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Pasta with Amazing Vodka Sauce (Creamy Tomato and Basil)

The basic recipe came from Cook’s Illustrated, and while I’ve modified it a little it’s still basically the same. The original motivation for this recipe was to have a tasty pasta sauce that could be made in a short period of time, usually less than 30 minutes. It succeeds wonderfully as it has become one of my all time favorite pasta sauces with bright flavors and a slight tang.  This recipe will make enough sauce for about 1½ pounds of pasta.

2-28 ounce cans Del Monte diced tomatoes, drained of excess juice (see notes)
4 medium cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons water
½ teaspoon sugar
1½ teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons basil
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
¾ cup vodka
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Press or finely mince the garlic and put it into a small bowl with the water (this method reduces the likelihood that the garlic will brown excessively…Cook’s Illustrated insists this make an important difference…I’m not completely convinced but the sauce is very good so…).

Heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic puree and red pepper. Sauté for about 2 minutes but do not allow it to brown. Stir in tomatoes, bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the vodka and simmer for 10 minutes more. Stir in the basil, sugar, salt, cream and black pepper. This next step is optional: to make a creamier sauce, place about ¾ of the sauce in a blender and puree it. Return the pureed sauce to the to the pot and allow to heat thoroughly and simmer very gently for a few more minutes to allow the flavors to blend and to reduce to the desired thickness (see notes).


  1. If you are lucky enough to have summer tomatoes available you simply must use those instead of the canned.  Still the canned tomatoes work well enough to have this delicious sauce available all year around.
  2. The amount of liquid yielded by the tomatoes can vary and the sauce may need to thicken a bit according to your taste.  Simmering the sauce for 10 - 15 minutes after the cream is in will cause it to reduce and thicken.  Alternately you can use a Beurre Manié.


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