At The Table With: Ty Schmidt, Creator of SchmidtyBakes

At The Table With: Ty Schmidt, Creator of SchmidtyBakes

We’re kicking off Pride Month with a spotlight on one of our most colorful creators—Ty Schmidt, founder of SchmidtyBakes! We talked about the importance of acceptance, the joy of sharing a meal and who he’d invite to a dinner party.

What Is Vodka Sauce?

Apr 19, 2023

what is vodka sauce and how is it made?

If you’re a fan of Italian food, you’ve likely come across vodka sauce at some point. This sauce is a staple of Italian American cuisine and is known for its rich and creamy flavor and signature red-pink or rust-colored hue. But what exactly is vodka sauce, and how is it made?

Vodka sauce is a creamy tomato sauce that is flavored with vodka, typically served with pasta. The sauce has a smooth and velvety texture that coats pasta evenly, but it’s also delicious served with more neutral flavored proteins like chicken and shrimp, which absorb all the goodness of the sauce to let the flavors really shine.

Sometimes described as a cross between an alfredo and a marinara, this sauce has bright, bold flavors that add a richness to whatever it’s served with.

In this article, learn more about this popular sauce, including what ingredients it uses, popular dishes that use vodka sauce, and techniques to make it for yourself at home.


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What is vodka sauce made of?

Vodka sauce is a creamy, tomato-based pasta sauce that—no surprises here—is flavored with vodka. It’s typically made with a combination of crushed tomatoes, heavy cream, onions, garlic, vodka and spices. Here’s a breakdown of the ingredients used to make vodka sauce:

  1. Crushed Tomatoes: The base of the sauce is made with canned crushed tomatoes, which provide a rich, tangy and slightly acidic flavor.
  2. Onions and Garlic: Sautéed onions and garlic add depth of flavor to the sauce, bringing a subtle sweetness to the dish that rounds out the acidity from the tomatoes.
  3. Cream: Cream plays an important role in both the flavor and texture of the sauce. It provides a rich, silky smoothness that mellows out the acidity of the tomatoes, any harshness you might find with the vodka and the heat of the red pepper flakes (if using). Cream also helps to create a cohesive sauce by binding together the other ingredients, giving vodka sauce its signature smoothness.
  4. Vodka: Vodka is added to the sauce to enhance the tomato and cream flavors and release certain flavors from the tomatoes that might not otherwise be present in the sauce. It also acts as an emulsifier to help blend the cream with the tomatoes.
  5. Salt and Pepper: These simple seasonings help to bring out the flavors in the sauce and balance the acidity of the tomatoes.
  6. Fresh Herbs and Spices: Chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, parsley or oregano, add a burst of freshness and flavor to the finished sauce. Crushed red pepper is also commonly added, adding a bit of heat to the dish.

What dishes are made with vodka sauce?

The most common dish that uses vodka sauce is pasta alla vodka, which is usually served with penne. And while pasta is the traditional way to use a vodka sauce, there are several ways to use vodka sauce beyond simply tossing it with your favorite noodle. And while these aren’t traditional ways to use vodka sauce, it’s versatile enough to enjoy a variety of ways:

  1. As a pizza sauce: Spread the sauce over a pizza crust and top it with your favorite toppings, such as cheese, mushrooms, onions and peppers.
  2. As a dip: Serve the sauce as a dip for breadsticks, garlic knots or even vegetables.
  3. In lasagna: Use vodka sauce as a layer in a classic lasagna recipe to add a creamy and tangy flavor to the dish.
  4. As a sauce for meatballs: Ladle the sauce over meatballs for a twist on classic spaghetti and meatballs.
  5. In a casserole: Use vodka sauce as a base for a creamy and flavorful casserole dish. Combine it with cooked pasta, vegetables and protein for a hearty and satisfying meal.
  6. In a stuffed shells recipe: Fill cooked pasta shells with a mixture of ricotta cheese and spinach. Then, top with vodka sauce and mozzarella cheese for a delicious twist on a classic Italian dish.

Is vodka sauce alcoholic?

Yes, vodka sauce does contain alcohol. But while vodka is a key ingredient in vodka sauce, it is not meant to be the star of the show. The amount of vodka used in a typical vodka sauce recipe is relatively small, and most, if not all, of the alcohol cooks off during the cooking process, leaving behind only the flavor.

That being said, some people claim that they can taste a subtle hint of vodka in the sauce, while others cannot detect it at all. The presence of vodka in the sauce enhances the flavors of the other ingredients, providing a unique depth and complexity to the overall taste.

Ultimately, whether or not you can taste the vodka in vodka sauce comes down to personal preference and the specific recipe used.

Why does vodka sauce have alcohol?

The addition of vodka to the sauce might seem odd, but it actually serves a purpose.

The alcohol in the vodka helps to release certain flavors from the tomatoes that might not otherwise be present in the sauce. Additionally, the vodka helps to emulsify (blend) the tomato and cream, as well as making the sauce taste richer and more complex.

How to make vodka sauce

Making vodka sauce is a simple process that involves sautéing onions and garlic, simmering crushed tomatoes and vodka, blending the sauce and adding heavy cream. This step helps to create the signature silkiness in the dish and gives it its light red, pink or rust-colored hue!

To make vodka sauce at home, start with a basic tomato sauce recipe (we like this one) and add ¼ cup vodka. Transfer the sauce to a blender (or use an immersion blender, if you have one) and blend the sauce and vodka until the ingredients are fully incorporated. Transfer back to your saucepan, add ½ cup cream and stir to combine.

Then, add in your pasta, top with Parmesan and fresh herbs or ladle over your favorite protein.

Variations on Vodka Sauce

While the classic vodka sauce recipe is delicious on its own, there are many variations that you can try to mix things up! You can also get creative and try different combinations of ingredients to find the one that best suits your taste preferences. Here are a few ideas:

  • Fry pancetta or bacon in the pan before adding the tomatoes for a smoky flavor. This also adds a little extra fat to up the richness!
  • Use different herbs, such as parsley, oregano or thyme, to switch up the flavor of the sauce.
  • Add vegetables, such as mushrooms, peppers or zucchini, to the sauce to make it healthier and more filling.
  • Serve with different types of pasta—fettuccine, linguine and rigatoni are all great choices.
  • Make it spicy with the addition of red pepper flakes or chopped jalapeños in the sauce.
  • Add extra protein, like shrimp, chicken or Italian sausage, to make the sauce more filling.


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