Penne Pasta with Mushroom-Vodka Sauce


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


Appears in

Welcome to Claire's: 35 Years of Recipes and Reflections from the Landmark Vegetarian Restaurant

Welcome to Claire's

By Claire Criscuolo

Published 2014

  • About

Vodka sauces are very popular at Claire’s. This recipe is delicious and a little less indulgent than our more traditional vodka sauces—the pink sauces made with tomatoes, butter, and cream. This recipe relies on the added flavors and health benefits from mushrooms and spinach, and it uses milk rather than cream for a healthier version that still tastes yummy.


  • ½ stick butter or ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 shallots, coarsely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 pound mushrooms, cremini and button, quartered
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ½ cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 6-8 fresh basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound organic whole wheat or semolina penne pasta
  • 1 pint sweet grape tomatoes, about 20 large, cut into halves
  • ¼ cup vodka
  • 1 7-ounce bag organic baby spinach
  • 3 cups whole organic milk or organic plain soy milk
  • ½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (optional)


  1. Melt the butter or heat the oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and garlic. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally for about 2 minutes, or until the shallots have softened. Add the mushrooms, pepper flakes, parsley, basil, and a little salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until the mushrooms have released some of their moisture.
  2. Meanwhile, bring a large covered pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat and cook the penne according to package directions. Before draining the pasta, reserve a cup of the cooking water. (I leave the measuring cup in a colander set in the sink so I’ll remember to save the cooking water.)
  3. Add the tomatoes and vodka to the mushrooms. Stir well to mix. Raise the heat to medium and bring to a medium boil. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have softened. Slowly stir in the milk and the reserved cooking water and continue cooking, uncovered, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until the sauce is heated through and has reduced slightly. Stir in the cooked pasta and mix well to coat. Stir in the grated cheese if using. Taste for seasonings.