- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 medium yellow onion, halved and peeled
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 (13.76-ounce) box crushed tomatoes or 1 can (15-ounce) tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons vodka (optional)
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano, plus oregano leaves for garnish (optional)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 (17.5-ounce) packages potato gnocchi
- 2 sticks string cheese, sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds (optional)
When you talk about vodka sauce, one thing is clear: It’s a fan favorite. What’s not so clear? The history of the sauce. Some sources trace the sauce back to Italy in the 70s or 80s. Others say it was created in New York. Like many food origin stories, it’s unlikely the mystery will never be solved, but the topic does make for good dinner conversation as you linger over plates of pasta coated in the rich, creamy sauce.
In this version of vodka sauce, you’ll cook up a simple mixture of onions and garlic, grating them directly into the cold skillet so they break down quickly and easily. Crushed tomatoes and chopped oregano add a fresh flavor and a shot of vodka lends a bright, peppery finish. A healthy glug of cream smooths everything out.
While the sauce simmers, you’ll boil water for the pasta — but not the pasta you’re thinking. Vodka sauce is most often served with penne, but it’s tasty with a wide variety of pastas, including pillowy potato gnocchi. To keep things easy and weeknight-friendly, this recipe calls for store-bought gnocchi, which cook up in two minutes.
The sauced gnocchi is delicious solo, but why stop there? Add some cheese and a sprinkling of Parmesan panko breadcrumbs, broil until browned and bubbly, and you’ve got a crowd-pleasing baked pasta that adds to the delicious history of vodka sauce.
If you don’t have everything you need on hand, you can easily purchase all of the ingredients (just click the orange button below that says ‘Get Ingredients’). You can pick and choose exactly what ingredients you need based on what’s in your pantry and they’ll be on your doorstep before you know it.
Technique Tip: Grating the onion and garlic helps the veggies soften and melt as they cook, which means you’ll get a relatively smooth sauce without having to lug out the blender.
Swap Option: It won’t technically be vodka sauce without the vodka, but if you don’t have vodka or would prefer to not use it, the sauce is still delicious without it. I used sliced string cheese for the topping (because I always have it on hand), but any variety of mozzarella — bocconcini, sliced fresh mozzarella, or shredded part-skim mozzarella — will work.
In a small microwave-safe bowl, heat 2 tablespoons butter until melted, about 45 seconds. Stir in the panko and Parmesan cheese until the mixture looks like wet sand. Set aside.2.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.3.
While the water comes to a boil, make the sauce. Using the large holes of a box grater, grate the onion directly into a large, deep skillet. Grate the garlic into the skillet using the small holes of the grater. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, the olive oil and the crushed red pepper flakes to the skillet.4.
Cook the onion mixture over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the onions are very soft, 3 to 5 minutes.5.
Stir the tomatoes, vodka (if using), chopped oregano and salt into the onion mixture. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the flavors meld, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the cream.6.
Add the gnocchi to the boiling water and cook until the pasta floats to the surface, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the gnocchi to the sauce in the skillet. Gently stir to coat the gnocchi evenly in the sauce.7.
Transfer the gnocchi and sauce to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange the string cheese rounds, if using, on top of the gnocchi. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly on top.8.
Broil until the breadcrumbs are golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Garnish with oregano leaves, if using, before serving.
Here's everything you need to know about the cool new feature.