Half Baked Harvest’s Pesto Pasta Alla Vodka Is the Ultimate Comfort Food

You’ll want seconds (and maybe even thirds!).

By Tieghan Gerard

This silky, smooth and extra creamy pesto pasta alla vodka is the perfect cozy winter recipe we need most. Fresh pasta tossed in a delicious tomato pesto vodka sauce? Yes please! The secret to this one-pot pasta is the surprising addition of basil pesto, plus plenty of cheese on top. The pesto adds a vibrant layer of flavor and richness to this silky, smooth, and creamy pasta. Serve this 30-minute dinner up any night of the week. It’s delicious and looks pretty on any table… not to mention that everyone loves a good creamy vodka pasta. This dish will be your new go-to when serving family and friends over the holidays.

Tieghan Gerard_Half Baked Harvest
Tieghan Gerard

Tieghan is the founder of award-winning site, Half Baked Harvest, and author of three best-selling cookbooks. She creates recipes from her converted horse barn in Colorado, and her features include Cooking Channel, Food Network, and HGTV.

Tieghan Gerard, Half Baked Harvest, Penne Alla Vodka Recipe

Like clockwork every December I begin thinking about my family’s favorite vodka pasta. I have made so many versions over the years, but this recipe is my favorite. It’s classic, but with the small twist of basil pesto, which of course only makes this vodka pasta that much more delicious. I don’t know what it is about December days, but they always leave me craving some form of pasta in red sauce. I have to say, this pasta alla vodka feels the most fitting. Not only for its simplicity and deliciousness, but the pretty red and green colors feel extra festive. Perfect for this time of year.

I know, I know, there she goes again with all the holiday talk. But I’m really grabbing onto anything and everything that adds even just a little holiday happiness into the world this year! And pasta always makes everything better. Especially a creamy vodka pasta.

pesto pasta alla vodka_half baked harvest

So, what does the vodka actually do? The vodka adds a sharp bite that helps to balance out the sweetness of the tomatoes. When used in small amounts, the vodka will boost and intensify the aroma of the sauce. The key is to slowly simmer vodka into the sauce. This will release its flavors and cook out the alcohol. If you prefer to not cook with alcohol, swap the vodka for chicken broth, vegetable broth, or even just water. That will be totally fine and your sauce will still be great.

pesto pasta alla vodka_half baked harvest, Inexpensive Meals for Large Groups

This is the perfect dinner to serve up this holiday season, even if it’s just one or two of you this year! The leftovers are just as delicious. You can prepare the dish in advance, keep it fully assembled in the fridge, and then bake before serving. I love dishes like this for holiday entertaining… they make life so easy! You can even prepare the sauce way ahead of time, then just add the pasta before you’re ready to serve. This would make a great dinner party meal with a side salad and some bread.

Spicy Pesto Pasta Alla Vodka

Serves 6 servings

By Tieghan Gerard

15 minutes


20 minutes



  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1-2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 3/4 cup basil pesto, homemade or store-bought
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 cup heavy cream or canned coconut milk
  • 1 pound short cut pasta
  • 3 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil roughly chopped


1. Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. When the oil shimmers, add the shallot, garlic, and oregano. Cook until the shallots begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the tomato paste and red pepper flakes, cook 4-5 minutes, until thickened. Stir in the vodka, cook another 2 minutes. Stir in the pesto and cream. Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm over low heat.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente. Just before draining, remove 1 1/2 cups of the pasta cooking water. Drain.

3. To the vodka sauce, add the pasta, 1/2 cup pasta cooking water, and the butter, tossing until the butter has melted. Add the parmesan and basil. If needed, thin the sauce with additional pasta cooking water.

4. Divide the pasta among plates and top with basil and cheese. Enjoy!

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