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Nothing says “special dinner” more than vodka sauce pasta! The creamy sauce is simmered with garlic and basil, served over rigatoni with lots of Parmesan.

Vodka Sauce Pasta
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Twinkle lights, crisp rose and vodka sauce pasta. Excuse us while we sigh in nostalgia! This long-simmered sauce will shoot you to Italian grandmother status in no time. This recipe was part of a sweet Italian-themed “pasta party” we threw for some of our favorite women entrepreneurs working in food in our city. It was the most special evening! We want to show you how to recreate this simple Italian pasta party to enjoy good food and good people. Ready?

Want a quicker spin? Try Tomato Cream Sauce, made in half the time!

Italian pasta party

An Italian dinner party menu

This Italian dinner party menu is all about simplicity! While the vodka sauce pasta takes about 1 hour to simmer, it’s mostly hands off! You can put it on the stove and let it simmer while you make the rest of the recipes and preparations. It’s truly all about the goodness of simple, high quality ingredients. Here’s our simple Italian dinner party menu:

  • Vodka Sauce Pasta (recipe below!)
  • Favorite Chopped Salad
  • Cheese plate
  • Fruit plate with sliced green apple and grapes
  • Rose wine
Italian dinner party

Tips on how to make vodka sauce pasta

Want the secret to Italian grandmother style vodka sauce pasta? Simmer the sauce. For 1 hour! You won’t see a lot of 1 hour simmers here on A Couple Cooks. Because our core passion is fast and easy dinner recipes. But guess what? Even more than fast and easy, we’re obsessed with flavor. This vodka sauce pasta is so seriously full of flavor, it’s worth every second of that simmer. And what says “you’re special” more than a 1 hour simmered pasta?

Here’s another secret. Because this pasta sauce is mostly hands-off, it’s actually an easy recipe. Here are some tips on how to make vodka sauce pasta:

  • The only thing you’ll need to cut is garlic! If you need to brush up on your knife skills, here’s How to Mince Garlic.
  • Use quality vodka: and don’t worry! It’s safe for kids. You’ll want to use the good stuff here! Don’t worry, the alcohol cooks away, leaving a tangy back-end flavor.
  • Simmer with a halved onion. To get onion flavor without onion in the sauce, you’ll simply simmer the sauce with a halved onion: then remove it after the simmer.
  • Fresh basil is a must. Trust us. The Italians know best!
  • Blend, then melt in the Parmesan cheese (not cream). Some vodka sauces use heavy cream, but the Parmesan carries the show here.
Vodka sauce pasta
Tomato can vases: dinner party idea

Pasta party prep tips

Now, dinner parties aren’t just about recipes: they’re about setting a beautiful table too! Luckily I had Alex to help me and he thought of some really fun decoration ideas. Here’s what we did to make a lovely setting for our vodka sauce pasta with friends:

  • Use tomato cans as vases! The most fun idea for reuse: save your tomato cans and use them as vases! Here we filled them with flowers from our yard.
  • Add a simple white table runner and candles. Besides this, our only decoration was a simple white table runner down the center of our table, and some white candles as a centerpiece.
  • Ball jar drinking glasses make a nice touch. These blue Ball jars are our everyday glasses, but the color makes a nice pop for a tablescape.
  • Twinkle lights are a must. All we know is that all food tastes better under twinkle lights! Unless it’s not outside dining weather, in which case you can make it up with more candles.

Here’s how we phased out our party prep. Alex and I did all the table decor first, then made the vodka sauce. We let that simmer while we prepared the salad and got together the cheese plate and appetizers. The pasta portion of the vodka sauce pasta I boiled up right after guests arrived: that way the pasta would be perfectly hot and al dente.

Pasta party

Our party guests

For our Italian dinner party, we wanted to enjoy vodka sauce pasta and give a little thank you to some women entrepreneurs working in food in our city. These women are part of the Indy Women in Food organization that works to connect women business owners in Indianapolis to empower them and encourage collaboration. These dear friends of ours are working hard to make our city a better, more equitable place. Make sure follow along with these incredible women and their stories:

Italian dinner party

Looking for pasta recipes?

Want a few other options that work great for pasta parties? Try these great pasta recipes:

This vodka sauce pasta recipe is…

Vegetarian. For gluten-free, use gluten-free pasta.

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Vodka Sauce Pasta

Rigatoni Pasta with Vodka Sauce

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  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour
  • Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Yield: 6 to 8 1x


Nothing says “special dinner” more than vodka sauce pasta! The creamy sauce is simmered with garlic and basil, served over rigatoni with lots of Parmesan.


  • 1 pound rigatoni (or short pasta or your choice)
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 4 tablespoons salted butter
  • 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (or best quality crushed tomatoes)
  • ⅓ cup high-quality vodka
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 large basil leaves, plus more for garnish
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut in half
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish


  1. Mince the garlic.
  2. Melt the butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, vodka, oregano, red pepper flakes, and kosher salt. Stir to combine. Add the basil and halved onion and simmer for 1 hour with the lid tilted, stirring occasionally.
  3. After the simmering time, remove the onion. Transfer the sauce to a blender, or use an immersion blender to blend the sauce. Stir in the Parmesan cheese until it melts.
  4. Meanwhile, boil heavily salted water in a large pot. Cook the pasta to al dente (see the section above). When the pasta is done, drain it and return it to the pot. Combine it with the vodka sauce. Serve sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese and torn fresh basil leaves.
  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian

More pasta recipes!

Love pasta? Here are some of our favorite pasta dinner ideas to serve at parties:

Last updated: May 2020

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes for memorable kitchen moments! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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  1. Lori Rayment says:

    If I prepare the vodka sauce a day in advance, is it best to add the parmesan and then reheat or reheat then add the Parmesan? This sauce recipe is amazing!!

    1. Sonja Overhiser says:

      I would add Parmesan and reheat — but you can do it either way! Thank you so much!

  2. Kara Kelley says:

    There is no heavy whipping cream to be added? I feel like there was last time I made it but I lost the recipe, I believe this is it though

  3. Christina says:

    Hi, thanks for the recipe!
    Just wondering are the 6 basil leaves suppose to simmer with the sauce or are they just for garnish?


    1. Sonja Overhiser says:

      Typo: thank you! It goes in with the onion — we’ve updated the recipe accordingly.

  4. Morgan says:

    Sounds great, but if it has parmesan in it, it isn’t vegetarian. Parmesan contains animal rennet.

    1. Sonja Overhiser says:

      True if you are a strict vegetarian! If you are worried about animal rennet, there are several brands of Parmesan cheese on the market labeled “Vegetarian” that contain no animal rennet.

  5. Meli says:

    Very delicious!!

  6. Erin@WellPlated says:

    BE RIGHT OVER. This looks amazing!!