“What’s your favorite food?” “Penne alla vodka.” It’s a reflexive response at this point, and for good reason. The timeless pink sauce holds the perfect balance of acidity, richness, and tang. It’s comfort food and elevated Italian cuisine at the same time.
This baked penne alla vodka takes our favorite dish and turns it into a low-lift weeknight meal with easy prep and minimal cleanup. It is made entirely in one pan (no boiling pasta separately!) and requires less than 10 minutes of preparation—freeing you up to do what you please while dinner bakes in the oven.
Since the pasta cooks directly in the pan, it absorbs tons of flavor from the sauce and seasonings. We’ve found that the whole dish feels more cohesive after hanging out in the oven together versus cooking everything separately on the stove. Convenient and tasty—it’s a win-win.
Tips and Tricks for Baked Penne alla Vodka
- Use a high-quality tomato sauce. If you’re not making your own (we didn’t), make sure you choose a fresh and flavorful tomato sauce. We like Victoria or Rao’s, both found in bulk at Costco.
- Don’t skip the vodka. We’ve done this before out of the misguided belief that the vodka was unnecessary when in fact, it is key! It provides a pleasant bite and helps emulsify the sauce into a smooth, cohesive texture. If you prefer to avoid alcohol, you can substitute water and a squeeze of lemon juice.
- Keep the pasta as submerged as possible throughout the process. There are two times to keep this advice in mind—when you first put the pasta in the oven, and when you mix it and return it to cook uncovered. A few noodles may stick out but the pasta should be as covered as possible with liquid to ensure they cook properly.
Substitutions and Variations
- Make it extra cheesy: Add extra mozzarella or dollops of ricotta for a creamier pasta.
- Add other vegetables: Green peas, roasted eggplant, sautéed mushrooms, or caramelized onions would all be delicious additions. To keep the ratio of water to pasta correct, we’d recommend mixing in cooked vegetables just before sprinkling on the shredded cheese for the final 10 minutes of baking time.
- Add protein: We like to add cooked soy curls to the meal but you could also add grilled chicken, chicken cutlet, or Italian sausage. Again, you’ll want to cook the protein separately and add them in before sprinkling on the cheese, or serve them on the side with the pasta.
- Add spice: For an arrabbiata sauce, add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of red chili flakes with the rest of the seasonings.
Baked Pasta Dinners
- Cheese Stuffed Manicotti
- Baked Spaghetti
- 5-Ingredient Pasta Bake
- Baked Ziti
- Johnny Marzetti
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Combine the liquids and seasonings:
In a 9×13 baking pan, add the marinara, vodka, water, coconut cream, black pepper, and Italian seasoning. Whisk to combine.
Add the pasta, then spinach:
Gently pour the penne in the pan (to avoid splatters) and mix until the pasta is coated in liquid. Use a spatula to smooth out the top so the pasta is largely submerged. Place the spinach in an even layer on top.
Cover and bake:
Cover the pan with tin foil and bake for 40 minutes.
Top with cheese:
Remove the pan from the oven and uncover. Gently stir the spinach into the pasta. Cool a piece of pasta and taste, adding salt as needed. Stir and smooth it out again, keeping the pasta coated in sauce. Sprinkle the shredded mozzarella cheese on top.
Cook for 10 more minutes, uncovered. The cheese will melt and the sauce will thicken. Top with fresh basil or parsley and serve.
Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 5 to 6 days. Reheat covered with tinfoil in a 350°F oven, in a small saucepan, or in the microwave.
Love the recipe? Leave us stars and a review below!