To Spike or Not to Spike?


Thanks to all who have been sending in questions for me to dish about. Continue to email me at and check back often to see if your question was answered!

Today’s question is from David in NY.

Why do you use vodka in a tomato sauce?  What kind of vodka will work?

Great question David!  Many people use vodka in a tomato based sauce because they feel that the alcohol enhances the flavor of the tomato, especially ones out of season, without leaving a heavy alcohol flavor behind.  Unlike a sauce made with wine where the flavor is very distinct, using vodka leaves a bit of a peppery note that enhances the flavor of the tomatoes.  It is not as pronounced as using something like a Merlot or Chianti.  The kind of vodka you use should be depended on your taste.  I would recommend one that is pretty smooth, and that you would consider drinking “on the rocks”.  I usually keep Smirnoff and Grey Goose around and will use either one in my vodka sauce. 

Growing up my mom would buy baskets of Jersey tomatoes in the Summer on our way back from the Shore.  She and my dad would flash steam them, peel them and freeze them for use all year-long.  If you are not able to do so, I recommend using a high quality canned tomato (Cento, Hunt’s, Sclafani).  But please, whatever you do- don’t use a jarred sauce!  Homemade has a lot more flavor, is easy to make and you can control what goes in.  Below is my version of vodka sauce.  Enjoy!

Vodka Sauce

1-28 oz can diced tomatoes

1-15 oz can tomato sauce

1 clove garlic, minced

1 medium onion, chopped

4 oz (1/2 c) half and half or cream (In a pinch I have also used plain Greek yogurt)

2 oz vodka

olive oil

black pepper, red pepper flakes, handful of fresh parsley and basil

In a large pan or pot, sauté the onion and garlic in the oil until translucent and soft.  Pour in the diced tomatoes and tomato sauce.  Scrape up the bits of flavor stuck to the bottom of the pan.  Sprinkle with the peppers to taste and cover with a lid partially off and let simmer on med-low heat for 45 minutes.  Remove lid, add vodka and continue to cook uncovered for 5 minutes on medium heat.  After 5 minutes add the cream (or yogurt).  Stir in and reduce heat to low so the sauce doesn’t separate.  Stir occasionally for another 5-10 minutes.  Off the heat and before serving gently stir in the fresh herbs so they keep their brightness and flavor.  Serves hot over you favorite pound of macaroni.  Mangia!


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Nikki says:

    Ummm yummmm!!! This sounds so delicious!!! and I love that you put the option of using greek yogurt instead of cream. I’m not a cream person but I do love yogurt! thanks for this recipe!

    1. Thanks! Hope you enjoy. It’s great with whole wheat pasta too! 🙂

  2. Rebecca says:

    I tried making Vodka sauce with Smirnoff last year and my husband and I both didn’t like it! Maybe I didn’t cook it long enough, but I could actually taste the alcohol down to the it-burns-my-throat part. I think I tried a random recipe I found online, so maybe I’ll have to try again with yours….since I still have the bottle of Smirnoff since we don’t drink that much!

    1. Hi Rebecca. Thanks for reading! I have seen recipes that use all various amounts vodka, some even with a cup. I really think its something you need just a splash of. Traditionally, my family didn’t make vodka sauce so I basically just modified a quick marinara we make on non-Sundays. Let me know if you have any other questions 🙂

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