Vodka Sauce

My daughter and I had a “girls night” with my friend and her daughters the other night. My friends are vegetarians, so I made two batches of this sauce- one with and the other without pancetta. (I doubled the recipe below.) Both were absolutely DELICIOUS!

I used a GIANT can (6+ pounds) of San Marzano tomatoes-from Costco, and just used half for each batch. I served the sauce over a choice of regular or whole wheat penne noodles from Trader Joes’s.

This recipe was adapted from a Food and Wine “staff-favorite” recipe. It’s a simple and perfect version of this classic Italian-American sauce. This dish is a crowd pleaser. 🙂

Yield: 3 cups, enough for 1 pound of pasta
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 ounces pancetta, diced (optional)
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 cup vodka (I used lemon vodka)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • One 35-ounce can whole peeled Italian tomatoes with their juices, crushed by hand
  • pinch of granulated sugar
  • 2 basil sprigs, plus more for garnish, as desired
  • coarse salt, to taste (about 1/2 to 3/4 tsp)
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 pound of penne noodles, cooked according to package directions


  1. In a large saucepan, heat the oil. (I used an enameled cast iron Dutch oven.)
  2. Sauté the pancetta, garlic and crushed red pepper over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 5 minutes.
  3. Deglaze the pan with the vodka. (Be careful- it will splatter.)
  4. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
  5. Add the canned tomatoes with their juices. (I crushed them by hand as I added them.)
  6. Stir in the sugar and basil, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil.
  7. Simmer the sauce over low heat, stirring occasionally, until it thickens and is reduced to 3 cups, at least 30 minutes.
  8. Season again with salt and pepper, to taste. Discard the basil sprigs and garlic, if desired. (I left the garlic in the sauce.)
  9. Add heavy cream and simmer for 5 minutes.
  10. Garnish with chopped fresh basil and serve.

Note: Using the same giant can of San Marzano tomatoes, I have doubled this recipe every time I’ve made it since! The additional sauce freezes perfectly.

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