prosciutto or ham — country ham will add extra salty flavor.
- Vodka – Just like when using wine, use a vodka that appeals to your taste buds. If you’re not sure which to choose, try asking a liquor-loving friend who can give some tips.
- Petite diced tomatoes – We prefer to use San Marzano tomatoes, but you can choose any brand that you like.
- Heavy cream – Since this is a creamy sauce, don’t skimp on the fat — make sure to get heavy cream rather than light or half-and-half.
- Fresh basil leaves – Hand tear this herb for a rustic feel.
- Fine sea salt – Add this to taste depending on how much saltiness the butter and the meat bring to the sauce.
- Ground black pepper – Grind it yourself before adding or use your table shaker.
- Cooked pasta – If you’re using this sauce over pasta, cook the noodles to al dente just before serving. You can use it with nearly any pasta shape.
How to Make Vodka Cream Sauce
Despite it’s complex and delicious flavors, this incredible pasta sauce is actually quite easy to make.
- Sauté onion, garlic and pancetta. In a large skillet, melt butter. Add onion, sauteing for a few minutes. Add garlic and pancetta, sauteing for another few minutes.
- Add vodka and tomatoes. After onion and garlic have softened, stir in vodka and crushed tomatoes, bringing to a low a simmer. Allow to reduce and thicken.
- Add cream and basil. Stir in cream, basil, salt and pepper until combined. Toss with pasta, allowing to heat for a few minutes and serve immediately.
What To Serve With this Easy Vodka Sauce
Vodka sauce pairs well with any pasta dish, but there are other uses for it, too.
- Dipping sauce – Instead of traditional marinara, use this sauce for dipping bread sticks, mozzarella sticks, or warm, crusty bread.
- Pizza topping – Elevate your next at-home pizza with this creamy sauce instead of pizza sauce.
- Chicken parmigiana – Top your chicken parmigiana with this silky sauce.
- Eggs – Make an Italian-American riff on the Middle Eastern dish, shakshuka, by frying up eggs in this vodka sauce.
- Vegetables – Toss steamed or grilled veggies in vodka cream sauce to entice even the pickiest eaters.
Variations on Homemade Vodka Sauce
This creamy sauce can be changed up however you like to suit the palates in your house (or for guests).
- Heat – Add crushed red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper powder to spice it up.
- Liquor – Of course, if you leave out the vodka, it won’t be a vodka sauce. But you can use wine, or cooking wine, instead, for a different flavor.
- Meat – You can omit the meat or use your favorite meat substitute.
- Onion – Use a different variety of onion (like white onion or red onion) or substitute onion powder.
- Garlic – While we prefer fresh garlic, you can use minced garlic that is jarred as well.
- Cheese – You can always add cheese to a sauce. This one is best dressed with fresh parmesan cheese.
- Oil – Substitute extra virgin olive oil for some of the butter.
- Consistency – If you want a thinner pasta sauce, try adding a bit of chicken stock or a cup of pasta water to the tomato mixture. If you want a thicker sauce, add some tomato paste — either way, adjust the seasonings to taste.
Storage, Make Ahead and Freezing
Make ahead: Since the sauce will last for several days in the refrigerator, you can make it ahead. Just heat sauce at a low simmer just before you’re ready to serve.
Refrigerator: After cooling to room temperature, store vodka cream sauce in the fridge for 4-5 days in an airtight container.
Freezer: Freeze vodka sauce in a freezer-safe container or freezer bag for up to 6 months.
Common Questions About Vodka Cream Sauce
Vodka sauce is a mixture of tomatoes, traditional Italian herbs and aromatics, vodka, and cream.
This silky smooth sauce has bright flavors from the tomatoes and basil rounded out by the fat of the cream and saltiness of the meat.
The vodka helps to bring all of the flavors of the sauce together while also remaining somewhat neutral in flavor.
More Savory Sauces
Vodka Cream Sauce Recipe
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1 yellow onion , chopped
- 4 cloves garlic , minced
- 1 cup pancetta prosciutto or ham , chopped
- 2 cups vodka
- 56 ounces petite diced tomatoes , drained
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup hand torn basil
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 pound cooked pasta al dente
- In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat.
- Add the onion, sauteing for 2-4 minutes. Add the garlic and pancetta, sauteing for another 3 minutes.
- After onion and garlic have softened, stir in vodka and tomatoes, bringing to a low a simmer. Allow the sauce to reduce and thicken, approximately 10 minutes.
- Stir in the cream, basil, salt and pepper until combined. Toss with pasta, allowing to heat for 1-2 minutes. Serve immediately.
- If you tried this recipe, come back and let us know how it was in the comments or star ratings.