If you’ve ever dined at an Italian restaurant in the United States, you’re probably familiar with penne alla vodka. The funny thing is that vodka sauce isn’t even traditionally Italian. At least, not in the way that pasta carbonara and cacio e pepe are. I did some research about this creamy, tomato-y pasta dish and everyone seems hesitant to commit to the same story about where it comes from.
Some people say vodka sauce originated in Bologna, Italy and others claim a graduate at Columbia University invented it. The Williams Sonoma Essentials of Italian cookbook states that penne alla vodka was created by a vodka company that wanted to popularize its product in Italy in the 1980s. While its exact origins are unclear, many of us know the delicious flavor and creamy texture that characterizes this decadent dish. This recipe for Vegan Vodka Sauce with Penne is our take on tangy, sweet, dairy-free vodka sauce!
This vegan vodka sauce begins the way many great sauces do – with freshly chopped garlic and onion. I’ve developed a habit of using instant garlic from a jar over the years and I’m back in the fresh garlic game. Holy smokes, does it make a difference in the flavor of a dish. I think I’m done with shortcuts when it comes to garlic – but this is a zero judgement zone! If you’re all about using minced garlic from a jar, 1½ teaspoons should do it.
People always ask, “Can I make vodka sauce without vodka?” Of course you can! But then is it really vodka sauce? Vodka doesn’t actually add any flavor. All but a small trace of the alcohol cooks off. However, the tiny bit of alcohol that remains amplifies the flavors that already exist in the ingredients. How neat is that? Pour yourself a vodka soda with lime (optional, but recommended) and whip up this easy vegan pasta dish for dinner!Print
This Vegan Vodka Sauce with Penne is our take on tangy, sweet, dairy-free vodka sauce! It comes together quickly so you can get dinner on the table ASAP.
- 1 pound of penne pasta
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ yellow onion, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 pound of tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- ¼ cup vodka
- ¼ cup water
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- Few twists of black pepper
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- ½ teaspoon maple syrup
- ½ cup raw cashews
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the penne and cook until al dente. Drain and return the pasta to the pot.
- Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and onion and sauté until soft and fragrant, 5 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, vodka, water, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and maple syrup. Turn the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the vodka cooks off, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Carefully transfer the vegan vodka sauce to your blender and add the cashews. Blend until creamy and smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. This may take longer if you don’t have a high speed blender like a Vitamix or Blendtec. Taste the sauce and adjust the flavors to your liking (I added a pinch more salt).
- Pour the vegan vodka sauce over the cooked penne and toss to coat. Enjoy warm.