Baked penne alla vodka features a rich homemade tomato vodka sauce, swirls of flavorful pesto, and lots of gooey cheese baked on top.
We’re at that weird point of the year where it’s not really winter anymore but also not quite spring yet. And you know what kind of food that calls for? A dang cozy baked pasta dish.
With the actual best tomato vodka sauce ever, no shortage of cheese and obviously pesto, cause this me we’re talking about.
We love any and every pasta dish around here, but this one? It’s something else and entirely next level.
Those crispy edges and gooey cheese centers you love in any baked pasta? You’ll find all that out in FULL force in this pasta dish.
We’re not opening any jars today and doing the tomato vodka sauce for this pasta entirely from scratch. I think you’ll agree it is SO worth the little bit of extra effort!
This Baked Penne Alla Vodka features…
- A rich, creamy tomato vodka sauce
- Flavorful basil pesto swirls
- Gooey fresh mozzarella and sharp Parmesan cheese
Making the Baked Penne Alla Vodka
(scroll down to the bottom of post for the full recipe)
Ingredients You Will Need
- Penne pasta
- Whole peeled tomatoes
- Olive oil
- Tomato paste
- Red pepper flakes
- Heavy whipping cream
- Fresh mozzarella cheese
- Parmesan cheese
Choosing Your Pasta
For traditional penne all vodka, we recommend using penne pasta for this recipe. However, any short-cut pasta will work totally fine in this recipe! A few of our favorite pasta substitutes…
- Farfalle (bowties)
Tips for Perfect Penne Alla Vodka
- Simmer tomato vodka sauce – this is what builds a lot of the flavor in the sauce – don’t rush the simmering process!
- Cook pasta to al dente – the pasta will continue cooking a bit once its in the sauce, so make sure you boil the pasta only just to al dente.
- Swirl pesto into pasta – once your pasta is arranged in the pan, drop pesto by the spoonful over top and then swirl into pasta. You can use jarred pesto or make your own!
- Use two kinds of cheeses – a ball of fresh sliced mozzarella and a handful of Parmesan cheese give this pasta just the right amount of indulgence.
- Bake pasta at 400F 20-25 minutes – the pasta is done when the cheese is lightly browned and the edges of pasta are crispy.
- Top pasta with fresh basil – a handful of fresh minced basil gives this pasta one last little pop of flavor before serving.
Try these suggestions for making this penne just a little different!
- Add meat – cooked sausage, chicken, or beef would all be great additions to this pasta if you would like to include meat.
- Add veggies – sauteed zucchini, sweet pepper, or mushrooms would all be great additions to this pasta if you want to include veggies.
- Swap out the cheeses – we love the classic duo of mozz + parm, but feel free to experiment with other kinds! Cheddar, swiss, gouda, or asiago would all work great.
- Skip the vodka – you can easily skip the vodka in this recipe if you would like it to be alcohol-free!
How to Meal Prep Penne
This penne is a dream to make ahead of time! You can assemble the entire pan in advance and store in the fridge up to 4 days.
When ready to bake, follow recipe instructions and add an additional 5-10 minutes since you will be baking it from cold.
This pasta, y’all. It just ticks all the comfort food boxes. The sauce is incredibly flavorful, perfectly creamy, and the swirls of pesto and gooey mozzarella in every bite? They just bring all the flavors in for a home run.
Make this baked pasta for your next pasta night! You won’t regret it.
Save this recipe using the ‘save to recipe box’ button below. If you make it, please let us know! Leave a comment + star rating below, or take a photo and tag it on Instagram with #wholeandheavenlyoven.
Watch this penne made step by step on Google web stories!
More easy pasta dinners to try out next!
Baked Penne Alla Vodka with Pesto
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small shallot, finely minced
- 3 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1/4 cup vodka
- 1 can (28 oz) whole peeled tomatoes
- 3 large whole basil leaves
- 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- Salt and pepper to taste
Baked Penne Alla Vodka
- 1 lb penne pasta, cooked according to package instructions
- 1/2 cup prepared pesto (jarred or homemade)
- 1 (8 oz) ball fresh mozzarella, cut into thin slices
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Fresh minced basil for topping
- In a medium pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmery. Add shallot and saute 2-3 minutes until golden-brown. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and saute 1 additional minute until just fragrant.
- Add tomato paste, vodka, whole tomatoes, and basil leaves to pot. Bring sauce to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and let simmer 20-30 minutes until slightly reduced.
- Discard basil leaves, transfer sauce to a blender and blend on high speed until sauce is smooth. Pour sauce back into pot and stir in heavy cream. Season sauce with salt and pepper to taste.
Baked Penne Alla Vodka
- Preheat oven to 400F. Lightly grease a large baking dish.
- Stir penne pasta into sauce until evenly combined. Scrape pasta into prepared baking dish. Drop pesto by spoonfuls over top and swirl into pasta.
- Top pasta with fresh mozzarella slices and Parmesan. Bake penne at 400F 20-25 minutes until pasta is bubbly and cheese is lightly browned.
- Top penne with fresh basil and serve warm. Enjoy!