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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
    New Fav! Will definitely make it again. Honestly was like it came from a fine dining Italian restaurant. So good!

  2. 5 stars
    Thanks for another great recipe!! The flavors were so good. 🙂 I’ll definitely be making it again! My sauce turned out a little oily and didn’t mix super well.. I used tomato paste and the full amount of oil. Afterwards I noticed you have tomato sauce linked. Would you recommend using that over tomato paste?

  3. Loved this recipe! But I wonder if there is more specific nutritional information about your recepcie? Not only the amount of calories but also the amount of protein and carbs for example? I know it’s only an estimate but would be nice to have 🙂

  4. 5 stars
    This dish was absolutely amazing. I have to say it tasted like it came from a nice Italian restaurant. I’m newer to making sauces but this was so easy and yummy. I used the coconut milk, and it added the perfect amount of sweetness. I’ll be adding this into the rotation!

  5. 5 stars
    Delicious, maybe my favorite sauce! Made with jarred pesto and coconut milk. This will be on heavy rotation for a while, maybe topped with sautéed mushrooms next time to get some veggies in. Thanks for another great recipe! The pesto is so nice in here, love the extra basil flavor at the end, yum!

  6. 5 stars
    I have a goal of cooking more this year… I thought I might have been a bit ambitious attempting this recipe the third day in, but it was absolutely delicious and a huge success, easy to follow with no surprises along the way and actually turned out just as appetizing as the photo. The coconut milk provided just the right sweetness to balance the heat from the red pepper flakes. I’m looking forward to making this dish many more times this year and am actually looking forward to leftovers for once!

    1. Hey Belle! That’s such an awesome goal! So glad that you decided to try out some HBH recipes as part of that goal! And love to hear that you enjoyed this pasta 🙂 Happy New Year to you! xT

    2. Hi Belle,

      Did you use Parmesan cheese? I have a lactose tolerant friend that I want to make this for. So I’ll be trying it with coconut milk without the cheese and wondered if it’ll
      still taste good. I’ll also be putting the crushed pepper flakes to the side so him and the kids can control the amount of heat. I wonder if is going to be ok

      1. 5 stars
        I’ve made this recipe vegan before and it’s been great! I used coconut milk, nutritional yeast instead of Parmesan, and vegan butter. It tasted really similar to the recipe with dairy!

  7. Great recipe! I have only made it for 4 people before and am planning on making it for around 8 people. Any suggestions on how to make the recipe for more people?

    1. Hi there! I would just double the recipe if you’re planning on making it for double the amount of people! 🙂 xT

  8. This was such a hit at my holiday get together . I used coconut milk which added a unique flavor. Thank you for another fabulous recipe!


  9. A real winner here. Easy and full of flavor. My daughter requests this often. I add Italian sausage before everything else. Thanks for the great recipe.

  10. 5 stars
    This is one of my family’s favorites! I sometimes add some Italian sausage to make the meat eaters in my family happy.

    1. Hi Leanna,
      Happy Saturday!! Thanks a bunch for making this recipe so often and your comment! So glad to hear it is always enjoyed:)

  11. 5 stars
    Quick and delicious! Everyone loved it…my son made pan fried chicken to go with it. I did end up leaving out the butter…didn’t miss it. It was rich and creamy with the cheese and heavy cream. We will be making this again for sure!

    1. Hey Loni,
      Wonderful!! I love to hear that you enjoyed this recipe! Thanks so much for your feedback and trying the recipe! Happy Thanksgiving! xT

  12. 4 stars
    Absolutely divine! Need some advice: How would you suggest heating up leftovers when you have to use a microwave at work? My pasta always comes out dry.