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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. 5 stars
    My go-to lazy weeknight dinner. Always have the ingredients handy, takes 20 min, and is absolutely delicious. Would never think to combine spicy vodka sauce and pesto, but they balance each other super well.

    1. Hey Libby,
      Happy Friday!!🌻 I am so glad to hear that this recipe was enjoyed, thanks so much for trying it and sharing your review:) xT

  2. 5 stars
    Made this recipe minus the pesto. Phenomenal. Shared it with some serious foodies and they all enjoyed it.

    1. Hi Pat,
      Awesome!! Thanks so much for making this recipe and sharing your feedback, I am thrilled to hear that it was enjoyed! xx

  3. 5 stars
    i made this for my family and my dad said he wishes he could be buried in a mountain of this pasta and have to eat his way out of it

    1. Hey Grace,
      Happy Friday!👻 Thanks a bunch for giving this recipe a try and sharing your review! I love to hear that it was enjoyed! xT

  4. 5 stars
    I’ve made this pasta a million times at this point so I had to leave a review! It’s perfect every time. Great for a quick weeknight dinner or for hosting. One of your best! Thank you!

    1. Hey Katie,
      Happy Wednesday!👻 I love to hear that this recipe was enjoyed and appreciate you giving it a try and sharing your feedback! xx

  5. 5 stars
    Thank you Tieghan for this recipe, my husband and I call this our ‘PB pasta’ as we run and race marathons all over the world, and this is what I cook for us the night before a race. It’s delicious, satisfying, easy on the stomach and fantastic fuel for running fast!

    1. Hi Emily,
      Happy Sunday! I am so glad to hear that this recipe is always enjoyed, thanks a bunch for making it so often:)

  6. I’ve made this before and loved it but my husband really prefers meat in the dishes I cook. Do you have any recommendations on how to incorporate meat into this dish? Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Julie,
      Sure, just sauté some Italian sausage or chicken seasoned with Italian seasonings on the side and add to the dish. I hope this helps! xT

  7. 5 stars
    This was delicious! I pretty much followed the recipe and it turned out perfectly. I didn’t think I liked pesto all that much, but the two recipes of yours I’ve made recently that included pesto have changed my mind!

    1. Hi Helen,
      Amazing!! I love to hear that this recipe was tasty, thanks so much for making it and sharing your review:) xTieghan

  8. This is our favorite recipe ever! Any suggestions on how to save leftovers? When we reheat it the next day it tends to get really oily

    1. Hi Joe,
      Fantastic!! I love to hear that this recipe was a hit, thanks for trying it out! I would just reheat on low on the stove top. xTieghan

      1. Hey Olivia,
        Wonderful!! I appreciate you taking the time to make this recipe, I am so glad it was a hit! Happy Wednesday:)

  9. 5 stars
    I decided to make a Vodka sauce and found this recipe. It sounded crazy to me… vodka sauce with pesto??? My husband loves pesto and you have never steered me wrong, so I cooked it exactly according to the directions.

    Absolute 100% HOME RUN. I truly cannot believe how delicious this was but then again, this is why you are one of my favorite food bloggers. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe.

    1. Hey Scout,
      Happy Friday!? Thanks a lot for trying this recipe out, I love to hear that it was a winner! xx

      1. 5 stars
        I wish I could share a picture of how gorgeous it is after making it again tonight, but I can’t seem to figure it out. This recipe is a GEM.