Made with the creamiest, richest tomato sauce ever, this easy homemade Baked Penne Alla Vodka is a nourishing family favorite. Melted mozzarella cheese and tender ground turkey make it even better!
An Oven-Baked Spin on Classic Penne Alla Vodka
There’s nothing like a cozy pasta bake, is there? From luxurious lasagna to comforting baked spaghetti, the combination of pasta, cheese, and tomato sauce in a bubbly baked casserole is sure to be a hit, every time.
This recipe is especially good, because it combines a meat sauce and pasta with creamy, decadent vodka sauce. Vodka sauce is an Italian-American tomato sauce that’s made with buttery sauteed onions, rich heavy cream, and a hint of real vodka to bring out the flavors in the ingredients even more. Served over penne pasta, it’s a restaurant classic.
Baked with penne, cheese, and savory ground turkey, this is a magical weeknight dinner that will have everyone coming back for seconds… and thirds… and even fourths!
Is Baked Penne Alla Vodka Alcoholic?
Yes, because of the vodka in the sauce, this dish does contain alcohol. Many people think that simmering the sauce for a short time will “burn off” the alcohol, but it usually does not get rid of all of the alcohol.
That said, there’s only a small amount of vodka in the sauce, so this recipe isn’t what you might call “boozy.” Still, if you would prefer to make an alcohol-free version, just leave the vodka out (you can add a little bit of water or broth if the sauce is too thick). It won’t have quite the same flavor, but it will still be creamy and delicious!
What You’ll Need
One of my favorite things about this recipe? It’s so wholesome and homemade – no preservatives here! Parmesan in the sauce and a layer of fresh mozzarella give it the perfect melty finish.
- Pasta: You will need a box of your favorite penne pasta – or another medium pasta shape, like rigatoni, farfalle, or fusilli.
- Olive Oil: For sauteing.
- Onion: Yellow, red, white, or sweet – any onion is fine.
- Bell Pepper: Again, you can use any color bell pepper that you like.
- Ground Turkey: I like to use turkey in this creamy dish, but you could use beef, veal, or even pork if you like. Just be sure to drain well so the dish isn’t greasy.
- Salt and Pepper: To taste.
- Herbs: I used dried rosemary, oregano, and basil. You can use any herbs you like, though! Italian seasoning would be good, too.
- Garlic: Fresh garlic results in the brightest taste, but jarred garlic or garlic powder are also good in this recipe.
- Tomato Paste: For depth and richness.
- Vodka: Vodka enhances the flavors in the sauce, and adds a unique warmth to the overall dish.
- Crushed Tomatoes: Sweet San Marzano tomatoes are often preferred in vodka sauce, but regular tomatoes work just fine as well.
- Cream: Heavy cream makes the sauce perfectly creamy.
- Parmesan: A touch of grated Parmesan adds the perfect cheesy flavor.
- Mozzarella: Sliced, fresh mozzarella makes a beautiful melted layer on top of the pasta bake.
How to Make It, Step by Step
Although there are a number of steps involved in this recipe, the overall process is very simple. The sauce comes together in one pan while the pasta cooks, and from there, you just bake it until bubbly!
- Start Cooking the Pasta. Before you start on the sauce, get a large pot of water heating up for the pasta. Once the water boils, cook the penne pasta according to the directions on the box.
- Sauté the Onions, Peppers, and Turkey. In the meantime, heat some olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onions and peppers, and cook for a few minutes to soften them up. Then stir in the turkey, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook until it’s nice and browned, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as you go. Drain any excess grease (if needed).
- Add the Remaining Ingredients. Now it’s time to layer in the other ingredients. Season the othe turkey mixture with the herbs and the garlic. Cook for 15 to 20 seconds, just to release the fragrances. Next, add the tomato paste and the vodka; use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits in the bottom of the skillet, and cook for about two minutes more. Finally, stir in the crushed tomatoes followed by the cream and Parmesan. Stir well and simmer for about 3 minutes.
- Assemble the Pasta Bake. Once the pasta is tender, drain it and pour it into a large (9×13) baking dish. Pour the turkey mixture over the pasta, and mix it right in. Arrange slices of fresh mozzarella on top. Yum!
- Bake. Bake the pasta alla vodka for about 25 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the pasta is bubbling on the sides of the dish. Take it out of the oven, and let it stand for 5 minutes or so to cool and stabilize before serving.
Easy Tips and Scrumptious Variations
Baked penne alla vodka is definitely an easy, satisfying dinner, but that’s not all! It’s also a great basic recipe for customizing to fit your family’s tastes and dietary needs. Here are just a few tips and tricks for making it a great meal.
- Cooking the Pasta: To avoid mushy pasta, I recommend boiling the pasta just until al dente, because it will continue to cook in the oven.
- Use Filled Pasta: For an even heartier dish, try substituting ravioli or tortellini for the penne pasta.
- Go Meatless: Feel free to leave out the ground turkey in this recipe for an easy vegetarian dinner. This works especially well if you use a filled pasta!
- Italian Sausage: For an extra-savory swap, try using ground Italian sausage instead of the turkey. Talk about yummy!
- Add Veggies: You can add almost any sautéed or steamed veggie to baked pasta alla vodka! From mushrooms to spinach to cauliflower, this pasta goes with everything!
Great Side Dishes for Baked Penne Alla Vodka
Serving baked penne alla vodka is so simple. Garlic bread and a salad make a terrific menu, or you could make another tasty side dish or two. Try one of these fast and healthy sides, and enjoy!
- Stuffed Avocado: If you love Caprese salad, you’ll devour these Caprese Stuffed Avocados. The mouthwatering balsamic glaze is out of this world!
- Easy Garlic Knots: Made with refrigerated pizza dough, soft and buttery Garlic Knots take basic garlic bread to new heights!
- Air Fried Asparagus: Coated in crispy panko, these easy Parmesan Panko Asparagus Fries are the side dish of your dreams! Mellow and buttery asparagus shine in this easy recipe.
Storing and Reheating Your Leftover Pasta
- To store leftover baked pasta alla vodka, just cover it well or pack into airtight containers. Keep in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
- Reheat in the microwave, or bake at 350˚F until heated through.
Can I Freeze Baked Pasta?
- Yes! Cook the pasta down, and then pack individual servings into freezer bags. Press out as much air as possible before sealing, and freeze for up to 3 months.
- Thaw in the fridge overnight before reheating.
Baked Penne Alla Vodka
- 1 pound dry penne pasta
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 1 bell pepper, diced (red, orange, or green pepper)
- 1 pound ground turkey
- salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- ½ teaspoon dried rosemary
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon dried basil
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- ½ cup vodka, use your favorite vodka
- 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Cook penne pasta according to the directions on the box.
- In the meantime, heat olive oil in a large skillet set over medium heat.
- Add the onions and peppers to the hot oil; cook for 3 minutes.
- Stir in the ground turkey, season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 8 minutes or until no longer pink, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon.
- Drain any excess grease, if needed, and return skillet over medium heat.
- Season with the rosemary, oregano, and basil.
- Add the garlic and cook for 15 seconds.
- Stir in the tomato paste.
- Pour in the vodka and, using a wooden spoon, scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom of the skillet; cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the crushed tomatoes; stir.
- Add the heavy cream and grated parmesan cheese; stir until completely combined.
- Bring to a simmer; reduce heat and let simmer for 3 minutes.
- In the meantime drain the pasta.
- Transfer pasta to a 9×13 baking dish.
- Pour the turkey mixture over the pasta and mix until thoroughly incorporated.
- Add slices of fresh mozzarella on top.
- Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, or until cheese is melted and pasta is bubbling on the sides.
- Remove from oven and let stand 5 to 10 minutes.