Salmon penne alla vodka

Salmon penne alla vodka – known in Italian as penne al salmone e vodka – is a popular salmon pasta recipe that often features on Italian restaurant menus. Penne pasta are served in a delicious creamy sauce with salmon bits and tender zucchini. A splash of vodka finishes off this creamy pasta making it incredibly delicate.

You may be familiar with evaporating a splash of wine when cooking a food, but vodka? Surprisingly, the potent distillate has equally charming powers. All alcoholic beverages, in fact, can do magic to the food you’re cooking. As long as you pair wisely and go by the rule that you wouldn’t add to your food something you wouldn’t drink on its own.

Alcohol has the wonderful quality of bonding with fat and water creating flavour connections between the various ingredients of a recipe that in absence of alcohol would not happen. If you want to learn more I recommend this article on alcohol’s role in cooking from Fine Cooking.

Overlay image of this pasta dish in a beige bowl.

A pasta dish from the ’80s

Salmon is not a traditional ingredient in Italian cuisine, and neither is vodka. Yet the two became somewhat trendy in the ’80s. Throw penne pasta into the equation and you get penne al salmone e vodka. It all began towards the end of the ’70s, when a new pasta recipe, penne alla vodka, went all the rage. It became a trendy meal option served at discos throughout the ’80s.

Penne alla vodka is a creamy tomato pasta where the vodka ultimately has the role of emulsifying the sauce ensuring the fat in the cream doesn’t separate when mixed with the acidity of the tomatoes. Salmon penne alla vodka is a variation of this recipe, where smoked salmon is also added. Known in Italian as penne alla moscovita (Moscow-style penne pasta), the recipe also called for caviar.

As time passed, salmon penne alla vodka incredibly stood the test of time. Caviar (or its cheaper substitutes) phased out pretty quickly, and as time passed tomato disappeared from the recipe, too. A more modern take on this trendy pasta dish from the past only features salmon and cream, like in this recipe. What remained unchanged was the pasta shape. It just has to be penne.

Penne al salmone e vodka with zucchini in a skillet.

How to make salmon penne alla vodka

This modern version of salmon penne alla vodka is a copycat of what my mom makes. Her recipe was itself inspired by a portion of pasta we were once served at a restaurant. The addition of the sautéed zucchini is what my mom copied from the restaurant. It gives this pleasant flavour and texture contrast here and there that has become a signature in our family.

Here are the ingredients:

  • Penne pasta – and I insist that it just has to be penne
  • Smoked salmon – this is the real main ingredient here
  • Cooking cream – I tend to prefer a rather fat cream, up to 30% fat
  • Vodka – the invisible ingredients that finishes off the dish
  • Zucchini – the sidekick for that elegant finish that also shines as pretty decoration
  • Olive oil
  • Shallot
  • Salt and black pepper to taste.

Ruffled slices of smoked salmon surrounded by other ingredients needed for the recipe.

Recipe method

  • Warm 1 tbsp olive oil in a skillet, thinly slice the zucchini and add it to the pan. Sauté on medium-high heat 3-4 minutes, until soft. Remove the zucchini from the pan and add the rest of the oil.
  • Mince the shallot and add it to the oil. Sauté 2-3 min until soft. Coarsely cut the salmon into strips and add that to the pan, too.
  • In the meantime, bring a pot of water to a boil, add salt and add your penne. Cook according to package instructions – it should be around 10 minutes for standard penne.
  • Sauté the salmon on medium heat stirring to distribute the heat. When it looks cooked through and starts to flake, pour in the cream.
  • Simmer the sauce until the cream reduces and thickens, 4-5 minutes. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet. Toss to coat in the sauce. Top with zucchini and freshly cracked black pepper.

Salmon pasta in creamy vodka sauce in a skillet.

Salmon penne serving suggestions

Serve immediately if possible. The pasta will keep absorbing moisture from the sauce and the whole dish may get dry if it sits too long. If you must serve it at a later time, keep the pasta in the skillet and reheat on medium heat adding a little cream to moisten it up.

Microwaving is not recommended. I generally tend to avoid reheating pasta dishes with creamy sauces in the microwave, as the cream turns to oil. I have saved my salmon pasta leftovers in lunchboxes previously, and while there was nothing wrong with the flavour, you can expect a texture change in the sauce if you choose to do so.

Don’t use cheese. That all kinds of pasta or risotto recipes should be finished off with grated parmesan is a misconception. Fish or seafood dishes never come with parmesan in Italy. Cheese is no match to that. This is why there is no parmesan in this recipe, in case you were wondering. No match.

Can I use fresh salmon?

The answer is yes! If you don’t have access to smoked salmon, you can definitely substitute it for fresh salmon. If you’re using fillets, you may just cut them into strips for easier and quicker cooking. They will just flake when cooked, so you will get a rather similar texture in the end. The main difference will be the absence of the smoky flavour.

You don’t need to buy fillets if you’re on a budget but still want to enjoy some salmon penne alla vodka. In my local supermarkets I usually find packets of mixed chunks of salmon in the frozen section. Any smaller or rougher bit that did not make the fillet selection get packaged and sold for cheaper. They’re perfect for fish soups and great in this recipe, too.

Two bowls of salmon penne alla vodka.

Got leftovers?

Sometimes buying in bulk makes for cheaper deals, so if you’ve stocked up on some of the ingredients needed in this recipe, here’s some inspiration to use it all up:

Don’t forget to pin this salmon penne alla vodka recipe for later and if you made this recipe let me know your feedback in the comments!

Salmon penne alla vodka is a modern take on a trendy recipe from the '80s. Penne pasta are tossed in a creamy salmon sauce where a splash of vodka has been added during the cooking process. Topped with soft zucchini and freshly cracked black pepper, this salmon pasta recipe is a delightful dinner ready in less than 30 minutes.

This recipe was originally posted in June 2017. Updated March 2021 with new pictures and a recipe card.

Overlay image of this pasta dish in a beige bowl.
5 from 10 votes
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Penne alla vodka with salmon

Salmon penne alla vodka is a creamy pasta dish where the salmon is king. This modern take on a recipe from the '80s features no tomato but adds zucchini for both colour and flavour.

Course Main Course
Cuisine American, Italian
Keyword penne alla vodka, salmon pasta
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 3 people
Calories 1001 kcal
Author Eva | Electric Blue Food

Ingredients

  • 300 g penne pasta
  • 400 g smoked salmon or fresh salmon
  • 1/2 zucchini
  • 1 shallot small
  • 300 ml cream
  • 3 tbsp vodka
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Warm half of the olive oil in a skillet, thinly slice the zucchini and add it to the pan. Sauté on medium-high heat 3-4 minutes, until soft. Remove the zucchini from the pan and add the rest of the oil.

  2. Mince the shallot and add it to the oil. Sauté 2-3 min until soft. Cut the salmon into strips and add it to the pan. Sauté on medium heat stirring from time to time.

  3. As the salmon is cooking, bring a pot of water to a boil, add salt and add penne. Cook according to package instructions - it should be around 10 minutes.

  4. When the fish looks cooked through and starts to flake, pour in the cream. Simmer the sauce until the cream reduces and thickens, 4-5 minutes.

  5. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet. Toss to coat in the sauce. Top with zucchini and freshly cracked black pepper.

Recipe Notes

The nutritional information provided is only an estimate based on a suggested serving size. The amount of pasta in this recipe feeds 3 people if only having this as a meal. If planning to serve an appetizer or another course along with the pasta, these quantities will serve 4.

Use any vodka you please, as long as it is unflavoured.

Smoked salmon can be substituted with fresh salmon in the same quantities.

Nutrition Facts
Penne alla vodka with salmon
Amount Per Serving
Calories 1001 Calories from Fat 486
% Daily Value*
Fat 54g83%
Saturated Fat 26g163%
Cholesterol 168mg56%
Sodium 1093mg48%
Potassium 645mg18%
Carbohydrates 80g27%
Fiber 4g17%
Sugar 4g4%
Protein 40g80%
Vitamin A 1652IU33%
Vitamin C 7mg8%
Calcium 109mg11%
Iron 3mg17%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
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22 Comments

  1. Andrew P S March 24, 2021 at 12:28

    Looks fabulous, and all in my fridge! I shall be making tonight – does the vodka simply get added at the end?

    Reply
    1. Eva March 25, 2021 at 00:05

      Hi Andrew! After the salmon, but before you add the cream. Hope you will enjoy it!!

      Reply
  2. Kathryn April 6, 2021 at 02:42

    5 stars
    This looks amazing! I love the combination of zucchini and smoked salmon in this pasta- it’s so perfect for summer. Thank you for this great idea for dinner!

    Reply
    1. Eva April 17, 2021 at 21:30

      Thank you Kathryn!

      Reply
  3. Chef Dennis April 6, 2021 at 09:43

    5 stars
    This is making my tummy growl! This Salmon penne alla vodka is absolutely making my tummy growl.

    Reply
    1. Eva April 17, 2021 at 21:30

      Rightfully so, Chef! This stuff is delicious.

      Reply
  4. GUNJAN C Dudani April 6, 2021 at 23:56

    5 stars
    I loved this pasta recipe. I made it without salmon since i do not eat seafood. Yet it tasted so good. Will make it again for sure.

    Reply
    1. Eva April 17, 2021 at 21:30

      Creamy pasta is always a good idea!

      Reply
  5. Ramona April 7, 2021 at 20:25

    5 stars
    When I saw a picture of what this recipe looked like, I knew what I was going to be making for lunch tomorrow! this looks absolutely amazing and I am dying to try out a new recipe for this dish. Thank you for sharing this recipe, I cant wait to make this!

    Reply
    1. Eva April 17, 2021 at 21:31

      Hi Ramona! I hope my salmon pasta did not disappoint!

      Reply
  6. Elaine April 9, 2021 at 11:57

    5 stars
    The combination of salmon and pasta always makes me crave more! Fantastic recipe that I can make over and over again and enjoy it like the first time!

    Reply
    1. Eva April 17, 2021 at 21:31

      Thank you Elaine!

      Reply
  7. Tammy April 9, 2021 at 20:46

    5 stars
    Ala Vodka is one of my favorite dishes and I love the idea of tossing salmon in there for something different. Such a comforting meal..cannot wait to try!

    Reply
    1. Eva April 17, 2021 at 21:31

      Hi Tammy! Hope you’ll like this variation!

      Reply
  8. Leslie April 9, 2021 at 22:39

    5 stars
    This is the perfect salmon pasta recipe! It’s so simple yet so elegant. Great recipe for any salmon lover!

    Reply
    1. Eva April 17, 2021 at 21:31

      Thanks Leslie!

      Reply
  9. Silvia April 11, 2021 at 02:13

    5 stars
    My husband loves smoked salmon, and I usually serve it in the same way, all the time. Well, no, this time! This pasta is perfect for lunch or dinner, so easy and so delicious.

    Reply
    1. Eva April 17, 2021 at 21:32

      Hi Silvia! I hope he will like smoked salmon prepared this way!

      Reply
  10. Moop Brown April 12, 2021 at 07:41

    5 stars
    I don’t think I’ve ever had salmon paired with pasta in a dish like this but this recipe looks super tasty and flavorful. Can’t wait to try making this one!

    Reply
    1. Eva April 17, 2021 at 21:32

      Hi Moop! Hope it won’t disappoint!

      Reply
  11. Veronika Sykorova April 15, 2021 at 17:23

    5 stars
    This pasta looks amazing! I can’t wait to try it tonight, I just bought some salmon so I’m happy I came across your recipe!

    Reply
    1. Eva April 17, 2021 at 21:33

      Perfect timing Veronika! Enjoy!

      Reply

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