Rich and Creamy Vodka Pasta with Serious Autumnal Flare
While everyone obsesses over pumpkin desserts and lattes this time of year, I prefer making savory dishes with pumpkin, like No-Stir Pumpkin Risotto, Pumpkin Mac and Cheese (with Brown Butter Sage Breadcrumbs!), and 10-Minute Pumpkin Hummus.
This creamy Pumpkin alla Vodka Pasta follows suit, adding pumpkin purée to classic pasta alla vodka for a festive fall-inspired twist. 🍂
The pumpkin vodka sauce starts by simmering canned pumpkin purée and tomato paste with softened aromatics like shallots, garlic, and fresh sage. This is a signature step in preparing a classic vodka sauce, creating rich depth of flavor despite its quick cook time. From there, a splash of vodka cuts through the richness of the pumpkin to bring all of the flavors to life, while a little heavy cream smooths everything out and creates a velvety sauce.
All in all, it’s a one-skillet operation that comes together in 25 minutes or less!
The resulting pumpkin vodka sauce is creamy-dreamy and has a subtle earthy sweetness that tastes just the way a fall dinner should! It showcases seasonal pumpkin beautifully without any pumpkin spice. Simply toss it with your favorite twirly noodle, cozy up to a bowl of pumpkin vodka pasta, and enjoy the fact that it’s officially comfort food season. 🎃🥰
Pumpkin Alla Vodka Recipe Highlights
You will love cozying up to a bowl of pumpkin vodka pasta this autumn. It’s…
A SEASONAL TWIST. This pumpkin pasta alla vodka recipe takes all the best elements of classic creamy vodka sauce, adding sage, pumpkin, and a touch of nutmeg to create serious fall-inspired flavor. It’s everything you love about classic vodka pasta, with an autumnal twist!
PERFECTLY PUMPKIN. Canned pumpkin lends beautiful, seasonal earthiness to the creamy vodka sauce. A touch of tomato makes the pumpkin flavor shine even more while keeping the entire dish completely savory. The pumpkin is the star of the show and there’s no pumpkin spice involved! 🎃
QUICK AND EASY. This pumpkin alla vodka is a fun 25-minute recipe made with many pantry staples, like canned pumpkin purée and tomato paste, for ease. The perfect quick and cozy dinner for any fall weeknight!
Autumn in a bowl! ♡ Read on to learn more about how to make Pumpkin Pasta alla Vodka, or jump straight to the recipe and get cooking!
Quick Recipe Background: What is Vodka Sauce?
Vodka sauce is a rich and creamy tomato-based pasta sauce with Italian-American origins. It’s typically made by deeply browning aromatic shallots, garlic, tomato paste for intense flavor. The sauce is then built with crushed tomatoes for body and a splash of vodka to cut through all the rich tomato flavor. A generous amount of heavy cream creates the sauce’s signature velvety texture and blushed red-pink hue. Tossed into a pile of al dente pasta, it’s total comfort food.
So what does vodka do in vodka sauce? ⇢ Vodka enhances the flavors of the tomato and heavy cream by elevating the fat and acids in the sauce. The alcohol cooks off as it simmers, boosting the taste of the sauce without making it taste like vodka. It’s similar to cooking with white wine!
This pumpkin vodka pasta strays from tradition a little bit for a fun seasonal twist. Swapping out crushed tomatoes with pumpkin purée results in a pumpkin vodka sauce that has the same velvety body and creamy texture as the classic, but with deliciously fall-inspired flavor. Adding in fresh sage and a pinch of nutmeg complements the pumpkin and creates extra autumnal flair.
This pumpkin alla vodka comes together by combining classic vodka pasta ingredients with a few seasonal twists. It’s not especially traditional, but it is really fun, festive, and – most importantly! – delicious. The fall-inspired ingredients enhance the vodka sauce without overpowering it – the results are creamy, savory, not too sweet, and totally comforting.
Note: Full ingredients list and measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.
- Pasta – Feel free to use your favorite short pasta. Classic vodka sauce is often served with penne or rigatoni. I love pairing a creamy sauce with springy fusilli (pictured). Its spirally ridges capture the sauce, making every bite even more flavorful.
- Pumpkin – While you can certainly roast and purée fresh pumpkin, I typically use canned pumpkin purée for ease. Canned pumpkin purée is readily available in the baking aisle this time of year – just be sure to grab pure pumpkin purée, not pumpkin pie filling! Pure pumpkin has all the natural earthy flavor of fresh pumpkin, without any added spice or sweetness.
- Aromatics – Diced shallot and plenty of garlic bloom to build the base of flavor for the pumpkin vodka sauce, while a little bit of fresh sage complements mild, earthy pumpkin beautifully. If you like a bit of heat, add in some crushed red pepper flakes too!
- Tomato paste – One of my favorite pantry staples and a signature ingredient in classic vodka sauce. Its concentrated tomato flavor gets even richer when it’s browned with aromatics, creating bolder depth of flavor. In fear that this richness would actually overpower the pumpkin, I tested versions of this recipe with and without tomato paste. With the appropriate ratios, the tomato paste’s natural sweetness actually enhances pumpkin’s earthy flavor. It’s a must!
- Vodka – There’s no need to reach for top shelf here! Feel free to use any drinkable vodka you like – just make sure that it’s not flavored. If you prefer not to cook with alcohol, you can substitute vodka with non-alcoholic vodka or vegetable broth.
- Finishing touches – A generous amount of heavy cream is a vodka sauce essential since it creates the sauce’s signature glossy, velvety consistency. A handful of parmesan cheese adds depth of flavor and tightens up the pumpkin vodka sauce so it clings to the pasta beautifully. Lastly, the tiniest bit of ground nutmeg adds a touch of warmth that complements the pumpkin without making it taste like pie.
How to Make Pumpkin Vodka Sauce
Since it’s such a cozy, comforting dish, I always assumed vodka sauce would be a little fussy to make. Turns out that’s just not true! This pumpkin vodka sauce is built using a very similar process as classic vodka sauce, just with the addition of pumpkin. It all comes together in one skillet, ready in 25 minutes or less.
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Bloom the aromatics. Using a large, heavy-bottomed skillet on the stovetop, cook diced shallots in olive oil until they start to soften. Add fresh sage, garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes, then keep cooking until everything is fragrant. Why? ⇢ This simple step brings the aromatic ingredients to life. It takes just 4-5 minutes and creates a mega-flavorful base for the pumpkin vodka sauce.
Brown the pumpkin and tomato paste. Add the tomato paste and canned pumpkin purée to the skillet, stirring so they coat the softened aromatics. Cook gently on medium-low heat until the mixture begins to brown, taking on a darker, richer color. This takes about 10 minutes and cannot be rushed! Why? ⇢ By simmering the pumpkin purée and tomato paste, you cook off much of the their natural moisture, which creates especially concentrated tomato and pumpkin flavor. As they simmer, they also develop a deeply browned fond on the bottom of the pan. This browned richness = flavor, flavor, flavor!
Deglaze. Slowly pour the vodka into the pan, stirring constantly as you do. The steam from the vodka releases all the browned bits on the bottom of the pan (aka, fond) which are FULL of flavor. Scrape them up to incorporate them into the sauce, then let the vodka simmer and reduce until it’s nearly cooked off. Why? ⇢ Reducing the vodka burns off the alcohol while leaving behind all its flavor-enhancing benefits. Similar to cooking with white wine, vodka brings the earthy pumpkin & rich tomato flavors to life with a touch of brightness.
Finish the pumpkin vodka sauce. Stir in the heavy cream, parmesan, and nutmeg, then watch it all transforms into a beautifully velvety, creamy sauce with a red-orange hue – signature elements of classic vodka sauce!
Easy Vegetarian & Vegan Recipe Variations
This pumpkin alla vodka sauce is naturally meatless, but you can make a few easy substitutions to ensure it’s also vegetarian and/or vegan:
- For a vegetarian pumpkin pasta alla vodka, be sure to use rennet-free parmesan. Why? ⇢ Like many hard cheeses, parmesan is traditionally made with an animal enzyme known as rennet. You can find rennet-free parmesan in most cheese cases – just check the label!
- For a vegan pumpkin pasta alla vodka, use a non-dairy parmesan and swap heavy cream for creamy coconut milk instead. Full-fat coconut milk is a great way to make vegan vodka sauce extra creamy without any dairy.
Pumpkin Pasta alla Vodka Assembly & Serving Suggestions
While you prepare the pumpkin vodka sauce, cook your pasta in a large pot of salted water so everything is ready for assembly at the same time. Be sure to reserve some starchy pasta water before draining. Learn more! ⇢ How to Cook Pasta Perfectly Every Single Time.
To finish the pumpkin alla vodka pasta, add the al dente pasta to the skillet with the pumpkin vodka sauce and toss it all together. Cook for a minute or two longer, adjusting as needed with a splash of pasta water to loosen things up or a handful of parmesan to tighten up the sauce. Why? ⇢ The #1 pasta mistake I see home cooks make is plopping sauce on a pile of noodles. Please don’t do this! Quickly simmering pasta with sauce is key to a cohesive, restaurant-quality pasta dish.
What to serve with pumpkin pasta? We love cozying up with a big bowl topped with extra parmesan or crispy sage leaves.
A few more ideas to get you started…
- A side salad is always a great way to balance a rich and creamy pasta. This Kale Caesar with Delicata Squash Croutons is the perfect add-on for a fall-inspired meal!
- If you’d like a little extra protein, try pairing with Crispy Parmesan Chicken or my Best-Ever Ricotta Meatballs.
I can’t wait for you to try this Pumpkin Pasta alla Vodka! It’s such a fun fall twist on a beloved pasta dish – perfect for welcoming in the season. It’s cozy and comforting, and I know you’re going to love it just as much as we do!
If you do give it a try, be sure to let us know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo and tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. We LOVE seeing your PWWB creations! ♡ Happy cooking!
More Recipes Like This:
Easy Autumn Dinners
While everyone obsesses over pumpkin desserts and lattes this time of year, I love using pumpkin to add a little autumnal flare to savory dishes. This creamy Pumpkin alla Vodka Pasta completely fits the bill!
There are 2 main elements to this recipe, both of which come together in 25 minutes or less (with minimal prep!) to create the best cozy fall dinner:
- Creamy pumpkin vodka sauce. We use all the elements of a classic Italian-American vodka sauce, but add seasonal ingredients like pumpkin purée, fresh sage, and nutmeg to create a slightly more festive dish for fall. The pumpkin vodka sauce has the depth of flavor and creamy texture you crave in a vodka sauce, but it also showcases seasonal pumpkin beautifully – with no pumpkin spice involved!
- Pasta. Remember, you always want to choose a pasta shape that complements the sauce. Here I like using spirally fusilli since its ridges capture the creamy sauce to make every bite even more flavorful. Penne and rigatoni also work well!
Be sure to check out the blog post, above, for plenty more details about the hows & whys of preparing vodka sauce, as well some really yummy serving suggestions & pairing ideas. ♡ Happy cooking!
- 8 ounces fusilli or short pasta of choice (see Recipe Notes)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large shallot (or ½ small yellow onion), finely diced
- 10–12 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
- optional: up to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup pumpkin purée (see Recipe Notes)
- ¼ cup vodka
- ½ cup heavy cream
- ½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
- ⅛–¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season
- Boil the pasta: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, generously season the water with salt. Add the fusilli (or pasta of choice) & cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, to al dente. (Al dente cooking time is typically noted on package directions.) Once the pasta reaches al dente, carefully dip a liquid measuring cup into the pot, reserving about 1 cup of starchy pasta water, & set aside. Drain the pasta – but do not rinse – & set aside. (Learn more! ⇢ How to Cook Pasta Perfectly Every Single Time!)
- Soften & bloom the aromatics: Meanwhile, as the water comes to a boil, begin building the pumpkin vodka sauce. Add the olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is hot & shimmering, stir in the shallot. Season with ½ teaspoon kosher salt & ground black pepper as desired. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened & fragrant, 3-4 minutes. Stir in the sage, garlic, & crushed red pepper flakes (if using) & cook 1-2 minutes longer, until fragrant.
- Prepare the pumpkin vodka sauce: Reduce the heat under the skillet to medium-low. Add the tomato paste & pumpkin purée to the skillet, stirring to coat the softened aromatics. Cook 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture darkens a little & begins to coat the bottom of the skillet. Deglaze the skillet by slowly pouring in the vodka while constantly stirring & scraping up any browned bits that may have formed on the bottom of the skillet. Once the vodka is almost completely cooked off, stir in the heavy cream, grated parmesan, & nutmeg. Taste & adjust seasonings as needed. Reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer.
- Finish the pumpkin pasta alla vodka: Add the cooked pasta to the pumpkin vodka sauce. Toss to combine well – the sauce should evenly coat the pasta. Add in some of the reserved pasta water if the sauce needs to loosen up a little; add in an extra handful of parmesan if it needs to tighten up more. Cook 1-2 minutes longer, allowing the pasta to meld together with the pumpkin vodka sauce. Remove from the heat.
- Serve: Portion the pumpkin pasta alla vodka into individual bowls, topping with grated additional grated parmesan or crispy fried sage leaves as desired. Serve immediately. Enjoy!
- Jess’ Tips & Tricks:
- Pasta: While pasta alla vodka is traditionally prepared with a short, tubular noodle such as penne or rigatoni, I’m particularly fond of the way the creamy sauce gets trapped in the twirly spirals of fusilli – it makes every bite a little more creamy, flavorful, & crave-worthy.
- Pumpkin purée: For convenience, I always opt for canned pumpkin purée – just be sure to buy pumpkin purée, not pie filling! The pumpkin vodka sauce will use about ½ of a 15-ounce can, so you can freeze the rest for later or put it to use in another recipe. (I always use the rest to make Pumpkin Creamer for my morning coffee!)
- Recipe variations: This pumpkin alla vodka recipe is naturally meatless. To ensure it’s vegetarian, be sure to use your favorite rennet-free parmesan. To take it a step further & make it vegan + dairy-free, opt for your favorite non-dairy parmesan & swap heavy cream with your favorite vegan alternative – full-fat coconut milk is delicious in this particular dish!
- Storage & Reheating: Leftover pumpkin pasta alla vodka will keep, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for 2-3 days. Reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave, adding an extra splash of water or cooking stock to loosen up the pumpkin vodka sauce as needed, until warmed through.
Recipe and Food Styling by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Rachel Cook, Half Acre House.