If you’re a vodka sauce fan, this recipe is for you. Ina’s vodka sauce = the best vodka sauce ever.

A bowl of bucatini tossed in Ina Gartens vodka sauce.

After reading the preface to this pasta alla vecchia bettola recipe in The Barefoot Contessa’s Foolproof, I had to make it immediately. More than being a mainstay on the menu of one of Ina’s favorite restaurants for 20 years, what struck me about the recipe was the method, which calls for roasting the sauce in a covered pan for one-and-a-half hours.

The recipe originates from a restaurant in Florence, and Ina likens the dish to the classic penne alla vodka “but with so much more flavor.”

Few sauces that call for using canned tomatoes leave me satisfied the way this one has. But this sauce has the potential to make this winter like no other.

During the hour and a half in the oven, liquids reduce and flavors concentrate, and the resulting sweet-spicy mixture needs little more than a few splashes of cream and a handful of cheese to balance it out. Adding the full cup of cream makes for an incredibly delicious sauce, but it can hold its own with much less.

This recipe is a little fussier than most of its kind, but the hands-on time is minimal, and the lengthy cooking time really transforms the canned tomatoes. If you’re a penne alla vodka fan, this one’s for you. And don’t be afraid to use the full cup of cream. You won’t be disappointed you did!

A Few Other Favorite Tomato Sauces

Ingredients gathered on wooden surface: onions, crushed red pepper, pepper grinder, canned tomatoes, vodka.

First you sweat the onions and garlic for five minutes:

Overhead view of sweating the onions and garlic in an everyday pan.

After draining (or not… see recipe) the San Marzano tomatoes…

Overhead view of draining the tomatoes in a strainer.

you squeeze them right into the pan:

Overhead view of the everyday pan after adding the tomatoes

After 1.5 hours in the oven…

Overhead view of everyday pan with tomatoes, onion, and garlic after 1.5 hours in the oven

into a blender or food processor it goes:

Puréed tomatoes, onions, vodka in food processor.

Uncooked pasta in glass bowl

Overhead view of cooked pipettes in orange strainer

Overhead view of cream and shredded Parmigiano

Overhead view after adding the cream to the everyday pan

Overhead close-up of the sauce with wooden spoon

Close-up of finished pasta in glass bowl

A bowl of bucatini tossed in Ina Gartens vodka sauce.

clock clock iconcutlery cutlery iconflag flag iconfolder folder iconinstagram instagram iconpinterest pinterest iconfacebook facebook iconprint print iconsquares squares iconheart heart iconheart solid heart solid icon
A bowl of bucatini tossed in Ina Gartens vodka sauce.

Ina Garten’s Vodka Sauce {Best Vodka Sauce Ever}

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

4.9 from 73 reviews

Save Recipe


Inspired by: The Barefoot Contessa’s Foolproof. If you’re a vodka sauce fan, this recipe is for you. Ina’s vodka sauce = best vodka sauce ever. 


  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 medium (or a few small) Spanish onion(s), chopped or sliced to yield 2½ cups
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced or sliced
  • ¼½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (If you are sensitive to heat, just use a pinch and adjust at the end. The ½ teaspoon makes for a seriously spicy sauce.)
  • 1½ teaspoons dried oregano (optional — I don’t use. I love dried oregano, but I don’t always love it in tomato sauce.)
  • 1 cup vodka
  • two 28-ounce cans peeled plum tomatoes (56 ounces total)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ pound penne pasta or whatever shape you like
  • 4 tablespoons fresh oregano or basil (I use basil)
  • ¼ to 1 cup heavy cream
  • grated Parmigiano or Pecorino


  1. Preheat oven to 375ºF.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large oven proof sauté pan over medium heat, add the onions and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until translucent. Add the red pepper flakes and dried oregano (if using) and cook for 1 minute more. Add the vodka and continue cooking until the mixture is reduced by half, about 5 minutes more.
  3. Meanwhile, drain the tomatoes through a sieve. UPDATE: I no longer drain the tomatoes. I find the sauce comes out just as well, and by eliminating this draining step, I don’t have to worry about using up that juice at a later date. If you have made this many times and wish to continue draining the tomatoes, go for it. Save the strained juice. It freezes well and can be used for future sauce-making days or bloody Mary mix, etc.
  4. Add the tomatoes to the pan and use scissors to snip them into smaller pieces. Add 2 teaspoons salt and a pinch of black pepper. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid or foil and place it in the oven for 1½ hours.
  5. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente. (Note: Ina adds 2 tablespoons of kosher salt to her pasta water. I do this, too, and find it really seasons the pasta nicely. There is no need to save pasta cooking liquid in this recipe, but if there were, the reserved liquid would be too salty. Just something to keep in mind.) Drain and return pasta to its cooking pot.
  6. Place the tomato mixture in a blender or food processor and purée in batches until the sauce is a smooth consistency. Place potholders or dishtowels around the handles of your pot to prevent burning your hands in the next step. (Note: I purée a handful of basil with the sauce at this step and don’t add any more fresh herbs.) Return sauce to the pan.
  7. Reheat the sauce, add 2 tablespoons fresh oregano (if using) and enough heavy cream to make the sauce a creamy consistency — start with a quarter cup; taste; add more as necessary. Add salt (if necessary) and pepper, to taste, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  8. Add sauce to the pasta until it’s coated to your liking, and cook for 2 minutes more. Stir in a generous handful of grated cheese. Serve with an additional sprinkle of cheese and a sprinkle of fresh oregano (if using) on each plate. Store the remaining sauce in the fridge for up to a week. 
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 2 hours
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Oven
  • Cuisine: Italian