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What are the ingredients in Rao’s penne alla vodka?

Rao’s penne alla vodka is a classic Italian pasta dish made with a creamy pink vodka sauce. The sauce is made with tomatoes, cream, and of course, vodka, which gives it its signature flavor. While the exact recipe is a closely guarded secret, some of the main ingredients are known.

In this article, we’ll take a look at what ingredients go into making this delicious pasta dish, from the pasta itself to the vegetables, seasonings, and the key components of the vodka sauce. Whether you want to try making an authentic version at home or just better understand what you’re eating, read on for an inside look at the ingredients that make Rao’s penne alla vodka so tasty!


The pasta itself is of course a key component – after all, it’s right there in the name! Rao’s uses penne pasta, which is a tube-shaped pasta with angled ends. Penne is a great choice for holding the creamy sauce. The pasta is likely made from refined wheat flour or semolina flour. Fresh pasta would provide an even richer taste and texture, but dried penne is more shelf-stable.

Some key facts about the pasta in Rao’s penne alla vodka:

  • Type of pasta: penne
  • Pasta ingredients: wheat flour, water
  • Fresh or dried: most likely dried
  • Shape: tube-shaped with angled ends
  • Bite size: medium sized

The quality of the dried pasta is important. Penne made from a coarse semolina flour will have more texture than regular wheat flour versions. High-end brands like Rao’s likely source pasta made from premium wheat grown in Italy.

Sauce Ingredients

The vodka sauce is where this pasta dish gets its distinct flavor. While tomatoes and cream are the base, Rao’s no doubt has some secret additions and preparation methods. However, we can speculate about some of the likely ingredients based on classic vodka sauce recipes.


Vodka sauce starts with tomatoes. Canned whole peeled tomatoes are most commonly used to allow for easy crushing and blending. Chopped fresh tomatoes can also work. The tomatoes provide the tangy, fruit flavor as well as color to the sauce.

Onion and garlic

An onion and garlic sauteed in olive oil provides the flavor base for vodka sauce. Onion and garlic combine to create depth, sweetness, and aroma. They are a classic flavor pairing with tomatoes.

Heavy cream

Heavy cream provides the signature creaminess and velvety texture of the sauce. The dairy also helps round out and soften the acidity of the tomatoes. Some recipes call for half and half instead for a slightly thinner consistency.


A few tablespoons of vodka are a must for authentic flavor. The alcohol cooks off, leaving behind a subtle fruity, vanilla-like essence. Any neutral flavored vodka will work.


Butter is nearly always added along with the cream, as it also adds richness and body to the sauce. Some recipes use all cream, but a butter and cream combination is classic.

Parmesan cheese

Freshly grated parmesan cheese can provide a savory, salty accent to the sauce. Pecorino Romano is another good option. Cheese is usually optional or used sparingly.

Herbs and spices

In addition to the core ingredients, there are some herbs, spices, and other flavorings that likely go into Rao’s vodka sauce recipe:

  • Black pepper
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Parsley
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Bay leaf

These all enhance the flavor complexity.


Penne alla vodka is not usually chock full of veggies, but some versions do include extras like:

  • Mushrooms
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Peas

Sauteed mushrooms pair nicely with the sauce, adding an earthy element. Quick-cooking greens like spinach or broccoli rabe can be tossed in at the end. Frozen peas add some freshness and color.

Finishing Touches

To finish off this decadent pasta dish, there are a couple potential garnishes and additions:

  • Fresh basil – shaved or chopped basil over the top adds some fresh herbal flavor
  • Grated parmesan – extra cheese on top adds another layer of richness
  • Crushed red pepper – a sprinkle of red pepper flakes adds a touch of heat

Some upscale restaurants may finish penne alla vodka with luxe ingredients like truffle shavings or edible gold leaf!

The Complete Rao’s Penne alla Vodka Ingredients List

Based on typical recipes and the Rao’s brand reputation, these are the likely ingredients that go into their penne alla vodka dish:

Ingredient Category Ingredients
Pasta Penne pasta, likely dried, made with semolina flour
Sauce Canned whole peeled tomatoes, heavy cream, vodka, onion, garlic, olive oil, butter, black pepper, red pepper flakes, parsley, basil, oregano, bay leaf
Cheese Parmesan, optional Pecorino Romano
Vegetables Mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, frozen peas, any combination
Garnish Grated parmesan, crushed red pepper, fresh basil

The exact way these ingredients are prepared and combined is what makes the Rao’s recipe unique – especially the specific seasoning and cooking techniques for the sauce. But the above provides a general overview of the key components that make this creamy vodka pasta dish so delicious!

Trying the Rao’s Penne alla Vodka Recipe at Home

If you want to recreate the taste of Rao’s penne alla vodka at home, look for a gourmet recipe that includes most of the ingredients listed above. Pay special attention to the preparation of the sauce – make sure to cook the tomatoes, onion, and garlic thoroughly in olive oil before adding liquids. Add the vodka before the cream to allow the alcohol to cook off. Season generously with black pepper and red pepper. Go light on the cheese and finish with fresh herbs.

With quality ingredients and careful attention to technique, you can do justice to the original Rao’s recipe. Just be prepared for it to never be quite as good as dining at their famous New York restaurant! Rao’s penne alla vodka is truly a signature specialty dish.


Rao’s secret recipe for penne alla vodka has made it one of the most sought-after Italian pasta dishes. Made with fresh penne, a seasoned tomato and cream sauce, premium cheeses, and herbs, it captures the essence of Italian-American comfort food. While the exact recipe is under lock and key, understanding the key ingredients and their purpose can help you get close by making it at home. Just don’t expect it to surpass the flavor of enjoying the insanely delicious original at Rao’s restaurant in New York!