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skillet with bowtie pasta and vodka sauce with fresh mozzarella balls and basil leaves.

Spicy Tomato Vodka Sauce with Pancetta

This is the pasta sauce you'll want to make on repeat because you can make it in 20 minutes and you probably have all the ingredients in your pantry. Easy, creamy and a tich spicy, this spicy tomato vodka sauce gets its depth of flavor from a little vodka, some pancetta and lots of love.
Course First Course, Main Course, Pasta
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 4


  • ½ lb bowtie pasta or rigatoni, penne or your favorite
  • 1 cup reserved pasta water from cooking pasta
  • 3-4 oz diced pancetta I typically find at Trader Joe's
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 shallot minced
  • 4 cloves garlic minced, about 2 Tablespoons
  • 6 oz can of tomato paste
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or more to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 3 oz vodka
  • 1 cup light cream 18%, sometimes called table cream
  • ½ cup fresh parmesan cheese plus more for serving
  • fresh basil


For the pasta

  • Cook pasta in generously salted boiling water (I use kosher salt) according to package directions until al dente.
  • Scoop out 1 cup of pasta water before draining pasta in a colander. Set aside.

For the Vodka Sauce (while the pasta cooks)

  • In a large skillet, heat 1 Tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook pancetta for about 3-4 minutes until crispy, stirring periodically. Keep an eye on it as you don't want it to burn.
  • When the pancetta is crispy, use a slotted spoon and remove to a paper-towel lined plate to drain.
  • In the same skillet, melt the butter (you can also substitute olive oil) over medium heat. Saute the chopped shallot in the butter for about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until you smell it about 30 seconds.
  • Swirl in the tomato paste, crushed red pepper, salt and black pepper. Caramelize the tomato paste for a minute or two and then add the vodka to the pan. Cook for two minutes.
  • Pour in the light cream and immediately lower the heat. Stir the sauce until the cream is combined and simmer the sauce to bring all the flavors together.
  • Add the drained pasta to the skillet and toss the pasta in the sauce coating each piece. The sauce might be a little thick so now is the time to add in the pasta water to loosen it all up. I start with ¼ cup at a time.
  • Sprinkle in the parmesan cheese and stir. Top with some fresh basil and more parmesan. Serve immediately.


Storage. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days.
Reheat. Heat in a skillet over medium-low heat adding a little more vodka (like 1 teaspoon) or leftover pasta water to loosen the sauce. The vodka will add back in some flavor lost from refrigeration. You also can heat in the microwave in 30 second increments stirring between heat cycles.