Shrimp Penne with Vodka Sauce

This Shrimp Penne with Vodka Sauce is an easy dinner for two. My version uses a simple short-cut – no chopping required! – so it’s ready to serve in less than 30 minutes.

Photo of a skillet with shrimp penne with vodka sauce

I’m a sucker for easy pasta dishes and have spent the last 10ish years building my repertoire that includes delectable dishes like Fettuccine Alfredo and my long-time favorite Balsamic Mushroom Pasta which are just two in the ever-growing list. And now I’m adding Shrimp Penne with Vodka Sauce to the list. It checks all the boxes: simple ingredients, quick cook time, and just enough decadence without being over-the-top in the rich and calorific department.

overhead photo of the ingredients needed for the sauce

Vodka Sauce

As the name implies, vodka sauce has vodka in it. Unlike a Bloody Mary (another favorite vodka/tomato combo) you won’t get a buzz since a lot of the alcohol disappears as it simmers.

It’s combined with a tomato-based sauce flavored with onions, garlic and herbs. Add some spice and cream and the whole thing comes together in less than 10 minutes. I took some liberties with my version because I wanted a low-prep sauce so here’s what you need…

  • Store-bought marinara sauce: Instead of chopping garlic and onion I opted for a jarred sauce. These days, there are plenty of options out there that use simple ingredients and taste great. I recommend Rao’s Homemade or Bertolli because you don’t need a dictionary to understand the ingredient list.
  • Red pepper flakes: The amount is dependent on your heat tolerance and I find that a half a teaspoon is the perfect amount of spice.
  • Vodka: It’s sort of magical ingredient in the sauce because you don’t really taste it, but it brightens the flavor much like adding a squeeze of lemon or lime does for a rich sauce. If you’ve ever had a shot of vodka you are familiar with its heat and burn. Those qualities cut through the richness of the cream and tomatoes creating a well-balanced sauce. You can certainly leave it out if you are wary, but I encourage you to give it a try. Besides, you can’t call it vodka sauce without the vodka.
  • Heavy cream: Like I mentioned the cream adds a lot of richness which is offset by the vodka.

Four ingredients for the sauce – that’s it!

Shrimp Penne

  • I used penne because I like the size. The shrimp I use are small and it’s easy to get a forkful of pasta with a few shrimp in each bite. That said, any short pasta will work so use what you got.
  • I like to use frozen shrimp. Buying fresh shrimp stresses me out because I feel a lot of pressure to cook the shrimp the day I buy them and it’s always when there are fresh shrimp in the fridge that dinner plans get thwarted. They don’t keep long when they’re fresh, so I’ve taken to buying frozen ones.
  • Buying frozen ones means you have to thaw them, which requires a little advanced planning. I like to thaw them in a bowl with cold water for 20 to 30 minutes before I start cooking.
  • Be sure to thoroughly dry them after they’ve thawed. I scatter them in a single layer on some paper towels and top them with a few more and blot them dry.
  • The shrimp I use are on the smaller side and, because they cook so fast, you can add them right to the sauce towards the end. They take less than ten minutes to cook in the sauce, so I add them a few minutes before I add the cooked pasta. Depending on the size of the shrimp you use you may need to add a couple of minutes to the cooking time.

Serve it up in pasta bowls, add some crusty bread on the side and you’ll have a less-than-30-minutes-to-make dinner that’s perfect for a weeknight.

Happy Cooking,

photo of a bowl of shrimp penne with vodka sauce

More Easy Pasta Recipes

  • Bucatini all’ Amatriciana | Bucatini all’ Amatriciana is a delicious pasta dish that takes less than 30 minutes to make. My version for two has pancetta, tomato sauce, a splash of balsamic vinegar and a generous pinch of crushed red pepper.
  • 5-Ingredient Sun-Dried Tomato Alfredo | A simple, easy-to-make sun-dried tomato Alfredo sauce tossed with pasta. It’s a comforting dinner for two when you’re short on time.
  • Spicy Chicken Ragu (Instant Pot) | This spicy chicken ragu for two cooks in an Instant Pot making it an easy dinner for busy weeknights. There’s no browning or pre-cooking steps required – everything goes into the Instant Pot and in less than 30 minutes dinner is ready to go.
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Shrimp Penne with Vodka Sauce

photo of a bowl of shrimp penne with vodka sauce

This shrimp penne with vodka sauce is an easy-to-make dinner for two. 

  • Author: April @ Girl Gone Gourmet
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: 2 servings 1x
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian

Ingredients

Scale
  • 4 ounces penne
  • 3/4 cup store-bought marinara sauce (see note)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 10 ounces frozen shrimp, thawed and patted dry (see note)
  • chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the penne about three minutes less than what’s listed on the package. Drain the pasta once it’s cooked reserving 1/4 cup of the starchy pasta water.
  2. While the pasta cooks make the sauce. In a 10-inch skillet, bring the marinara sauce to a simmer. Add the red pepper flakes and vodka. Simmer the sauce for five minutes or until it reduces a bit. 
  3. Add the cream and stir to combine it with the marinara. Bring the sauce back to a simmer and add the shrimp. Stir the shrimp into the sauce and cook them for three minutes or so before you add the pasta.
  4. Add the penne to the sauce and stir to coat it in the sauce. Finish cooking the pasta in the sauce for three or four minutes, stirring frequently. If needed, add a splash of the starchy pasta water to thin the sauce. Once the pasta is cooked and the shrimp are opaque divide the pasta between two bowls, garnish with parsley and serve.

Notes

  • A good-quality marinara makes all the difference so I recommend using Rao’s Homemade or Bertolli. 
  • I like to buy frozen shrimp to have on hand, but you can substitute fresh just make sure they are peeled and deveined. To thaw frozen shrimp, I place them in a bowl with cold water. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes for them to thaw. Pat them dry and they are ready to go.

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1/2 of recipe
  • Calories: 599
  • Sugar: 6.9g
  • Fat: 10.1g
  • Carbohydrates: 51.9g
  • Fiber: 3.7g
  • Protein: 57g

Keywords: penne vodka, vodka sauce, shrimp pasta

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7 Comments

  1. It looks really great. I want to try this right away. Thanks.

  2. First vodka sauce I’ve ever made. I died and went to heaven. Soooo good. My store was out of Rao so I bought Victoria, cheaper, but 2nd place to Rao according to America Test Kitchen. The only problem I had was the measurements. My shrimp came in 16 oz bag so it was difficult to figure out the quantities of all the other ingredients. I ended up putting in too much red pepper flakes (maybe not). Thank you! This will become a regular dish for me. I’m sure the leftovers will be just as good. Thank you!

  3. One of my favorite finds!! We love shrimp, pasta and vodka sauce. This recipe was incredibly delicious. A little to spicy for me, and my daughter…but my husband loved it! ( I’ll use less red pepper flakes next time) This meal moved to top 10 of our favorite dishes! Thank you…

  4. Oh dear….this means I’ll need to purchase a bottle of vodka. Oh well, best buy some V8 juice at the same time then 😋🥴😉

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