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Make this extra creamy cherry tomato pasta alla vodka in less than 30 minutes! Using sweet summer cherry tomatoes for the best flavor, along with fresh herbs and plenty of parmesan cheese, this creamy sauce is bursting with fresh, craveable flavor.
I am really loving summer right now! Growing my own food in my own backyard, visiting real farmers' markets, possibly going half on a cow with my good girlfriend Britney from Britney Breaks Bread...I've been enjoying taking life slow and enjoying the little things as I can.
Totally different than the nose-to-the-grindstone life we were living in that tiny apartment in South Florida, huh?
I was excited to find a ton of gorgeous cherry tomatoes at my local farmers' market and knew I needed their sweet, beautiful butts in some great pasta sauces.
After munching on my favorite cherry tomato caprese salad, I used the rest to make this decadent creamy pasta sauce as the perfect summer twist on penne alla vodka. It's one of my favorite pasta dishes in the summer with how easy it is to make!
There's plenty of basil, thyme, fresh oregano (I have a variety called hot & spicy growing in my herb garden and they were so good!), a little red pepper flakes for some spice, a nice splash of vodka, and a good dose of my ole friend heavy cream and butter. The flavor of this sauce will make you just fall out in awe, it's so good.
Greyson even asked for thirds, so that lets you know it's a real winner. Greyson doesn't mince words when it comes to food, and he asked for this to be made again the next night! A total mom score!
This is perfect for a weeknight family meal or an impressive and amazing date night dinner. It's a simple recipe that is full of fresh flavors!
What is Vodka Sauce?
Vodka sauce is a modern classic Italian pasta sauce made with tomatoes, heavy cream, herbs, vodka, and parmesan cheese. This pink sauce is then tossed with short cut pasta and is delicious as is on Meatless Mondays, or served with garlic bread and tossed with leftover chicken from Sunday's supper for an easy weeknight meal that won't leave the whole house sweating from the heat of an oven on in the dog days of summer.
Why Vodka in Tomato Sauce?
"If the alcohol gets cooked out, and vodka doesn't add flavor to the sauce, why even use it?' You're probably asking me in the comments already.
Honey, this is my time to shine! You know I love teaching the science behind food!
Vodka acts as an emulsifier and as a solvent in vodka sauce. Here's how:
The fat in dairy products separate easily in the presence of acid. Think about making curds: it's fresh milk and rennet (literally stomach acid). This can also happen when making a sauce with tomatoes and cream. So the vodka helps to keep the cream from curdling in the acidic tomatoes.
Next, the alcohol extracts the flavors from the tomatoes and herbs in a way only alcohol can before it's completely evaporated out. Think about limoncello or vanilla extract, those flavors are extracted by alcohol, right? Same here! It creates a more flavorful sauce, bringing out flavors that never would have been there otherwise.
Some cooks also say it mellows out the acidity in tomato sauces, which is another aspect to think about.
You can see in this list that we are really enjoying a lot of fresh ingredients here. Not a lot of pantry staples, but a whole lot of garden staples!
Fresh Cherry Tomatoes. Fresh tomatoes are often sweeter than canned ones, especially cherry tomatoes. Taste and season as needed.
Olive oil. We're not using high heat so you can use extra virgin if you want. A first on my blog!
Fresh herbs. Using fresh basil, thyme, and oregano here. I'm taking advantage of my herb garden and suggest you do too!
Red pepper flakes. I only use a pinch, but if you want a spicy cherry tomato vodka sauce, go with your heart, honey.
Diced yellow onion. Yellow onions are full of delicious flavor that mellows and turns into that sweeter flavor as it's cooked. A must have for me.
Smashed garlic. I love garlic, so I use a lot. If you're not a fan, use maybe two. You'll be missing out on serious flavor if you don't have at least a little in there. Besides, the best smell ever is onions and garlic sizzling away in a pan, honey. It's smashed since we're blending the sauce up
Heavy Cream. I said it was summer food, not healthy food. But if you want to exchange it for a plant-based product like some full-fat coconut milk or cashew cream.
Vodka. If you're just going to buy one of those tiny vials of vodka, buy whatever one you find because it's not about the flavor or alcohol in this recipe. But if you're buying a real bottle, I am going to put on my in-training Ina Garten hat and tell you to buy the good vodka. Because someone's gotta finish that bottle, it might as well be one you'll pour into a delicious strawberry vodka lemonade right?
Short cut pasta. We all have seen penne pasta in pasta alla vodka recipes but I want you to find a new pasta shape at your grocery store. I found these while at my local Wegman's, I loved how cute they are. They hold so much sauce in those twists and curls.
Grated parmesan cheese. Don't get the dust in the green can, y'all. It's just as easy to buy a wedge of good quality parm at the store and grate a little with a box grater or microplane. The cheese won't clump up like the dust does, and it tastes a million times better.
Butter. This is an old culinary school/restaurant technique called monter au beurre, adding a knob of butter to your sauce at the end so that it thickens and gives us a satiny sauce with a velvety mouthfeel. Consider this small technique addition one way of making various recipes into restaurant-quality dishes.
First get those aromatics, chili flakes and herbs going in a large skillet with the olive oil while you've got a large pot of water seasoned and boiling for pasta.
Bask in the best smell in the world and then burst those beautiful tomato babies in there. Let their skin get a little brown, give it some salt and pepper, and let them get nice and jammy in the pan. Beat them up a little with a wooden spoon once they burst.
Carefully pour the hot tomato sauce into a blender, or use an immersion blender with the heat off (very important that heat is off!). Blend until you have a smooth, bright orange tomato puree. If you don't have a high-powered blender that can really power through the tomato skins, strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve to catch any seeds and skins.
It goes back in the skillet to cook with some cream and vodka. Let simmer for a little while, if you have time let it go for 20-30 minutes. The more time all those flavors have to party, the better the sauce, in my opinion. If you feel in the end you don't have enough sauce, stir in ¼ cup of pasta water when you add the noods.
Whisk in the parmesan and the knob of butter before adding the cooked pasta to the fresh sauce. Give all that a moment to get all that tomato flavor into the pasta, letting it finish cooking in that good sauce before garnishing with torn fresh basil leaves, lots of cheese, and a little crank of black pepper. Serve with crusty garlic bread or as a side dish to an amazing main dish.
I love this dish whether it's a main or a side, but here are some great dishes and drinks that go so well with pasta alla vodka, especially if you're entertaining!
For that something green we all need, I love sautéed lemon garlic asparagus. It's so delish and done in less than 10 minutes!
A nice fresh salad. I have been enjoying summery strawberry goat cheese salads lately.
Pro Tips for a Perfect Pasta alla Vodka
Want a deeply flavored pasta alla vodka sauce that tastes like it was simmering for hours with only 20 minutes to spare for dinner? Add a teaspoon of tomato paste. It's a concentrated flavor that has the taste of a sauce that's been on the stove all day long.
Let the pasta finish cooking in the vodka sauce. Get just before al dente, then pick up the pasta with a slotted spoon and mix into the sauce. They'll soak up the sauce, becoming infused with its flavor, and the pasta water clinging to it will help thicken up the sauce even more.
Do not add oil to your pasta water. The oil actually repels the sauce from attaching to your pasta, making for nude noods and possibly greasy sauce.
Storing, Freezing, Reheating
If you're anything like me right now, you're not just using all the abundant produce this summer's offering, but you're also saving it for fall and winter!
This pasta sauce is great for making ahead for meal planning and meal prep! Just make the sauce and keep it in an airtight container for five days in the fridge.
To reheat it, put it in a small saucepan on low and add the hot freshly cooked pasta to the sauce with a splash of pasta water.
Freezing: You can freeze vodka sauce! Put it into a freezer safe container or bag with as little air in it as possible. Freeze the sauce for up to 6 months.
Thaw the sauce overnight in the fridge and follow the reheating instructions!
More Summer Weeknight Recipes
- The Best Pasta with Lobster Cream Sauce
- Ahi Tuna Poké Bowl
- Panera Bread's White Cheddar Mac and Cheese
- Instant Pot Carnitas Tacos
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Creamy Cherry Tomato Pasta alla Vodka
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion diced
- 4 sprigs fresh oregano
- ½ cup fresh basil leaves
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
- 8 cloves garlic smashed
- 4 pints fresh cherry tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ⅓ cup vodka
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 12 ounces your favorite short cut pasta
- ½ cup parmesan cheese finely grated
- 4 tablespoon cold butter cubed
- Salt and Black Pepper to taste
- Grated parmesan for serving
- Torn basil leaves for serving
- Begin bringing a large pot of water to a boil. Salt it with 2 teaspoons of kosher salt. While waiting for it to boil, start on your vodka sauce. When it's boiling, add the pasta and cook until just before al dente.
- Pour the olive oil into a large sauté pan over medium heat. Put the diced yellow onion in the pan and cook until they begin to get some color, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, basil, thyme, red pepper flakes and stir them gently in the oil and onions for a minute to get them fragrant.
- Add the cherry tomatoes to the pan and sauté for about 10 minutes, until the tomato skins burst. Let them simmer in the pan for another 5 minutes, mush them a little with a wooden spoon to let them get jammy and reduce some of the liquid.
- Turn the heat off and pour the tomato sauce into a high powered blender. Blend until smooth, then pour the tomato sauce back into the sauté pan.
- Get the pan back onto medium heat. Whisk in the vodka, let the alcohol evaporate for 3 minutes, then stir in the heavy cream. Taste for seasoning and season with kosher salt and black pepper as needed. Turn the heat to low.
- Toss the cooked pasta in the sauce, it'll finish cooking in it, absorbing the flavors.
- Add the parmesan cheese, stirring until the parmesan is completely incorporated. Add the cubed butter and stir until the butter is just melted in.
- Serve hot and top with more basil and parmesan cheese.