Rich, creamy, and — yes! — made with actual vodka, this Homemade Vodka Sauce works well with your favorite pasta, pizzas, and more. The vodka sauce is made with canned tomatoes for ease and maximum flavor!
What Is Vodka Sauce?
Vodka sauce is a popular Italian-American tomato cream sauce.
This tomato-based sauce is spiked with vodka for tanginess and heat, and heavy cream for richness and creaminess. The heavy cream also helps balance out the sharp vodka and acidic tomatoes.
Vodka cream sauce tastes like it simmered on your stove all day, but it actually takes just 30 minutes to prepare! This Italian-American classic is a wonderful all-purpose sauce that can be tossed with your favorite pasta, used in lasagna, enjoyed in place of pizza sauce, and more.
The recipe I’m sharing with you today is a simple vodka sauce with minimal ingredients. Keep reading for my top tips and tricks on making vodka sauce from scratch.
What Does Vodka Sauce Taste Like?
If you don’t like vodka, don’t worry, vodka sauce doesn’t actually taste like vodka. In this delicious sauce recipe, the vodka enhances the flavors of the sauce.
It’s a rich and creamy tomato sauce that has some tang to it (that’s the vodka you’re tasting!), as well as a slight kick of heat from the red pepper flakes.
Does the Vodka Cook Out of Vodka Sauce?
The vodka in this creamy vodka sauce doesn’t cook out entirely, but rather just enough to mellow out the sharpness of the alcohol.
With that being said, there won’t be enough residual vodka left in the sauce to get you drunk or even tipsy!
Ingredients in Homemade Vodka Sauce
Homemade vodka sauce uses just a handful of simple ingredients, many of which you likely have already.
- Canned Tomatoes
- Olive Oil
- Yellow Onion
- Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
- Tomato Paste
- Fresh Garlic
- Heavy Cream
- Sea Salt and Black Pepper
- Fresh Basil
For the complete ingredient list and detailed instructions to make this homemade vodka sauce recipe, scroll to the bottom of this post for the FREE printable recipe card.
What are the best tomatoes to use?
When making pink vodka sauce, I recommend using canned whole San Marzano tomatoes.
“San Marzano” is a type of plum tomato, not a specific brand. Think of them as being the Rolls Royce of canned tomatoes — they’re the best of the best! They’re not too acidic, have a strong flavor, and deliver superior results every time you make this flavorful sauce.
You want to use canned whole San Marzano tomatoes rather than chopped tomatoes.
Why? For the same reason you splash out on a filet mignon from the butcher’s counter when you want to treat yourself to a nice dinner, rather than purchase ground beef. Both cuts of beef are tasty, but a filet is unquestionably the premium cut.
In a sauce as simple as vodka sauce, you want to use the best quality tomatoes you can get your hands on so that the finished product tastes amazing!
Common Ingredient Substitution Questions
Got questions about how to make this easy vodka sauce recipe? Here are the answers to a few commonly asked questions. Feel free to leave any other questions in the comments on this post and I’ll respond with answers.
If I don’t drink alcohol what should I substitute for the vodka?
If you don’t drink alcohol, I’m not sure this is the recipe for you. You can replace the vodka with chicken broth or stock and create essentially a creamy tomato sauce. Just keep in mind that your sauce will lack the signature tang and depth of flavor of classic vodka sauce!
Can I use a different herb?
We prefer our vodka pasta sauce with lots of fresh basil added just before it’s served. You could also add parsley or fresh oregano to taste if you’re out of basil.
Can I use dried herbs instead of fresh? How much?
Yes, you can replace the fresh basil with one-third the amount of dried basil (Italian seasoning would work too). Dried herbs are more potent than fresh, so you need to be mindful when measuring them out.
Can I use canned diced tomatoes?
Yes, you can use diced tomatoes instead of whole tomatoes, but your sauce might be more acidic or sharper in flavor than if you use whole San Marzano tomatoes.
Can I use fresh tomatoes?
I haven’t made vodka sauce this way, but theoretically you could use fresh tomatoes. You would need to blanch and remove the skins first, then chop the tomatoes and cook them down. I haven’t tested this to nail down the best method, so you’d need to use your best judgment.
Can homemade vodka sauce be made without heavy cream?
Yes! We have used half and half instead of heavy cream if we’ve run out, but the sauce doesn’t taste as rich and creamy. I don’t recommend using milk in place of cream because the sauce will be much too thin.
Can I add meat to homemade vodka sauce?
Absolutely! Popular vodka sauce variations include:
- Vodka sauce with Italian sausage
- Vodka sauce with chicken
- Vodka sauce with ground beef
- Vodka sauce with shrimp
- Vodka sauce with meatballs
You’ll want to cook any meat in a separate skillet and then stir it into the finished sauce just before serving.
How to Make Homemade Vodka Sauce
Making perfectly creamy homemade vodka sauce is so much easier than you might think! Detailed instructions are provided in the recipe card below, but here’s an overview of the recipe steps.
- Open the canned tomatoes and drain the juices into a bowl or glass measuring cup to reserve for later.
- Transfer half of the tomatoes to a small food processor and process until smooth. Set the other half aside for later.
- Transfer the processed tomatoes to a glass measuring cup. Add the reserved tomato juices until the total amount equals 4 cups. Set aside.
- Cut the remaining tomatoes into ½-inch pieces. Set aside.
- Heat the olive oil in a saute pan until shimmering, then add the onion and red pepper flakes. Cook just until the onions are translucent.
- Stir in the tomato pasta, followed by the garlic.
- Add the vodka and cook until it’s reduced by half.
- Add the 4 cups of tomato puree and the diced tomatoes to the vodka mixture.
- Simmer the mixture until the sauce thickens (about 15 minutes).
- Stir in the cream and heat until warmed through.
- Stir in the fresh basil.
The above is simply a quick summary of this vodka pasta sauce recipe. Check out the full recipe in the free printable recipe card at the bottom of this post for all the detailed instructions.
Tips for Making the Best Vodka Sauce
- Use fresh garlic and not pre-minced. It will deliver a stronger, fresher flavor.
- Saute the onions until translucent. You want the onion flavor to be mild rather than have a harsh onion taste.
- You don’t need to buy the most expensive vodka. But don’t purchase the cheapest either as they have a harsher taste! Look for a brand like Skyy or Grey Goose.
- Add fresh basil off the heat as the very last step. Fresh herbs are very delicate and wilt quickly, and you want that hit of freshness in the rich sauce.
- Heat the cream just until warmed through. You don’t want to bring the sauce to a simmer after adding the cream or else the sauce could split.
- Save the liquid in the cans of tomatoes! You’ll use that later in the recipe. The juice from the canned tomatoes will thin out the sauce without watering down the tomato flavor.
Ways to Use Vodka Sauce
Homemade vodka sauce can be used as if it were a basic red or marinara sauce. Use it as a pizza sauce, toss it with your favorite pasta, use a dip for breadsticks, and more!
- Toss the homemade pasta sauce with any type of pasta, noodles, or ravioli/tortellini.
- Toss gnocchi with tomato vodka sauce.
- Use as a dipping sauce for bread sticks.
- This creamy sauce can be used in place of pizza sauce (on pizzas or calzones).
What to Serve with Vodka Sauce
No matter what Italian-inspired dish you incorporate the vodka cream sauce into, the following side dishes will work perfectly with your menu:
- Italian mixed greens salad
- Copycat Olive Garden salad
- Spinach pear salad
- Zucchini tomato basil salad
- Simple roasted broccolini
- Roasted cauliflower
- Rosemary focaccia
- Rosemary garlic bread
Vodka Sauce Storage Instructions
Leftover vodka sauce can be refrigerated for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 3 months.
Store the leftover sauce in an airtight container to keep it fresh. If you plan to freeze the sauce, make sure you’re using freezer-safe containers or freezer storage bags.
How long does vodka sauce last?
It will last about 4 days in the fridge. You’ll know it’s gone bad if it develops mold or smells off!
Can vodka sauce be frozen?
Yes, vodka sauce can be frozen IF you freeze it alone and not tossed with pasta. Pasta and noodles generally don’t freeze well, so freeze the sauce on its own.
To use frozen vodka sauce, thaw it overnight in the fridge and then gently reheat in a saucepan. If the sauce looks like it’s separated, just give it a whisk and it should come back together.
Try This Creamy Vodka Sauce Recipe at Home!
Next time you’re looking for a simple pasta sauce recipe, give this vodka cream sauce a try!
Did you love the slight kick of heat in this recipe? Leave a comment below and give it a review for others to see what you thought of this sauce.
On Instagram? Share your photo and tag me with @goodlifeeats and #goodlifeeatsrecipes. I’d love to see your photo of this homemade vodka sauce!
More Easy Pasta Sauce Recipes:
Homemade Marinara Sauce is made with crushed tomatoes that simmer all day with extra-virgin olive oil, oregano, crushed red pepper, plenty of garlic, and a generous helping of Italian red wine. It’s rich, but delightfully simple.
Instead of simmering for hours on the stove, this easy Bolognese Sauce requires just an hour to develop layers of rich flavor! Toss this Bolognese recipe with your favorite pasta or use it to make lasagna bolognese. You’ll love all the flavor in this meat sauce!
This Butternut Squash Sauce is a little unexpected and is so flavorful that it can win over almost any squash hater. Pair it with a salad and you’ve got a quick weeknight meal.
In this recipe for Beef Ragu, chuck roast is cooked until tender with garlic, herbs, and plenty of tomatoes. It can be made using an Instant Pot or Crockpot!
A simple, just-spicy-enough Arrabbiata Sauce you can make from pantry ingredients. Serve it with anything — chicken, sausages, pasta, even your morning eggs!
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Have you ever tried homemade vodka sauce?
- 2 (28 ounce) can Whole San Marzano Tomatoes, divided
- 4 tablespoons Olive Oil
- ⅔ cup minced Yellow Onion
- ½ - 1 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes, according to heat preference
- 2 tablespoons Tomato Paste
- 4 teaspoons minced Fresh Garlic
- 1 ⅓ cup Heavy Cream
- 1 cup Vodka
- 1 teaspoon Sea Salt, plus extra to taste
- ½ teaspoon Pepper, plus extra to taste
- ½ cup chopped Fresh Basil, packed
- Open the canned tomatoes and drain the juices into a bowl or glass measuring cup to reserve for later. Then, transfer half of the tomatoes to a small food processor and process until smooth. Set the other half aside for later.
- Transfer the processed tomatoes to a 4 cup glass measuring cup. Then, add the reserved tomato juices until the total amount equals 4 cups. Set aside.
- Cut the remaining tomatoes into ½ inch diced pieces, reserving any juices that accumulate on the cutting board. Set aside.
- Add the olive oil to a large, deep saute pan over medium heat. Heat until the oil is shimmering, then add the minced onion and red pepper flakes (start with ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes and add more later if you like it spicier). Cook the onions, stirring the onions as they cook with a wooden spoon, until they are translucent, about 3 - 4 minutes.
- Reduce heat to medium-low, then stir in the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes. Next, add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 more minutes.
- Stir in the vodka, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan with the wooden spoon. Continue cooking over medium-low heat for 3 minutes, or until the vodka has reduced by half.
- Add the 4 cups of tomato puree (with the added juices) and the diced tomatoes to the vodka mixture. Stir until well combined.
- Simmer the tomato-vodka mixture over medium-low heat until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper.
- Stir the cream into the tomato mixture and cook for 1 - 2 minutes, until heated through. Taste, and add additional salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper, if desired.
- Stir the chopped basil in just before serving (or freezing).
Enough for 2 pounds of pasta - perfect for serving half the sauce for dinner tonight and freezing the other half for later!
Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 277Total Fat: 21gSaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 45mgSodium: 280mgCarbohydrates: 5gFiber: 1gSugar: 3gProtein: 2g
GoodLifeEats.com offers recipe nutritional information as a courtesy. This provided information is an estimate only. This information comes from online calculators. Although GoodLifeEats.com makes every effort to provide accurate information, these figures are only estimates.