I love it when I come up with a recipe that’s full of real ingredients AND is easy enough to make any night of the week. But I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot when that dish is special enough to serve as a great meal when entertaining. And that’s exactly what my Best Ever Pasta with Vodka Sauce recipe is—quick, easy, made from real ingredients, and OH SO delicious!
I recently made this recipe for a birthday party for one of my best friends, and it was a huge hit! It’s so flavorful that it works well vegetarian-style or with a little meat added (I’ve suggested ham and perhaps some bacon as an option in the recipe). Pair it with a loaf of fresh, whole wheat baguette, a salad with homemade Italian dressing, and you’ve got the perfect meal. Just make sure to make a big enough batch—you’ll want some for leftovers! 🙂
So if you’re a vodka sauce fan, forget those store-bought versions. Personally I don’t think they come close to my homemade sauce. In fact, this recipe is so good it stands toe-to-toe with your favorite Italian restaurant. Enjoy!
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1½ cups onion, chopped finely
- 1 cup celery, chopped finely
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ¾ cup vodka
- 28 ounces crushed tomatoes
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- ¾ teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 cup half and half (or cream)
- 1 pound whole grain pasta (see notes)
- ½ pound ham or prosciutto, thinly sliced and diced
- 4 slices of bacon, diced
- ¼ - ½ cup parmesan cheese grated
- fresh basil or parsley, chopped
- In a large skillet warm olive oil and cook onion, celery, and garlic over moderate heat. Stir until softened and onions are translucent.
- Add ham and bacon (optional and see notes) and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add vodka and simmer until liquid is almost evaporated (about 5-6 minutes).
- Add tomatoes, cayenne, and herbs . Simmer another 10 minutes.
- Add half and half or cream. Simmer over low heat for about 3 minutes. If you want a bit spicier sauce add some additional cayenne pepper.
- While sauce is cooking, bring 5 quarts of water to boil. Salt with several pinches of kosher or sea salt. Cook the pasta of your choice until al dente (tender but still firm).
- Drain pasta. Serve with sauce and garnish with parmesan cheese and some chopped basil or parsley.
If you're using the with-meat option look for humanely-raised, pastured organic pork products. And if you want a heartier, smoky flavor add 4 strips of diced bacon with the ham.
All different kinds of whole wheat pasta work well with this wonderful sauce, so feel free to mix it up or use what you have on hand. My favorites are penne, rigatoni, and orecchiette (pictured).
Kitchen Tips and Resources:
- A great, multipurpose colander is a must for every kitchen, especially when you’re making pasta! I bought this OXO Good Grips colander as a replacement for a really old plastic one that I had bought at a dollar store in the 90’s. Who knows what kind of weird plastics and hormone-disrupting chemicals were in that old one. Yikes! Maybe it’s time you invest in a new colander as well.
- A great garlic press makes child’s play of mincing garlic. I love this top-rated one but there are lots of great alternatives out there at all sorts of kitchen, department, and discount stores.
- I love my Microplane zester/grater. It makes it so easy to add some finely grated parmesan cheese over any dish. And it’s also perfect for grating ginger or zesting lemons, limes, and oranges!
- Now I’m not a big drinker (in fact I rarely drink alcohol), but there are more an more organic, local brands out there these days. And on the top of my organic vodka list is a local favorite … Prairie Organic Spirits.