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Rigatoni with Vodka Sauce and Spicy Sausage Meatballs

April 10, 2020 (Last updated February 10, 2023) · Nicole Triebe
rigatoni and vodka sauce with spicy meatballs

This creamy rigatoni with vodka dish has a perfect blend of creamy marinara sauce and just a touch of vodka.  So easy and deliciously Italian!

This Italian classic was my favorite dish to eat when I worked at an Italian restaurant right out of culinary school.  I had never had vodka sauce before and fell in love with this decadent creamy tomato sauce.  I quickly realized how easy it was to make and now it’s my favorite sauce to make at home!  This recipe is perfect for dinner with family, friends, or a date night at home!

How do you make vodka sauce?

Similar to most sauces, you’ll start with olive oil, butter, and minced onion. Over medium heat, let the onion cook until it’s translucent.  Next, add in the spices: dried oregano, basil, salt, fresh ground black pepper, and crushed red pepper. Once the onion has cooked down, I add in minced garlic and sun-dried tomato and cook for about a minute until the garlic is fragrant.  Deglaze the pan with white wine and scrape up any bits of cooked onion and spices.

Next, you’ll add the tomatoes! I always use a combination of stewed tomatoes and tomato sauce. Stewed tomatoes come in different varieties, so make sure you use ones that are stewed with basil and garlic.  I also like to add a bit of tomato paste to my sauce to achieve a more intense tomato flavor. When it comes to tomato paste, a little goes a long way!

Lastly, you’ll add the vodka, cheese, and cream and blend!


What does the vodka do in vodka sauce?

Although vodka drinks are generally flavorless, vodka adds tons of flavor to a marinara sauce when it’s added.  At first, you taste a bit of heat and a slightly peppery flavor, and then you’ll discover herbal flavors in the vodka sauce you wouldn’t expect. The vodka helps balance out the sweetness of the tomatoes and cream and leaves you with a beautifully creamy sauce.

rigatoni and vodka sauce with spicy meatballs

Can I freeze this sauce?

This sauce is perfect for freezing!  Make sure you cool the vodka sauce to room temperature after it’s finished cooking. Freezing it before cooling will cause ice crystals to form and can cause freezer burn. Freeze it in a shallow container or ziplock bag so it freezes quickly.

To use the sauce after freezing, remove the bag from the freezer and allow it to thaw completely in the fridge for several hours or overnight. When ready to use, pour the sauce into a saucepan. You may notice that the sauce has separated or has a gritty texture, but don’t worry! Take a whisk and stir the sauce as it heats in the saucepan.  Once the sauce is heated through, it should have returned to its original consistency.
Prepare the Rigatoni noodles according to the package instructions!  Don’t overcook– it’s actually better if you remove it from the water when it’s somewhat al dente, rather than soft.  Garnish with fresh parsley or basil!  I threw some burrata on there for good measure.  Bon appetit!
Still hungry?  Check out my linguine with asparagus and lemon cream sauce!

rigatoni and vodka sauce with spicy meatballs

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rigatoni and vodka sauce with spicy meatballs

Rigatoni with Vodka Sauce and Spicy Sausage

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star 5 from 3 reviews
  • Author: Nicole Triebe
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 50 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 4 1x


  • 1 tbl olive oil
  • 1 LB spicy italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp italian seasoning
  • handful basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tbl sundried tomato, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 cans (15 oz) tomato sauce
  • 1 can (15 oz) stewed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 LB rigatoni
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • Basil to garnish
  • salt and pepper


Remove casings from sausage, and roll pieces of sausage into quarter size balls. Bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. In a large saute pan over medium heat oil. Add sausage meatballs and brown, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add onions and garlic and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add sun dried tomatoes, Italian seasoning, basil, bay leaf, red pepper, salt and pepper, to taste, and cook 3 minutes more. Deglaze the pan with white wine and cook for 3 minutes. Then add tomato sauce and stewed tomatoes.

Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

Salt the pasta water and add the penne. Cook until al dente, about 12 minutes.

Add vodka, cream and cheese and cook another 10 minutes.

After the pasta is cooked, reserve a cup of pasta water and set aside.  Drain the pasta it and add to the sauce. Toss in basil leaves and mix until pasta is coated.

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  • Reply Jodie April 15, 2020 at 6:45 am

    Made this tonight after receiving your post today. It was so good! 5 stars! I made it with sweet Italian sausage instead of spicy as my kids don’t like too much spice. The red pepper in the sauce gave it enough of a kick that the sweet meatballs were fine. I will definitely make this again, thank you!

    • Reply Nicole Triebe April 15, 2020 at 7:52 am

      Thank you for trying this!! So happy you and the kids liked it!

  • Reply Reema April 23, 2020 at 2:07 am

    This recipe was AMAZING! It was quick and easy and tasted so good, I could eat the sauce by the spoonful! WCDF never disappoints with her creative recipes!

  • Reply Christina Currie April 27, 2020 at 5:34 pm

    Amazing pasta dish! I loved how we caramelized the onions before adding everything else. Absolutely delicious and will make it again! Since I am a vegetarian, I left the sausage out however, it did not change the quality of the dish. Thanks for sharing the recipe!

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