Pasta alla Vodka Sauce with Shrimp

Can we just take a moment to talk about how much I love this sauce?

Pasta with Vodka Sauce and Shrimp. Tangy and yet smooth and creamy. So good the sauce gets top billing!

This easy recipe makes a great simple weeknight meal, yet is also perfect for times when you need something tasty enough for company.

Here’s what you need:

1 – 28 ounce can Crushed Tomatoes, Heavy Cream (of course), garlic, onion, chicken broth, pasta, Vodka, olive oil, salt and pepper. Oh, and SHRIMP (not pictured because they were thawing in the sink). Fresh basil (also not pictured…geez) for garnish.

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The beauty of this sauce is that it uses ingredients that you might have on hand. Keep an extra can of crushed tomatoes in the pantry, and you’ll be cranking out velvety sauce in no time.

Begin by chopping/dicing an onion into small pieces.

Heat about 2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil – just enough to lightly coat the bottom of the pan – in a large skillet.

Add the onion and saute over medium heat until soft, shiny (the cooking term is translucent) and just beginning to become golden but not brown.

Smash, peel and chop up 2 to 3 cloves of garlic. Add them to the onions.

Add the garlic after the onions have had a head start. This gives the garlic a little cushion from the hot pan so it won’t burn.

CAREFULLY add 1 cup of Vodka to the pan of onions and garlic. If you have a gas stove, TAKE THE PAN OFF THE FLAME  so you don’t flambe your eyebrows and set your kitchen on fire.

Simmer the Vodka and the onions (gently bubbling away) until the vodka reduces by half.

See how the onions are still quite lightly colored. Stir up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan as it cooks.

A few minutes later…..heading toward golden deliciousness….still quite a bit of liquid in the pan so we keep cooking…

Nicely reduced, golden in color, smelling great. The vodka initially has a very strong odor…it is a cup of Vodka afterall. However, as the alcohol cooks away, the vodka becomes a very light syrup.

Add a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes. Tomatoes and Vodka. A match made in pasta heaven.

I like the crushed tomatoes because they add more texture than plain tomato sauce but they’re not so chunky that you have to process the sauce to make it smooth.

Add 1 cup of chicken broth. Of course, if you want this to be vegetarian, you can always substitute vegetable broth.

If you are me, this is where you realize that your pan is too small and that you are tired of slopping tomatoes all over your stove. Switch to a bigger pan.

Season with Salt and Pepper

Allow the sauce to bubble gently, cook and thicken slightly.  The sauce should “cook down” or reduce as it simmers. This usually takes about 20 minutes or so.

You can see from the sides of the pan how much the sauce has thickened and reduced.

A Quick Note:  This recipe makes a good amount of sauce. At least enough for 4-6 generous portions. The good news is that this sauce keeps incredibly well in the refrigerator or even in the freezer.

Let’s cook some pasta! I have farfalle or bowties. Any short pasta will do. Pick something like farfalle,  penne or rotinni that will grab and hang on to the sauce.

Did you know that farfalla is Italian for butterfly?

Bring a LARGE pot of water to a boil. Add a few Tablespoons of salt – about 1/2 a palm.

As weird as I can be about over-salting food, I ALWAYS salt pasta water. It is your only chance to season the pasta while it cooks. A friend from Italy once told me that the pasta water should taste salty like the sea.

Toss in the pasta, give it a stir so that it doesn’t stick together, and cook for 8-10 minutes until al dente. Al dente means “to the tooth” in Italian. The pasta, when properly cooked, should be tender and pliable, but still have a little bit of structure or resistance in the middle when you bite into it.

It is the perfect middle point between still crunchy and soggy. I start checking my pasta at 8 minutes so that I don’t over-cook it. Take a piece out, let it cool for just a minute, and take a bite to test for perfect al dente pasta.

Grab some shrimp! I have about 1-1/2 pounds of large, peeled and de-veined shrimp.

Heat 1-2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil in a separate pan and saute the shrimp for a few minutes until they turn pink and the edges slightly begin to curl.

I had to hold my shrimp to wait for a dinner guest so I added a splash of white wine so they wouldn’t dry out. You can add wine if you’d like or go with the plain shrimp.

Back to finish our sauce.

When the pasta has cooked to al dente and is tender yet still firm in the middle and the shrimp are nice and pink, add 1/2 cup of heavy cream to the tomato sauce. Turn off the heat.

Stir in the cream to turn the sauce into a lovely, velvety pink.

If you’re cooking less than a pound of pasta, now is the time to take out 1/2 of your sauce and save it for another quick and easy meal. Drain the pasta and add it directly to the sauce.

Serve the pasta with the sauted shrimp on top. Garnish with a little fresh basil. Add a little garlic bread and a green salad and you’ve got a party.

Here’s the recipe!

Pasta alla Vodka Sauce with Shrimp

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16 Responses

  1. Claudia –
    Now this one definitely is very easy!!! And looks great. I’ll have to make it even though I am not a shrimp fan, but the sauce alone is fabuloso……. One surely could impress dinner guests with this one! Happy Cooking………….

    1. Hi Liz! Actually, my favorite way to have this sauce is with Parmesan Chicken Cutlets…very similar to your delicious Schnitzel recipe. Simply take thin chicken breast cutlets, dredge in flour, egg and then a mixture of breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese. Cook up quickly in a little olive oil. Delicious!

  2. This looks delicious! I’m going to make the sauce next week for dinner (I’m doing Halloween themed meals for my son and I can call the bowties “bats” and serve it with garlic bread cut out to look like bats with a cookie cutter!). This will be great because the other recipes that I looked at have big tomato chunks and he won’t eat a chunky sauce– thanks for the great recipe!


  3. I’m really excited to make this dish. I’m having a wine tasting party (red wine) and it’s on a Friday in Lent, so I was looking for a great dish to serve. We all love shrimp, so I think this dish will be a big hit!

    1. I used one medium onion. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t usually measure things like onions and garlic. I should probably be better about that. Fortunately, this sauce is very forgiving so I think if you have about 1 cup of onions when they are all chopped, you should be in good shape.

  4. Made it tonight for dinner after reading it this morning!

    Delicious! Not much time required for such an awesome recipe.

    I did add freshly grated Parmesan Cheese and wine with dinner, of course!

    It’s a keeper!

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