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This silky, smooth and extra creamy Spicy Pesto Pasta Alla Vodka is the perfect cozy winter recipe we need most. Fresh pasta tossed in a spicy tomato pesto vodka sauce that’s creamy and so delicious! The secret to this one-pot pasta? Basil pesto and plenty of cheese on top. The pesto adds a vibrant layer of flavor and richness to this silky, smooth, and creamy pasta. Serve this 30-minute dinner up any night of the week. It’s delicious and looks pretty on any table…not to mention that everyone LOVES a GOOD creamy vodka pasta. This dish will be your new go-to when serving family and friends over the holidays.

Spicy Pesto Pasta Alla Vodka | halfbakedharvest.com

We’ve made it to Thursday, and this week, that means creamy spicy pesto pasta alla vodka for dinner. Like clockwork every December I begin thinking about my family’s favorite vodka pasta. I have made so many versions over the years, but this recipe is my favorite. It’s more classic, but with the small twist of basil pesto, which of course only makes this vodka pasta that much more delicious.

I don’t know what it is about December days, but they always leave me craving some form of pasta in red sauce. I have to say, this pasta alla vodka feels like the most fitting December recipe. Not only for its simplicity and deliciousness, but the pretty red and green colors feel extra festive. Perfect for this time of year.

I know, I know, there she goes again with all the holiday talk. But I’m really grabbing onto anything and everything that adds even just a little holiday happiness into the world this year! And pasta always makes everything better. Especially a creamy vodka pasta.

Spicy Pesto Pasta Alla Vodka | halfbakedharvest.com

So what does the vodka actually do?

The vodka adds a sharp bite that helps to balance out the sweetness of the tomatoes. When used in small amounts, the vodka will boost and intensify the aroma of the sauce. The key is to slowly simmer vodka into the sauce. This will release its flavors and cook out the alcohol.

If you prefer to not cook with alcohol, swap the vodka for chicken broth, vegetable broth, or even just water. That will be totally fine and your sauce will still be great.

Spicy Pesto Pasta Alla Vodka | halfbakedharvest.com

All the spicy details…

This pasta is simple. I didn’t go over the top with it but instead wanted to really focus on the traditional flavors of a great vodka pasta…garlic, tomatoes, and cream. The key is to slowly cook the garlic in oil. I learned this trick when I first started cooking from a friend of our family’s, Mrs. Mooney, as I called her, and actually still call her to this day.

She’d make this dish simply called penne pasta. It was always a favorite. Thinking back on it, it’s actually really similar to an alla vodka style pasta sauce.

Mrs. Mooney taught me to slowly caramelize garlic in olive oil to really infuse flavor into a recipe, especially within an Italian-style red sauce. So, don’t skip this step! Once the garlic is extra fragrant and turns golden, I like to stir in the tomato paste and chili flakes. Then cook those for a bit to really help intensify the flavors in the sauce.

Once that’s cooked for a bit, stir in lots of cream. Then let the sauce simmer while you boil the pasta.

Spicy Pesto Pasta Alla Vodka | halfbakedharvest.com

For the pasta, I just used short cut rigatoni (to be honest, it’s really the best kind of short cut pasta I can find in my area). But use any short cut pasta you love or have on hand.

You’ll want to first boil off the pasta, then just before draining reserve some of the pasta cooking water. This step is so important, so be sure to not dump the water before reserving a cup. The pasta water is used to finish the creamy vodka sauce.

Now add in some of the pasta cooking water and simmer the sauce until it has reduced down a bit and thickened. At this point, your kitchen is going to smell amazing. There should be hints of garlic and butter throughout…it’s the best of Italian scents.

Once the pasta is cooked, toss it with the sauce and that pasta water. Add some butter and toss until the sauce is very creamy. Stir in the parmesan and basil. Immediately the heat from the pasta intensifies the smell of the basil…leaving you with nothing but excitement for dinner.

And trust me, you should be excited. Every bowl of pasta is creamy, just oh so slightly spicy, with a subtle pesto touch, and just the right amount of butter and cheese.

It’s is so very good. Roll your eyes back, go for that second bowl, and finish the pasta all in one sitting, GOOD. Dramatic, but true.

Spicy Pesto Pasta Alla Vodka | halfbakedharvest.com

Perfect dinner to serve up this holiday season, even if it’s just the two of you this year! The leftovers are just as delicious! You can prepare the dish in advance, keep it fully assembled in the fridge, and then bake before serving. I love dishes like this for holiday entertaining…they make life so easy!

You can even prepare the sauce way ahead of time, then just add the pasta before you’re ready to serve. This would make a great dinner party meal with a side salad and some bread. Usually, I keep it simple with my 5 Ingredient Beer Bread or Salted Butter Parker House Rolls. But when the whole family is in town for December, I’ll bake this Pull-Apart Garlic Butter Bread Wreath. Either way (or day) you serve this pasta up, it’s going to be good. It’s one of those pasta dishes that’s easily loved by all.

Spicy Pesto Pasta Alla Vodka | halfbakedharvest.com

Looking for other simple winter pasta dishes? Here are my favorites: 

4 Cheese Sage Pesto Florentine Lasagna

One Pot Spicy Pesto Cheese Baked Rigatoni

One-Pan Cheesy Spaghetti Pie

Lastly, if you make this Spicy Pesto Pasta Alla Vodka, be sure to leave a comment and/or give this recipe a rating! Above all, I love to hear from you guys and always do my best to respond to each and every comment. And of course, if you do make this recipe, don’t forget to tag me on Instagram! Looking through the photos of recipes you all have made is my favorite!

Pesto Pasta Alla Vodka

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings: 6
Calories Per Serving: 458 kcal

Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.

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Ingredients

Instructions

  • 1. Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. When the oil shimmers, add the shallot, garlic, and oregano. Cook until the shallots begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the tomato paste and red pepper flakes, cook 4-5 minutes, until thickened. Stir in the vodka, cook another 2 minutes. Stir in the pesto and cream. Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm over low heat.
    2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente. Just before draining, remove 1 1/2 cups of the pasta cooking water. Drain.
    3. To the vodka sauce, add the pasta, 1/2 cup pasta cooking water, and the butter, tossing until the butter has melted. Add the parmesan and basil. If needed, thin the sauce with additional pasta cooking water.
    4. Divide the pasta among plates and top with basil and cheese. Enjoy!

Notes

To Replace the Vodka: use an equal amount of chicken or vegetable broth.
To Make Ahead: prepare the alla vodka sauce through step 1. The sauce can be made 4 days ahead of time and chilled in the fridge. To serve, warm on the stove, follow the directions through step 2.
To Freeze: the alla vodka sauce can be made, then frozen in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months. Thaw, then use as directed. 
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Spicy Pesto Pasta Alla Vodka | halfbakedharvest.com

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Comments

  1. This is the best pasta I have tried. I have made it as stated above and have also made it with pancetta (crisp up pancetta before garlic and shallot). Seriously amazing!!!!

  2. 5 stars
    Another favorite that I’ve made multiple times! We like to add shredded chicken to ours – and another perk is that the toddlers love it too!

    1. Hey Melanie,
      Thanks for making this recipe so often, I love to hear that it is always enjoyed! xTieghan

  3. 5 stars
    This is my fiancé and I’s absolute favorite recipe. We make it at least once a month if not more. It has the best flavor and doesn’t take too long to make. I just have one question, any suggestions on reheating? It loses some of its creaminess when put in the microwave the next day.

    Thank you!! Will be looking at more of your recipes for sure!

    1. Hey Kim,
      Happy Monday!! I really appreciate you making this recipe so often, I am so glad it is always enjoyed! For leftovers, I would keep the sauce and noodles separate, reheat on low on the stove top and add a touch of cream or milk if needed. Have a great week:)

    2. We love this recipe too! I make the full sauce recipe and before adding in the pasta, I put half in a freezer container. I usually get two sets of four servings out of it and the second time is so easy just reheating the sauce!

      1. Hey Leslie,
        Amazing! I love to hear that this recipe was a winner, thanks so much for making it! Have a great Monday! xTieghan

  4. 5 stars
    I made this tonight following the recipe as written. It was so very good. I did add only one tsp of red pepper initially, but ended up sprinkling in a bit more. I will definitely make this again.

  5. 5 stars
    This sauce was so good. My husband who doesn’t like pesto or vodka sauce absolutely loved this and went as far as dipping into it out of the skillet. Thank you!

    1. Hey Lauren,
      Amazing! Thanks for sharing your feedback and making this recipe, I am so glad it was enjoyed:)

  6. 3 stars
    Honestly this wasn’t my favorite. The sauce was not smooth like normal vodka sauces. Plus I guess my husband was thrown off by the pesto in the sauce. Look forward to trying some of your other recipes. This one just didnt work for our family.

    1. Hi Sara,
      Thanks for giving the recipe a try, sorry to hear it was not enjoyed, I would try one of my other vodka sauce recipes that doesn’t include pesto:) xTieghan

  7. Hello Tieghan,
    What if I do not have any basil pesto? Any substitutions? Or can it be made without?
    Excited to try this!

    1. Hi Natalie,
      You can skip the pesto for this recipe. Please let me know if you give it a try, I hope it turns out amazing for you! xTieghan

      1. We made this tonight for the first time, after I saw someone ask you on a Instagram to choose vodka sauce or pesto and you shared the idea to combine them. It was absolutely delicious! After the first bite my husband was like, “Yup, this is a keeper you can make this again any time!” Thank you so much for sharing so many tasty ideas!

        1. Hey Lindsay,
          Thanks for your comment! So glad to hear that this dish was a winner, thanks a lot for giving it a go! ?xTieghan

    1. Hey Hannah,
      Lol love to hear this!! It really is such a good one! Thanks for making it so often:) xTieghan

  8. I’ve made this several times and it remains my boyfriend and my favorite, go to pasta dish! It’s delicious!! We often add cooked chicken for protein which is pretty easy to incorporate. Thank you for sharing this amazing recipe!

    1. Hey Simone,
      Fantastic!! I love to hear that you have been enjoying this recipe, thanks for making it so often! I hope you had a great holiday weekend!?

  9. 5 stars
    This is my go to pasta recipe! I first made it in February for a V-day dinner and can now make it from memory. I just needed to come on here to rate and comment and tell you all to run, don’t walk to your kitchen to make this dish – you won’t regret it! <3

    1. Hey Madison,
      Fantastic!! I love to hear that this recipe was a winner, thanks for trying it out! I hope you had a great holiday weekend!?

  10. This has turned into my go to pasta dish now. I make it every time I’m in the mood for Italian and I cook for others. It’s a crowd pleaser and people rave about it every time! Great leftovers, too!

    1. Hey Maggie,
      Perfect!! I am so glad to hear that this recipe was enjoyed, thanks a lot for trying it out! Have a great holiday weekend!?? xxT

  11. 5 stars
    The best pasta recipe I have come across and make every time i’m craving pasta. So freaking good that it even was a dish at Christmas dinner last year!!!

    1. Hey Ashley,
      Happy Friday! I am so glad you have been enjoying this recipe, thanks for making it so often, it’s a family fave over here! xTieghan

  12. This was amazing! I tweaked a few things. Added and started with chicken kale sausage squeezed out and browned, then began to follow the recipe with a couple more minor changes. Used entire 6oz can of tomato paste, and made homemade pesto in my vitamix with basil, walnuts, salt, pepper, and oil, and previously roasted garlic. Added the cream (I used half and half) to vitamix pesto to better mix it, then added entire mixture to the sauce pan at specified time. Added a half tomato chopped so it would not go to waste and added peas at the end fresh from the garden because I like to add peas to every pasta dish! Husband loved it!

    1. Hi Angela,
      Happy Wednesday!! I so appreciate you giving this recipe a try and love to hear that it was enjoyed! Thanks for your feedback:) xT

  13. What kind of meat would you serve with this for a dinner? Something alongside? (chicken?) Or would a spicy sausage mixed into the sauce match better?

    1. Hey Robyn,
      Honestly, either, I’ve done both when making this for my brothers and they love it with chicken or sausage:) Let me know if you give the recipe a try, I hope you love it! xx

  14. 5 stars
    Tiegan, I cannot say how many times I have made this recipe. I love it! And even more so I have found my friends and family love it too. Whenever I’m having a large group over, this is my go to. It’s great for whether you’re a meat eater or a vegetarian, as it suits both. It allows me to make everything beforehand, and just cook the pasta at the end and mix. Stress free entertaining. And as I have said everyone loves it. I am asked for the recipe every time. Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. Hey Karen,
      Happy Sunday!! I love to hear that you have been enjoying this recipe, it’s a family fave over here as well! Thanks for sharing your feedback! xx