Tomato Vodka Cream Sauce

A classic tomato vodka sauce is a great and simple way to dress up a bowl of spaghetti. It's a super quick fix and has a little more kick than regular marinara sauce.

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Tomato Vodka Cream Sauce with spaghettini in a sauté pan with tongs.

Quick & Easy Pasta Sauce

Every cook loves a quick and easy sauce that you can pull off on any busy weeknight. This tomato vodka cream sauce just happens to be a quick and easy sauce that is also luxurious and elegant at the same time. 

Ingredients on a wooden table - canned tomatoes, parmesan cheese, onion, garlic, chili flake, vodka, cream and basil.

Crushed or Chopped Tomatoes

Whenever you are making a sauce with canned tomatoes, you have to decide whether to use chopped, crushed or whole tomatoes. I usually stock my pantry with whole tomatoes and then I have the option of all three. I can chop the whole tomatoes if I need chopped tomatoes, or purée the whole tomatoes if I need crushed tomatoes. I like having that versatility, but I also find that canned whole tomatoes tend to taste better than canned chopped tomatoes, so there are two good reasons to stock up with whole tomatoes. For this vodka sauce, you can use crushed or chopped tomatoes – it just depends on whether you want chunks of tomatoes in the sauce or not.

Tomato marinara in a saute pan.

Why Vodka?

Good question! There are stories that tomato vodka sauce originated because vodka producers just wanted another source of demand for vodka, but I think there’s more to it. While vodka doesn’t have a lot of flavor, it does two things in this sauce. First of all, it brings out a whole new set of flavors that exist naturally in tomatoes – flavors that are only alcohol soluble. Secondly, vodka gives the sauce a little kick in the after taste. It’s that little kick that keeps you coming back for more.

A dark blue bowl with tomato vodka cream sauce on a wooden table with a saute pan with more next to it.

What to Serve with Tomato Vodka Sauce

Of course pasta is the obvious choice to dress with tomato vodka cream sauce. It coats the pasta perfectly making every mouthful delicious. I like it best on long pasta like spaghetti or spaghettini, fettuccine or egg noodles, but if you offered me a bowl of penne alla vodka, I wouldn’t say no. You can also serve this luscious sauce over grilled chicken breast or tossed with some sautéed shrimp if you’re looking for a low carb way to enjoy it.

A dark blue bowl with spaghetti on a wooden table with a salad and a bowl of parmesan cheese in the background.

Variations on Tomato Vodka Sauce

Once you’ve made the base of this sauce – before you add the Parmesan cheese or basil – you can add a little protein to this meal if you like. One of my favorite ingredients to add to tomato vodka cream sauce is salmon or shrimp. You can cook either right in the sauce as you add the cream. You could also add sliced grilled chicken to the sauce, giving it a boost of protein and a little smoky flavor. 

A light blue ceramic bowl with penne and salmon with tomato vodka cream sauce on a wooden table with a blue napkin.

How to Re-heat Tomato Vodka Sauce

You can re-heat tomato vodka cream sauce in a saucepan, bringing it to a simmer. Because it uses heavy cream, you don’t have to worry about the cream curdling or separating. You might, however, want to thin the sauce a little. You can do this by adding a little water, but it’s a nice idea to add a teaspoon or two of vodka as well to bring back the kick that makes this sauce so delicious.

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Tomato Vodka Cream Sauce

  • Prep Time: 5 m
  • Cook Time: 20 m
  • Total Time: 25 m
  • Servings:


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ cup finely diced onion about ½ onion
  • 2 cloves garlic smashed and peeled
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28-ounce can) of tomatoes, crushed
  • cup vodka
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ to ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese optional
  • fresh basil


  1. Pre-heat a large skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil and butter and sauté the onion and smashed garlic cloves for a couple of minutes, until the onion starts to soften. Season with salt and crushed red pepper flakes.
  2. Add the crushed tomatoes and vodka and simmer for about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the heavy cream and simmer for another 5 to 6 minutes. If using, stir in the Parmesan cheese.
  4. Serve sauce over pasta or grilled chicken breast and garnish with the fresh basil.
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Comments (10)Post a Reply

    1. Yes you can freeze leftover tomato vodka sauce for up to 3 months. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator and warm it slowly on the stovetop. If you are making it ahead of time and want to freeze the sauce, I would wait until I reheated the sauce to add the heavy cream.

    1. Hi Candace. You could use coconut milk instead of cream if you like, but simmer it very gently, stirring constantly to prevent it from curdling.

    1. Hi Kate,
      I hadn’t heard of Chicken Riggies until you menntioned it, but having looked it up, it sounds like Chicken Riggies is in a creamy tomato-based sauce with sweet or hot peppers. A little different.

  1. Thank You Meredith.. You should come up with a recipe for riggies with vodka sauce. It will be a hit. You don’t need the chicken .. Sauce alone is delicious.Thanks again.

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