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Pantry Pesto Pasta Alla Vodka

Having a 1 pan meal that comes together quickly with (mostly) ingredients all from your pantry that is a fulfilling, feel-good, family-pleasing dinner is somewhat of a unicorn. But I promise you they do exist (the meals, I can't speak for unicorns). And THIS IS IT!

I love pasta alla vodka and there are several variations for technique of how people make it, but I really wanted to explore the ways that keep it easy, accessible, and low maintenance (ie: it doesn't necessarily require a grocery trip or items added to your weekly grocery list). This simple dish comes together so quickly and the only technically non-pantry item is half and half. But if you're like me and you drink half and half in your coffee every morning, I am never without it.

I added the pesto for a little extra flair, but it is completely optional. I always have pesto either in my pantry, fridge, or frozen from my summer basil harvest. I think it adds a freshness to this dish that sometimes other pantry meals are lacking. But feel free to leave it off if you don't have any. And don't worry about the vodka - your toddler won't get drunk. The alcohol cooks off and it leaves you with a kick you can't achieve any other way.

I love this meal and it's just as delicious leftover too, which is really the best way to cook - Make a ton so you have leftovers for lunch the next day. The best!

It's easy enough for a busy weeknight meal, but it's a great dish to serve for guests too. They'll never guess you didn't even have to grocery shop for this top-notch meal, but your secret may get out when they ask you for the recipe!

Pantry Pesto Pasta Alla Vodka
Makes ~ 3-4 servings
Cook time: 20 minutes | Prep time: 5 minutes

Click the file below to download and print the recipe

Pantry Pesto Pasta Alla Vodka
Download PDF • 126KB

I recommend reading the recipe all the way through, including the recipe notes at the bottom, before you start cooking.


  • 1/2 an onion, small diced

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

  • Crushed red pepper flakes (to taste; optional)

  • 6 oz. can tomato paste

  • 1/4 C. vodka*

  • 1 C. half and half (or heavy cream)**

  • 1/2 - 3/4 C. grated parmesan cheese (to taste)

  • 1/2 - 3/4 C. frozen peas (to taste; optional)

  • 8 oz. (half a box) short cut pasta of choice (ie: bowtie, fusilli, penne)

  • 1/2 C. reserved starchy water from pasta

  • 1/4 C. pesto


  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the onion and a pinch of salt and to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and translucent, about 5-6 minutes. If the onion is browning, turn down the heat.

  2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil to cook the pasta. Cook the pasta according the instructions on the package. Be sure to reserve 1/2 C. of the cooking water if you have to drain before the sauce is ready for the pasta.

  3. Once the onion is cooked, add the garlic and red pepper flakes (if using) and cook, stirring constantly for 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and stir, breaking it up until it has loosened up a bit, about a minute.

  4. Slowly pour in the vodka, whisking it into the tomato paste to create a thick sauce. Continue to whisk constantly for a minute to cook off the alcohol.

  5. Next, slowly whisk in the half and half to the tomato sauce. Do this a little at a time so the sauce absorbs the half and half. If it is bubbling a lot, turn down the heat. Continue to whisk for about a minute after all of the half and half is added to ensure a creamy sauce then add the parmesan cheese and whisk to melt the cheese.

  6. Add the cooked pasta and the frozen peas (no need to thaw) to the sauce. Stir with a large spoon to ensure everything is coated. Add 1 tablespoon of the pasta water at a time to thin out the sauce and make it extra creamy. Continue to add water until you get the consistency you want. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.

  7. Dollop the pesto on top of the finished dish and serve directly from the pan family style.

*Recipe notes + Variations*

This makes 4 smaller servings or 3 heartier servings. If you're serving this with a salad and garlic bread, it is plenty for 4 adult servings.

*The alcohol in the vodka will cook off within a minute of it hitting the pan. This is safe to serve kids as there is no alcohol left in it. The remaining flavor from the vodka is a little punch you can't achieve with any ingredient substitutes.

**If you use heavy cream instead of half and half, reserve extra pasta water from the 1/2 C. mentioned above because you may need to thin it out a little more.

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