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Pantry Raid: Baked Penne with Vodka Sauce

Fact: Anything homemade is always better. Sauces, especially.

“Alternative” (ha, ha…) Fact: There are days when ain’t nobody got time for that.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s no shame in opening up a good boxed, canned jarred, or otherwise pre-made sauce from time to time. I’ve used many — Italian marinaras and vodka sauces, Indian and Thai simmer sauces… — for the makings of a quick, easy, and tasty meal on nights when the last thing that I want to do is stand by the stove and cook dinner and take-out isn’t the greatest option either.

It’s true that many pre-made sauces have extra preservatives and salt added to them, which are usually essential in the commercial canning process to ensure taste is consistent over time or from batch to batch. I often check the labels and find the ones with the fewest ingredients (where possible). 9 out of 10 times, these ingredients are also things that I can also easily pronounce. 😉

This baked pasta dish is an alternative to a traditional baked ziti with marinara sauce. It starts off very similar to another baked pasta dish that I posted about in the past and recently tweaked to include an easy Alfredo sauce in place of the jarred sauce (although it’s perfectly fine to still use jarred in the recipe.) Onions and garlic, an essential foundation of anything that’s bound to taste great IMHO, are cooked along with frozen spinach and sun dried tomatoes. A quality vodka sauce (I used Victoria) and cheese are added to cooked pasta in a large skillet, then the whole thing is topped with more cheese and baked.

So, clearly the message here is this: baked pasta is extremely versatile and can never be bad. 😉 Easy to make ahead and freeze or make the same day, a delicious meal is on the table in just an under an hour.

Baked Penne with Vodka Sauce
Prep Time
30 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
1 hr

Serve hot with garlic bread. Don't like sun-dried tomatoes? Substitute cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half.

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: cheese, pasta, penne, ricotta cheese, vegetarian, vodka sauce
Servings: 8
  • 1 box dried penne or rotini pasta
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion diced
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes dried or packed in oil, cut into strips
  • 1/2 box frozen spinach thawed and drained
  • 1 24 oz jar vodka sauce (Suggested: Victoria brand)
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • 1 16 oz package shredded 2% milk mozzarella cheese (Suggested: Sargento brand)
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese grated
  • 1 tsp salt-free Italian seasoning blend
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Pre-heat oven to 400° Farenheit.

  2. Heat olive oil in sauté pan or skillet on medium heat until hot, then add onions and garlic. Cook until lightly golden and tender, 5-8 minutes. 

  3. As onions are cooking, cook pasta per package directions in boiling, salted water until a little underdone, about 8 minutes of cook time, keeping in mind that the pasta will cook in the oven. Drain but don't rinse pasta.

  4. Add spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, vodka sauce, Italian seasoning, and light cream to pan. Turn heat to low and let simmer until warmed and the cream has slightly reduced, about 10 minutes.

  5. Add pasta to sauce and stir to coat. Add 1 cup of mozzarella and 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

  6. Transfer pasta into a large baking dish and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake at 400° Fahrenheit for approximately 30 minutes or until brown and bubbly.