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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 |

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 |

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 |

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 |

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 |

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 |

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.


  • 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!


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 |

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  1. 5 stars
    This recipe looks and sounds soooo good. I plan on making it tomorrow for dinner. Do you think pancetta would go good in this as well?

    1. Thanks so much Jaye! Sure, pancetta would be delicious! Let me know how this recipe turns out for you! xT

  2. 5 stars
    This was absolutely delicious and turned out exactly as pictured in the recipe, and I did this on a weeknight after working all day, not a difficult recipe, but tastes like it is! Definitely making again soon!

    1. Hi Heather,
      Happy Wednesday!! Thanks a bunch for trying this recipe and sharing your feedback, love to hear that it was a winner!🌞 xx

  3. 5 stars
    My favorite vodka sauce recipe with a little twist! I’ve been missing a good vodka sauce from NY and this is it. It’s easy and I love making it in one pot. The first time I used a broth instead of vodka, but this time I’m going to try it with vodka. Kids loved it too!

    1. Hey Heather,
      Happy Monday!!⛅️ Thanks a bunch for giving this recipe a try, I love to hear that it turned out well for you:)

  4. I’ve made this a couple of times for my family now and just added some mushrooms and it’s by far one of the best tasting pesto pastas I’ve had in a while. I love spicy foods and it’s hard to find a chef who likes to add crushed pepper to almost all foods like I do. For all those of you reading this, this recipe is a must and a game changer in our house. I’ve always followed you for your baked good but you have fan all around! Great job and keep them coming!

    1. 5 stars
      I’ve made this a couple of times for my family now and just added some mushrooms and it’s by far one of the best tasting pesto pastas I’ve had in a while. I love spicy foods and it’s hard to find a chef who likes to add crushed pepper to almost all foods like I do. For all those of you reading this, this recipe is a must and a game changer in our house. I’ve always followed you for your baked good but you have fan all around! Great job and keep them coming!

    2. Hey Anaya,
      Wonderful!!🍀 I love to hear that this recipe turned out well for you, thanks so much for trying it out:)

    1. Hi Caroline,
      I like to do Italian sausage or sautéed chicken with Italian seasonings on the side. Please let me know if you have any other questions, I hope you love this recipe! xx

  5. 5 stars
    Love this recipe! It’s one of my favorite HBH recipes that I have tried. I have k my made with heavy cream but plan to try coconut milk tomorrow.

    @Tieghan – will this sauce work well with spaghetti noodles, or would it be too runny?


    1. Hi Lyssa,
      Happy Friday!!☘️ Thanks a bunch for testing this recipe out and sharing your review, I’m so glad to hear it was delish! Sure, any noodles you like would work here! xx

    1. Hi Kerri,
      Happy Wednesday!! I appreciate you making this recipe and sharing your feedback, so glad to hear it was tasty! xx

    2. 4 stars
      Hi there! I’ve made this once and it came out way too green and pesto-y, not at all like yours🤦🏻‍♀️ I used all the right measurements🤷🏻‍♀️ any thoughts? Ps it was still delicious, just seemed too heavy on the pesto side!

      1. Hi Gabrielle,
        Thanks for trying this recipe! I would just reduce the pesto next time to your liking, you can always add more if needed:) I hope this helps! xx

  6. This has been one of my favorite recipes since 2020, but now that I’m pregnant I’m a little uneasy about the “vodka” element. Any substitutions or modifications to cook time?

    1. Hey Leah,
      So glad you have been enjoying this recipe! Broth will work well in place of the vodka:) Let me know if you have any other questions! xT

  7. 5 stars
    Seriously my new favorite pasta dish! We just made this last night and it was so amazing. I’ve been sharing the link to the recipe with so many others. Thank you for sharing this recipe!

    1. Hi Jennifer,
      Amazing!! So glad to hear that this recipe was enjoyed, thanks for making it!! Have a great weekend! xx

  8. 3 stars
    Both my parents and grandparents are Italian. Pesto is a “raw” sauce and should never be heated on the stove!! Even jarred pesto should be added at the very end so the heat of the pasta warms it ever so slightly. No disrespect intended but heating the pesto on the stove changes the flavor and really isn’t intended to be added to vodka sauce. I made the recipe without the pesto and I made it with the pesto. Better without the pesto but even without it just okay. The Pasta Alla Vodka I learned from my family in Italy is perfection. It has been in my family for a long time. I appreciate your take on this but not for me

  9. 5 stars
    This pasta is what dreams are made of!!! I’m not even sure I can put into words how amazingly delicious this was. If you haven’t made this yet, hurry and give it a try because you won’t regret it! I followed every step and used just 1tsp of chili flakes so it wouldn’t be too spicy for my 3 young children. Even my 2 pickiest eaters devoured this. So glad to add this recipe to our meal rotation. Thank you for sharing and giving this mama amazing and inventive meals for my family! My foodie heart is so happy!!!

    1. Hey Jennifer,
      Happy Monday!! I appreciate you making this recipe and sharing your review, so glad to hear it turned out well for you! xx

  10. 5 stars
    This dish was absolutely amazing and easy to make! We loved how creamy the vodka sauce turned out! And the pesto was a nice addition for a delicious taste.

    1. Hey Katelyn,
      Happy Friday!!⛄️ Thanks a bunch for giving this dish a try, I love to hear that it turned out well for you:)

    1. Hey Robert,
      Wonderful!! I appreciate you making this recipe and sharing your feedback, so glad to hear it was delish!! xx

  11. 5 stars
    I made this for a delayed vday celebration & JUST WOWOWOWOWOOWW!!! So delicious, right amount of spicy & creamy! Highly recommend to make!

    1. Hey Roshni,
      Happy Sunday!! I am thrilled to hear that this recipe turned out well for you, thanks a lot for making it! xT

  12. 5 stars
    I was not prepared for how delicious this is. So yummy. Easy to make but you need to follow recipe exactly with cooking on low, etc.

    Thanks Tiegan! You’ve done it again!

    1. Hey Melissa,
      Wonderful!! I love to hear that this recipe turned out well for you, thanks so much for giving it a try! Have a great weekend:)