Penne Alla Vodka with Pancetta is a comfort food pasta dish that is easy to make and is full of flavor! It’s creamy, cheesy, and my absolute favorite way to enjoy pasta! Sometimes, pure tomato sauces tend to be a little to acidic so the addition of the cream in this sauce makes it a mild yet flavorful combination! The pancetta also ads a meaty flavor without overpowering the dish.
Can you substitute pancetta for anything else?
If you are unable to use pancetta, you could substitute either prosciutto (my suggestion) or even bacon in a pinch. Here’s the difference: While pancetta and bacon are from the same cut of a pig, pancetta is NOT smoked like bacon. So if you use bacon, you’ll have a much stronger smoky flavor and risk overpowering the dish. The reason I like to use prosciutto instead of bacon is that prosciutto (although a different cut of meat) is also NOT smoked, giving it a more similar taste to the pancetta. PHEW that was a lot of pork-related info!
How to make penne alla vodka with pancetta:
Bring a pot of water to boil but don’t add in the pasta just yet!
in a large skillet, add the olive oil, pancetta, and onions and sauté for about 10 minutes or until the pancetta is starting to crisp. This will start to smell SO GOOD! I like to sprinkle just a dash of salt at this point too.
Add in the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. You don’t want to add this in at the beginning because over-cooked garlic can ruin an entire dish!
Once the garlic has warmed, pour in the vodka and let it bubble for another 2 minutes.
Can you substitute the vodka in “penne alla vodka” for something else?
If you want a traditional penne alla vodka, I’d say no. The vodka gives it a very distinct taste and it’s what makes this dish unique. If you are completely against using the vodka, you can sub in chicken broth. It will have a different taste but it will still be a great dish!
Add in the diced tomatoes, cream, and salt and stir to combine. This is what makes that beautiful orangy pink sauce! Some recipes will call for whole tomatoes that you need to crush but…”ain’t nobody got time for that” 🙂 Also, my son is anti tomato chunks so I sometimes make this with crushed tomatoes too so he can’t see them. (Send help!)
Let the sauce simmer for 15 minutes until it’s reduced and slightly thickened. If you like a runnier sauce, you can just do 10 minutes. The cheese will also help thicken the sauce at the end.
At this point, you can add your pasta to your pot of boiling water. The pasta should take about 10 minutes. (If you would have added it at the beginning, it would be super soggy by now!) Side note: I never add the entire box of pasta. I like TONS of sauce on my pasta so if you are like me, just add in about 3/4 of the box.
Once the sauce has simmered, you can add in the parmesan cheese and stir. (Save a little for sprinkling on top later if you want!)
Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and toss to coat. Serve immediately.
Penne Alla Vodka with Pancetta
- 12 ounces penne pasta (that's 3/4 of a standard size 16 ounce box)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/3 cup diced onion (about 1 small yellow onion)
- 8 ounces diced pancetta
- 3 large cloves of garlic - minced
- 1/2 cup vodka
- 1 - 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes (not drained)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- parsley for garnish (optional)
- Set a salted pot of water to boil on the stove but don't add in the pasta yet.
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add in the olive oil, pancetta, and onions. Sauté until the pancetta starts to brown and the onions are softened.
- Add in the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes.
- Pour in the vodka and let it bubble for 2 whole minutes while you scrape up the yummy bits from the bottom of the pan.
- Add in the tomato sauce, heavy cream, and salt and let the sauce simmer for about 15 minutes until it has thickened slightly. Make sure you stir it occasionally so it doesn't burn on the bottom.
- This is a good time to add in your pasta while you wait for the sauce to thicken. (Note: while you CAN add in the entire box, I like to only add in about 3/4 of the box so the dish has tons of sauce at the end!)
- Once the vodka sauce has thickened, add in the parmesan cheese and stir to combine.
- Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and toss to coat.
- Garnish with parsley and extra parmesan cheese and serve immediately.