1-pot penne alla vodka recipe, inspired by Gigi Hadid

photo of penne alla vodka
Vegan Feast Catering/Creative Commons

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There’s a good reason that the dish penne alla vodka captured Italy’s heart in the 1980s: it’s simple yet delicious!  The creamy sauce blanketing tender penne pasta is sure to leave your mouth watering. Recently, penne alla vodka enjoyed a newfound surge of popularity after supermodel Gigi Hadid posted an Instagram story of her spin on the dish, which went viral. Using Gigi as inspiration, this recipe modifies the traditional style of making penne alla vodka for an easy, one-pot spin on this timeless dish. If you aren’t a big fan of alcohol, or simply not yet 21 years old, don’t fear! Despite its name, this recipe also works well without vodka. Vodka is mainly used to cohesively combine all the ingredients together, but you can substitute in butter for the same effect.

Serving size: 2 

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil 
  • ½ white onion
  • 2 cloves garlic 
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • ¼ cup heavy cream or half-and-half
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese 
  • 8 ounces Penne pasta or any tube pasta
  • ¼ cup pasta water
  • 1 tablespoon vodka, optional 
  • Sugar to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • Choice of protein, optional 
  • Fresh basil for serving, optional


  1. Cube the onions and mince the garlic. Prepare your choice of protein and chop the basil if required.
  2. In a large pot, bring salted water to boil. Stir in pasta and let it cook on medium heat until tender (times may vary, follow the time length specified on its package instructions). Drain the pasta but keep the pasta water. Set aside.
  3. In the same pot, rinse out the starch and wipe the bowl dry. Turn the heat to medium-high and heat up the olive oil until the air above the pot is warm.
  4. Add in the onions and cook until translucent for about 3-5 minutes. Then, add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds or until fragrant.
  5. Add in the vodka and stir, scrapping out browned bits if they appear. If using protein, add into the pot and stir until just cooked.
  6. In the same pot, add in the pepper flakes, tomato paste, ¼ cup pasta water and cream. Mix in the Parmesan cheese, leaving some for the topping. Allow for the sauce to boil. If substituting vodka with butter, add in and incorporate until completely melted. Then add sugar, salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Turn off the heat and add in the pasta. Stir to evenly coat the pasta into the sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add in the pasta water until it reaches its desired consistency. Sprinkle in the remaining Parmesan cheese and chopped basil and serve!

This pasta sauce perfectly balances both the acidity of the tomato paste and the richness of the heavy cream. The variety of flavors blend well with each other to create a delicious and hearty meal without too much preparation and cleaning. So what are you waiting for? Get into the kitchen to channel your inner Italian chef by creating this penne alla vodka! 

Contact Emily Lui at [email protected].