Pasta with Pancetta and Vodka Sauce

from 2 votes

Crispy pancetta and a creamy tomato sauce are the stars of the show in this recipe for Pasta with Pancetta and Vodka Sauce. It’s an easy Italian recipe that you can have on the table in 20 minutes. 

A small bowl of cavatappi pasta with pancetta and vodka sauce sits on a grey counter, with forks and crusty hunks of bread nearby.

I’m all for recipes that are as tasty and sophisticated as anything you could order at a restaurant, but take only a few ingredients and a few minutes to put together. This recipe for penne alla vodka with pancetta is one of them: something you’d be proud to serve at a party, but also excellent for weeknight dinner (and with plenty of leftovers for lunch later in the week!). 

It starts with bits of pancetta browned until they’re crispy and golden, then deglazed with a splash of vodka (splurge on the good stuff, it matters!) and simmered together with marinara sauce and a swirl of cream. A few minutes later, you’ve got a winning bowl of pasta that’s every bit as good as something you could order at your favorite trattoria.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

  • On the table in 20 minutes flat.
  • Indulgent creaminess.
  • Only 6 ingredients. 
  • Generous portions. You’ll probably have enough leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.
  • Savory and satisfying.

What is Pancetta?

Pancetta is an Italian version of bacon. It’s cut from the belly of the pig and cured in salt, spices and other seasonings. It’s rolled into a sausage-like cylinder and is available cut in a large slab, thin slices, or small cubes.

One of the main differences between pancetta and bacon is that bacon is smoked after it’s cured, while pancetta is not.


There are only six ingredients in this recipe, so for the tastiest results, use the best quality of each you can afford.

  • Pasta: Choose a tube shape that can hold that creamy sauce. My favorite for this recipe is cavatappi, a spiral tube, but penne or rigatoni are other good options.
  • Pancetta: Ask your butcher for a thick slice so you can dice it into cubes, or save some time and buy a package of it already cubed. If you’d rather use bacon, check out my vodka pasta sauce recipe that uses thick-cut bacon in place of pancetta.
  • Vodka: Besides adding a subtle and refreshing taste, vodka plays a crucial role in bringing together the creamy tomato-based sauce, creating a smooth and velvety texture. It also helps deglaze the pan after frying the pancetta.
  • Marinara sauce: If you want to go that extra mile, make a batch of homemade marinara sauce to use in this recipe. Or, simply use a jar of your favorite bottled sauce (here’s my favorite jarred pasta sauce). I like a low-sodium version since the pancetta is already pretty salty.
  • Heavy whipping cream: Just half a cup gives this sauce its rich, creamy quality. Save the rest of the carton for dessert … maybe red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting?
  • Parmesan cheese: Top the bowls of pasta with a shower of freshly grated parmesan cheese, just like in a restaurant!

See the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities.

Variations and Substitutions

Lots of delicious ingredients can be added or swapped to this creamy vodka sauce pasta.

  • Stir frozen peas into the sauce in the last 5 minutes of cooking.
  • Break hot-smoked salmon into flakes and stir it into the sauce before adding to the pasta.
  • Saute a clove or two of minced garlic with the pancetta, or add garlic powder to the sauce to taste.
  • If you don’t have heavy whipping cream, use half-and-half instead

How to Make This Pasta

This recipe for classic vodka sauce with pancetta takes just a few minutes to come together, so take the time to measure all your ingredients and near the stove.

  1. Boil water for the pasta. Adding salt to the cooking water flavors the pasta from the inside out.
  2. Saute the pancetta. Stir the pancetta frequently to make sure all sides get evenly browned and crisp. 
Pasta with Pancetta and Vodka Sauce
  1. Deglaze the pan. The alcohol in the vodka will release any stuck-on food bits from the pan so they can flavor the sauce. 
  2. Add the marinara and cream. The sauce ingredients should simmer for 10 minutes, which is around the same amount of time it will take to cook the pasta.
  1. Combine the pasta and sauce. If the pan is big enough, add the cooked, drained pasta to the sauce. Otherwise, return the pasta to the pasta-cooking pat and add the sauce. Stir well to ensure that the pasta is thoroughly coated with the sauce before serving with freshly grated parmesan. 

Kelly’s Recipe Tips

  • If you don’t have a non-stick pan, add 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter to a regular pan, then add the diced pancetta and continue the method of preparation above.
  • As the age-old rule stands, never cook with alcohol (or wine) that you wouldn’t drink. Although it’s tempting to skimp on the vodka and opt for a cheap brand, I encourage you to splurge on the higher-end varieties, as it really does impact the flavor of the sauce.
  • Ask the butcher at your local supermarket about purchasing a thick slice of pancetta. But if one thick slice isn’t an option, you can use the pre-packaged thin slices that are widely available.

Storage Tips

Leftover pasta can be stored in the refrigerator for three to four days. Put leftovers in an airtight container. 

The pasta sauce can also be made ahead of time and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months. 

Serving Suggestions

Round out your pasta dinner with cheesy garlic bread and a salad. Try an iceberg wedge salad, a fresh kale Caesar salad, or a tossed green salad with a vinaigrette to offset the richness of the sauce. Melon Salad with Basil Vinaigrette is also a light counterpart.

Don’t forget dessert! When I make this meal, I like to use the extra whipping cream to make Individual Fruit and Chocolate Trifles. Or, I’ll continue the Italian theme and whip up an easy lemon granita.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make pancetta vodka sauce ahead of time and reheat it later?

Sure! Cool the sauce to room temperature and refrigerate in an airtight container. Heat it in a pan over medium heat before serving, and give it a good stir to mix in any ingredients that may have separated.

How do I make the vodka sauce creamy without using heavy cream?

If you’re trying to reduce the fat content in this recipe, you can use whole milk or whole-milk yogurt in place of the heavy cream. The result won’t be quite as rich, but will still be delicious.

Does cooking the vodka sauce remove all the alcohol content, or will it still be present in the finished dish?

There will still be a small amount of alcohol content in the finished vodka sauce. It takes several hours to completely simmer the alcohol out of the wine or liquor content in a recipe. In this recipe, which only cooks for 10 minutes, around 40 percent or more of the alcohol content still remains, although the amount of vodka dish is fairly small so you’re unlikely to become inebriated from eating a bowl of this pasta. 

Pasta with pancetta and vodka sauce is in a pan, being stirred with a wooden spoon.

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Main Course

Pasta with Pancetta and Vodka Sauce

This easy recipe for Pasta with Pancetta and Vodka Sauce will be on your table in 30 minutes or less.
Author: Kelly Senyei
5 from 2 votes
Pasta with Pancetta and Vodka Sauce
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 4 servings


  • 16 ounces pasta (Recommended shapes: cavatappi, penne or rigatoni)
  • 1/4 pound pancetta (one thick slice), medium diced
  • 1/3 cup vodka (See Kelly’s Notes below)
  • 1 1/2 cups prepared marinara sauce, store-bought or homemade
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • Parmesan cheese, for serving


  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.
  • Place a large non-stick pan over medium heat and add the diced pancetta, sauteing it until golden brown.
  • Once all of the pancetta is browned, add the vodka to the pan and cook it until it reduces by half, about 3 minutes.
  • Add the prepared marinara sauce to the pan, then whisk in the heavy cream. Reduce the heat to low and let the sauce simmer for 10 minutes.
  • While the sauce is simmering, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook it until al dente.
  • Drain the cooked pasta and add it to the pan with the sauce, tossing to coat.
  • Serve the pasta topped with Parmesan cheese.

Kelly’s Notes

  • If you’re using an uncoated stainless steel pan (not nonstick), add 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, then add the diced pancetta and continue the method of preparation above.
  • Use a higher-end vodka brand, similar to one you’d drink in cocktails, for the best flavor.
  • Ask your butcher for a thick slice of pancetta. Alternately, use the pre-packaged thin slices or diced pancetta.
  • ★ Did you make this recipe? Don’t forget to give it a star rating below!


Calories: 709kcal, Carbohydrates: 90g, Protein: 20g, Fat: 24g, Saturated Fat: 10g, Cholesterol: 59mg, Sodium: 687mg, Potassium: 635mg, Fiber: 5g, Sugar: 6g, Vitamin A: 835IU, Vitamin C: 6.4mg, Calcium: 55mg, Iron: 2.5mg


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Recipe adapted from All Recipes.

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5 from 2 votes

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    So simple and easy to make, yet so good!!! I added garlic to the pancetta but kept everything else the same. Everyone loved it!

  2. 5 stars
    Made this last night and eating the leftovers for lunch as I type this. Sooooo good! Will be making this again for sure. :)

  3. Made this tonight. Only change we made was to add two cloves of minced garlic. It was sooooooo good! Thank you for sharing this will be a new family favorite for sure.

  4. Made this tonight for dinner – absolutely amazing! I’m really looking forward to the leftovers this week. I did modify it a little and add garlic, which really enhanced the flavor. The only thing I would change is the type of pasta I used – I had rigatoni on hand, but that pasta was a bit larger than the cavatappi used in the example. I felt like the sauce wasn’t enough to really coat it all, so I made a bit more sauce to toss on!

  5. Absolutely delish….so easy to make. Used half&half as that’s what I had in the fridge. Will def. Have this as a go-to meal. Thinking of adding garlic & shallots next time.

  6. I have heard of a vodka salmon sauce for pasta but this also sounds interesting. I was just wondering – what does the vodka add to the sauce (besides callories)? Does ir actually add any special taste?

    1. Hi Inese! Vodka has a very distinctive flavor, and in this recipe in particular, it helps de-glaze the pan so that all the pieces of pancetta are released. Enjoy!

  7. What are you doing to me tempting me with your pancetta? Why oh why did I decide to be a pescatarian?

  8. Vodka sauce is my favorite and I’ve never made it from scratch. This recipe was so quick and easy I’m def making this again! My boyfriend inhaled it!

    1. I hope you enjoy this, Buckley! I know how popular your pasta parties are, so please let me know how the recipe turns out :)

  9. This recipe just made my day. Seriously. I’m pretty sure I have everything except the pancetta at home. I definitely have the vodka. ;) I’m stopping off at the store for some pancetta and making this tonight. Dinner dilemma solved!