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A splash of cream turns a simple pasta sauce into a decadent and delicious weeknight dinner! This creamy tomato pasta sauce comes together in just 30 minutes, making it the perfect easy, meatless supper for busy days.

Close overhead image of creamy tomato pasta with a side of breadsticks.
Table of Contents
  1. What does adding heavy whipping cream to pasta sauce do?
  2. Why Vodka is Such a Great Addition to Creamy Tomato Pasta Sauce
  3. Ingredients for Tomato Cream Sauce
  4. How to Make Creamy Tomato Sauce
  5. What to Serve with Creamy Tomato Pasta
  6. Preparation and Storage Tips
  7. Recipe Variations
  8. Tips for the Best Creamy Tomato Pasta Sauce Recipe
  9. Creamy Tomato Pasta Sauce Recipe

If you love homemade pasta sauce recipes, be sure to try this 5-ingredient pomodoro sauce, a pot of easy bolognese sauce, the best spaghetti sauce recipe, homemade pesto, and this crockpot spaghetti sauce, too!

This simple combination of pasta and a made-from-scratch creamy tomato sauce appeals to both kids and adults, making it perfect for weeknight family dinners. Serve it with garlic bread and Caesar salad for a quick and delicious restaurant-quality meal. Plus, since it’s made with basic pantry staples, this budget-friendly vegetarian dinner won’t break the bank!

What does adding heavy whipping cream to pasta sauce do?

Whether you’re preparing a bechamel sauce for mac and cheese, a homemade Alfredo sauce, or this creamy tomato pasta sauce, heavy cream lends a creamy flavor, a rich mouthfeel, and a thicker consistency to a basic tomato sauce. It also turns the red tomato sauce into a “pink sauce!” Do not substitute with a lower-fat alternative such as milk or half-and-half, or the sauce may separate or “break” as it heats and simmers.

Overhead image of creamy tomato pasta in a cast iron skillet.

Why Vodka is Such a Great Addition to Creamy Tomato Pasta Sauce

Vodka adds depth of flavor to the creamy tomato sauce without actually making the dish taste like alcohol. It highlights the other flavors in the sauce, and balances the sweetness of the tomato and cream. The ethanol in vodka also serves as an emulsifier, helping the water and lipids stay mixed together so that the sauce doesn’t separate.

Don’t worry — most of the actual alcohol cooks off when you simmer the sauce, so you (and your kids) will not get drunk off of this dinner!

Cooked rigatoni in a colander.

The Best Vodka to Use

Just like cooking with wine, when adding vodka to your pasta sauce, it’s important to pick a vodka that you actually like to drink. Not only will you have a bottle of the stuff leftover to enjoy, but a better-tasting vodka will yield a better-tasting sauce!

Any premium vodka that you prefer is fine: Skyy, Absolut, Ketel One, Van Gogh, and Tito’s are all good options.

Sauteing tomato paste with shallots and garlic in a skillet.

Substitutes for the Vodka

If you don’t have vodka on hand, no problem! This isn’t penne alla vodka, so you can certainly substitute with another ingredient. I recommend white wine or chicken broth as adequate subs for the vodka.

Process shot showing how to make creamy tomato sauce for pasta.

Ingredients for Tomato Cream Sauce

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for this quick and easy creamy tomato pasta sauce. As always, specific measurements and step-by-step cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Pasta: for serving with the sauce. I’ve shown mezzi rigatoni here, but just about any shape that you enjoy will work! For example, try penne, ravioli, tortellini, ziti, rotini, medium shells, farfalle (bowties), or fusilli.
  • Extra-virgin olive oil and butter: to sauté the vegetables and add flavor and richness to the sauce.
  • Shallot: gives the sauce a mild onion flavor. You can sub with regular onion if necessary.
  • Garlic: for savory flavor that pairs nicely with the tomatoes.
  • Crushed red pepper flakes: give the sauce a mildly spicy kick. Add more for a spicier sauce, or omit this ingredient altogether for a mild option.
  • Tomato paste: provides rich tomato flavor, and also helps to thicken the sauce.
  • Heavy cream: gives the creamy sauce its name! Don’t substitute with lower fat alternatives like milk or half-and-half.
  • Vodka: don’t worry — the alcohol cooks off, and the sauce will not taste like booze! Instead, the vodka serves as an emulsifier to bring the sauce together, and also brings out the flavors in the tomatoes and cream.
  • Fresh basil: for a bright, fresh component that nicely balances the rich creaminess of the sauce.
Process shot showing how to make creamy tomato pasta sauce.

How to Make Creamy Tomato Sauce

For a family-friendly, satisfying vegetarian dinner, it’s tough to beat a creamy tomato pasta recipe that comes together in about 30 minutes! The detailed instructions are included in the recipe card at the bottom of the post, but here’s the quick version:

  • Boil the pasta in a large pot of water until al dente, reserving some of the cooking water.
  • Whisk together the sauce, simmering until it reaches the desired consistency.
  • Add basil and cooked pasta to the sauce; toss to coat.
  • Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese and additional chopped fresh herbs.
Square overhead image of a pan of creamy tomato pasta sauce.

What to Serve with Creamy Tomato Pasta

Pair the creamy tomato sauce and pasta with any of these sides:

Side shot of creamy tomato pasta sauce with rigatoni on a dinner table.

Preparation and Storage Tips

This sauce is best enjoyed immediately, as the leftovers may separate or take on a grainy texture when chilled. Do not freeze cream-based sauces.

Overhead shot of a bowl of creamy tomato pasta sauce with rigatoni and fresh basil.

Recipe Variations

  • Just about any pasta will work well in this sauce. I’ve shown mezzi rigatoni, but you can use penne, fusilli, shells, ravioli, tortellini, spaghetti, linguine, fettuccini, or just about any other size/shape noodle that you like.
  • Double all of the ingredients to prepare a larger batch of sauce.
  • While vodka is my first choice for a number of reasons explained above, you can sub with white wine or chicken broth when necessary.
  • Use 1 tablespoon of dried basil leaves when you don’t have fresh basil available.
  • Add chicken, shrimp, or Italian sausage to the creamy tomato sauce. You can brown chicken cutlets in olive oil in the skillet before making the sauce (about 2-3 minutes per side for thin cutlets), sauté shrimp in the skillet before making the sauce, or brown the Italian sausage in the skillet and drain off the fat before making the sauce. Remove the cooked chicken, shrimp, or sausage from the pan while you make the sauce, then return it to the dish at the very end.
  • Bacon or pancetta are both nice additions to a tomato cream sauce as well. Brown the meats in the skillet, then remove the bacon or pancetta to a plate (reserve the drippings in the pan). Use the drippings with a little bit more olive oil or butter to sauté the shallots and garlic for the sauce. Then return the cooked bacon or pancetta to the pan at the very end.
Close up side shot of a bowl of creamy tomato pasta

Tips for the Best Creamy Tomato Pasta Sauce Recipe

  • This is a fairly rich dish, so it may serve up to 4 people with smaller portions. If you prefer larger portions of pasta, it will likely feed just 2-3 people (so double all of the ingredients if necessary).
  • Don’t forget to save some of the pasta cooking water to use in the sauce before you drain the noodles! The starches in the pasta water help to thicken the sauce, so this is an important ingredient.
  • Finely mince the shallots and grate the garlic. This way they add flavor to the sauce, but they don’t stand out or make the sauce chunky.
  • Use a high-quality vodka that you would actually like to drink, since this is an important component of the sauce.
  • Use heavy cream, and do not substitute with a lower fat alternative such as milk or half-and-half.
Wooden serving spoon in a pan of creamy tomato pasta sauce.

More Pasta Sauce Recipes to Try

Square overhead image of a pan of creamy tomato pasta sauce.

Creamy Tomato Pasta Sauce

5 from 2 votes
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Total: 30 minutes
Servings 4 people
Calories 570 kcal
This creamy tomato pasta sauce is the perfect 30-minute, family-friendly weeknight dinner!

Ingredients
  

  • 8 ounces pasta of choice (such as rigatoni)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1 large shallot, finely minced
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (add more to taste, or use less for a mild sauce)
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 1 cup heavy cream (do not substitute with a lower-fat alternative, or the sauce may separate when cooked)
  • 3 tablespoons vodka
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil, plus extra for serving
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Instructions

  • Boil pasta in a large pot of well-salted boiling water according to package directions. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain.
    Cooked rigatoni in a colander.
  • While the pasta cooks, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat in a large skillet until the butter melts. Add the shallot, season with salt and pepper, and cook until lightly golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic, red pepper flakes, and tomato paste. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.
    Sauteing tomato paste with shallots and garlic in a skillet.
  • Add the cream, whisking to combine, and cook for 4-5 minutes. Turn off the heat, and whisk in the vodka. Turn back on the heat, and whisk the sauce for about 4-5 more minutes to allow the alcohol to cook off.
    Process shot showing how to make creamy tomato sauce for pasta.
  • Stir in ¼ cup of the reserved pasta water, whisking until thick. Continue cooking, whisking occasionally, until the sauce reaches the desired consistency, about 5-10 minutes. Add additional pasta water, as necessary (the starches in the pasta water help to thicken the sauce as it simmers). Taste and season with salt and pepper to taste.
    Process shot showing how to make creamy tomato pasta sauce.
  • Add the basil and cooked pasta to the sauce; stir to coat.
    Wooden serving spoon in a pan of creamy tomato pasta sauce.
  • Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese and chopped fresh herbs, if desired.
    Close overhead image of creamy tomato pasta with a side of breadsticks.

Notes

  • This is a fairly rich dish, so it may serve up to 4 people with smaller portions. If you prefer larger portions of pasta, it will likely feed just 2-3 people (so double all of the ingredients if necessary).
  • Don’t forget to save some of the pasta cooking water to use in the sauce before you drain the noodles! The starches in the pasta water help to thicken the sauce, so this is an important ingredient.
  • Finely mince the shallots and grate garlic. This way they add flavor to the sauce, but they don’t stand out or make the sauce chunky.
  • Use a high-quality vodka that you would actually like to drink, since this is an important component of the sauce.
  • Use heavy cream, and do not substitute with a lower fat alternative such as milk or half-and-half.

Nutrition

Serving: 1/4 of the recipeCalories: 570kcalCarbohydrates: 48gProtein: 10gFat: 35gSaturated Fat: 18gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 0.2gCholesterol: 82mgSodium: 199mgPotassium: 378mgFiber: 3gSugar: 6gVitamin A: 1374IUVitamin C: 5mgCalcium: 63mgIron: 1mg
Keyword: creamy tomato pasta, creamy tomato pasta sauce, creamy tomato sauce, creamy tomato sauce for pasta
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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Comments

  1. Asha Sunder says:

    5 stars
    Excellent

    1. The Seasoned Mom says:

      Thank you, Asha!

  2. Kathleen says:

    5 stars
    This was so delicious, and easy to follow. I will definitely be making this again and again, thank you!

    1. The Seasoned Mom says:

      We’re so happy to hear this, Kathleen! Thank you for your feedback.