Skip to Content

Baked Penne Alla Vodka

March 29, 2024

Fancy without being fussy, this cheesy baked penne alla vodka is what your date night in dreams are made of.


Baked Penne Alla Vodka with kale and mozzarella in a pan with a serving spoon

Penne Alla Vodka, I'm in Love

My husband and I have never been ones to go all out on Valentine’s Day. However, staying in with all the carbs? Yes please! I can get behind any holiday (even Valentine’s Day) if it provides me with an excuse to make this baked penne alla vodka recipe.

With a little effort and whole lot of cheese, this classic penne alla vodka sauce with a TMP twist is our definition of the perfect date night in. It’s:

  • “fancy” without the fuss
  • perfectly cheesy
  • completely delicious (duh!)

After all, nothing says ‘I love you’ like the ultimate pasta dish.

Baked Penne Alla Vodka with kale and fresh mozzarella

Is Penne Alla Vodka Really Italian?

While you won’t find penne alla vodka served widely in Italy, this dish has become very popular in American/Italian cuisine. It’s believed that the dish was created in the late 1960s by vodka distillers, in an effort to get more Italians drinking (and cooking with) vodka. Whether or not those distillers were successful is anyone’s guess, but if this dish is what resulted, they get my vote!

Ingredients laid out for Penne Alla Vodka with kale and fresh mozzarella tomatoes sausage

Why Do They Call it Vodka Sauce?

Vodka sauce is the combination of a traditional tomato sauce with the addition of cream , plenty of parmigiano-reggiano, and vodka, of course. Using alcohol in combination with the tomatoes brings out a sweetness that is otherwise hidden and acts as an emulsifying agent, preventing the cream from separating from the tomatoes and spices. So, while you might be tempted to skip the booze, don’t do it. Our Easy Vodka Sauce is another winner for a night when you don’t have time for the baked version.

Does Vodka Sauce Have Alcohol in it?

While there is some debate about what happens when alcohol is used in recipes (does it cook out or evaporate completely?), one thing is certain: with just half a cup of vodka in this entire dish, it is completely safe (and delicious) for every member of the family to enjoy.

Tomato sauce with cream and parmesan cheese
Tomato sauce with cream and parmesan cheese  and kale
Tomato sauce with cream and parmesan cheese  and kale
Tomato sauce with cream and parmesan cheese  and kale

What Kind of Pasta Goes with Vodka Sauce?

We use penne for this dish, but the sauce is so good, the sky’s the limit! We like to make extra of this creamy vodka sauce, freeze it, and then use it for future dishes like:

  • Pizza! Just spread the vodka sauce over your dough, and top with fresh mozzarella.
  • Linguine! Toss the long noodles with the sauce in a hot pan and top with plenty of parmesan cheese.
  • Lasagna! Use the sauce in layers with lots of ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan!
Dry penne in a baking pan
Uncooked Baked Penne Alla Vodka With Kale being stored with a spoon
Unbaked Baked Penne Alla Vodka With Kale
Baked Penne Alla Vodka With Kale with fresh mozzarella

How Do You Make Baked Penne Alla Vodka?

Just a few simple steps and you’re well on your way to making the best baked penne alla vodka ever!

  1. The Base. In a large pot heat sausage (we use pork, but chicken is just fine) until crumbly. Then, add the onion, garlic, and optional pancetta or prosciutto. Get everything nice and crispy.
  2. The Sauce. Add the vodka and the tomatoes, crushing them by hand (as recommended by my real-deal Italian friend from upstate New York). Simmer for 10-15 minutes to cook down the tomatoes. Add a little salt and a pinch of red pepper flakes.
  3. Make it Creamy. Stir in the heavy cream and parmigiano-reggiano. Are there any two ingredients that bring more joy?
  4. Pasta Time. Add chopped kale, ½ cup parsley, and dried penne to the pot and toss to coat. Transfer to a baking dish, add a little extra water and press as much dry pasta down into the liquid as possible, cover and place in the preheated oven. Bake the pasta for 40-45 minutes, then take off the lid and top with sliced mozzarella. Place it back in the oven until all brown and bubbly.
Close up of Baked Penna Alla Vodka With Kale and fresh mozzarella
Close up of Baked Penna Alla Vodka With Kale and fresh mozzarella on a serving spoon

Craving More Simple Pasta Dishes?

Baked Penne Alla Vodka With Kale and fresh mozzarella

Tools You Will Need:

Your Win is Our Win!

If you make this creamy and dreamy baked penne alla vodka for a date night in, we want to hear about it! Post it to Instagram and tag @themodernproper and #themodernproper. Bonus points if whoever you serve it to spontaneously erupts in a happy dance. (Hey, it’s been known to happen!)

💌 Let's Stay Together

There are so many great ways to receive all of our latest recipes, meal tips, and inspiration.

Baked Penne Alla Vodka

  • Serves: 10
  • Prep Time:  10 min
  • Cook Time:  1 hr 20 min
  • Calories: 592


  • 1 pound mild italian sausage, ground
  • ½ cup finely diced red onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ pound pancetta or prosciutto, diced (optional)
  • ½ cup vodka
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes (see Note)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1¾ cups grated Parmesan
  • 3 cups Tuscan (lacinato) kale, ribs removed, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup chopped flat leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 pound penne
  • 1 (8-ounce) ball Fresh mozzarella
  • Red chili flakes, for serving (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 375° F with a rack in the center position.

  2. In a large pot over medium heat, cook the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until crumbled but not yet cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, garlic and pancetta. Cook for 5 minutes or until the onions soften and garlic is fragrant.

  3. Add the vodka, the whole tomatoes, crushing them with your hands as you add them and the diced tomatoes. Bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10-15 minutes until reduced slightly and the tomatoes are beginning to soften.

  4. Add the salt, heavy cream and 1½ cups of the parmesan. Bring to a simmer and cook stirring until creamy, about 5 minutes.

  5. Add the kale, ⅓ cup parsley and 1 cup water to the pot, stir to combine.

  6. Pour the uncooked penne noodles into a 9x13 baking dish. Pour the sausage/tomato mixture over the penne. Gently stir until combined, pressing the pasta into the liquid. Cover tightly with aluminum foil.

  7. Bake in the over for 40-45 minutes. Remove the baking dish from the oven, remove the foil and top with the mozzarella. Transfer back to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the mozzarella is melted and the pasta sauce is bubbly, about 10-15 minutes longer. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, remaining ¼ cup Parmesan and a few chili flakes if using.

Note: You can sub 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes for the whole tomatoes. Keep in mind that the whole tomatoes will have a richer flavor and create a thicker sauce.

Nutrition Info

  • Per Serving
  • Amount
  • Calories592
  • Protein30 g
  • Carbohydrates45 g
  • Total Fat32 g
  • Dietary Fiber4 g
  • Cholesterol46 mg
  • sodium854 mg
  • Total Sugars7 g

Baked Penne Alla Vodka

Questions & Reviews

Join the discussion below.

  • Sam

    How would this taste with curly kale instead? I have it on hand. Thank you!

    It might be ok. Curly kale tends to have a bit more bitterness to it.

  • Nina

    Can I use ground meat in place of the sausage? If so should I add any additional seasonings?

    If you use ground italian sausage you should need to add any seasoning. Hope you enjoy Nina!

  • Mary

    Can I sub spinach in place of kale?
    If so, 3 cups and still add parsley?

    Sure, Yes still 3 cups and still add parsley.

  • ward

    can I precook the pennne instead?

    Hi Ward, it might end up too liquidy if you do that.

  • Jamie

    Hi! Love your recipes! I’m a chef in CT and use them quite a bit to do fridge stocking and meal delivery! In making this i would add an extra 1/2 cup or more of water or chicken broth so it’s a little bit more moist. Also need to stir the pasta off the sides so the outside pasta cooks better. Other than that it’s delicious!

    Thanks for the feedback!

  • Jessica

    I can't believe I'm just now commenting on this recipe---I made it a few months back and my family loved it--even my picky kids who wouldn't normally eat kale! Going to make it tomorrow for some family that's in from out of town. A great recipe if you're looking for yummy Italian comfort food.

    Thank you Jessica! It's so nice to hear you love it so much!