Vegan Vodka Sauce (Vegan Penne Alla Vodka)

Rich and creamy vegan penne alla vodka. An easy and delicious alternative to regular tomato sauce.

I’m from New York, and in New York, penne alla vodka is a staple dish that you can find at any Italian restaurant. Whether it’s a fancy sit-down restaurant or a low-key pizza joint, penne alla vodka is on the menu. (Though with that being said, I think I’ve eaten penne alla vodka as a pizza topping more times than I’ve actually ordered it as an entrée…because that’s a thing in New York.)

This vegan penne alla vodka hits all of the flavor notes of the original dish and even has that signature pinkish, orangish sauce. It’s become a staple in our house when we’re craving an easy, filling pasta dish. You gotta try it!

an overhead shot of vegan penne alla vodka, topped with fresh chopped basil

Ingredients for Vegan Penne alla Vodka

  • Pasta. Penne is the traditional pasta shape used in this dish, but you can use any shape you’d like with your vegan vodka sauce. Tube-shaped pasta (like rigatoni) works best because the sauce is able to get inside of the noodles.
  • Olive oil or vegan butter. For sautéing your aromatics. Either works just fine, though butter adds a little bit more richness to the dish.
  • Garlic and shallots. The aromatic base for your vegan penne alla vodka. Shallots are nice here because they’re a little bit sweeter and more mild than regular onions.
  • Tomato paste. This highly concentrated paste contributes all of the tomato flavor to this recipe.
  • Vodka. Yes, penne alla vodka actually has vodka in it. The alcohol helps emulsify the sauce and brings out flavor in the tomato that wouldn’t shine through without it.
  • Raw cashews. No heavy cream here! We’re going dairy-free and turning these into cashew cream to make a rich, creamy vegan vodka sauce.
  • Vegan parmesan cheese. What’s an Italian-American dish without some parmesan mixed in there?!
  • Salt.
  • Red pepper flakes (optional). Add these in for a little bit of heat, if that’s how you roll.

How to Make Vegan Vodka Sauce

Prepare the Cashew Cream

  1. Drain soaked cashews. Blend with 1 cup water until completely smooth. Set aside.

Vegan Vodka Sauce

  1. Cook pasta until al dente according to package directions. We like this dish saucy so we usually use 8 oz of pasta. If you don’t like it as saucy, feel free to use up to 1 lb. Reserve 1 cup of the starchy cooking water when the pasta is done.
  2. In the meantime, heat olive oil or vegan butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add red pepper flakes (if using) along with the diced onion and minced garlic. Sauté 3-5 minutes, until the onions are soft and translucent. We don’t want to brown them.
  3. Add in the tomato paste and stir to coat the onions and garlic. Keep cooking this mixture, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. We want to cook off the raw flavor of the tomato paste and slightly caramelize it. You’ll know it’s ready when it goes from a bright red color to a darker orange-red color.
  4. Deglaze the pan with the vodka. Stir to combine, and to scrape off any tomato paste that might have started to stick to the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes, allowing liquid to cook off until it has reduced by about half.
  5. Stir in the cashew cream and vegan parmesan. Reduce the heat to medium-low if the sauce is bubbling vigorously.
  6. Add in the al dente pasta along with 1/2 cup reserved pasta water and stir to coat. We will be finishing the cooking process for the pasta in the sauce, so keep cooking and stirring occasionally for another 2-3 minutes. The starch in the cooking water will thicken the sauce. If you feel it needs to be thinned out more, feel free to stir in additional pasta water a few tablespoons at a time, until you achieve the consistency you prefer.
  7. Season with salt to taste.
  8. Serve the pasta alla vodka with fresh chopped basil and, if you like, sprinkle on some extra vegan parmesan. Enjoy.

Eric’s Recipe Notes

  • Pasta water is gold. A lot of people don’t know what “pasta water” means and that’s okay! It’s just water that you scoop out of your boiling pasta and set aside. It’s loaded with starch from the pasta and when you add it into your vegan vodka sauce later on, it helps bind everything together and create a sauce that adheres to your noodles.
    • Scoop out more than you think you’ll need and adjust your sauce little by little until it’s the right consistency for you.
  • Salt your pasta water. Speaking of boiling your pasta, make sure to liberally add salt to your boiling water before you add your pasta. If this trick isn’t in your arsenal already, your pasta game is about to get leveled way up.
  • Be patient. You really want that tomato paste to be a dark, rusty red color. If you don’t cook it long enough, your sauce will be too tangy and acidic. So be patient and make sure you achieve that deep red color.

Serving Suggestions

We love to top our penne alla vodka with a little bit extra vegan parmesan cheese and some chopped fresh basil. That’s really all it needs!

If you’re looking for something to make with this dish, I’d complement it with a simple side salad or another dish that’s light and fresh.

Substitutions & Variations for Vegan Penne alla Vodka

  • Gluten-free. If you want a gluten-free version of this vegan penne alla vodka, all you have to do is sub in your favorite gluten-free pasta. Our favorites are Jovial and Tinkyada.
  • No cashews. We haven’t personally tested any alternatives, so please know that we can’t necessarily vouch for these alternatives. But here are a few possible substitutions you might consider:
    • A plant-based heavy cream substitute such as the Country Crock Plant Cream or the Silk Dairy Free Heavy Whipping Cream Alternative. Make sure to taste before cooking with it to ensure you like the flavor; in my opinion they don’t taste 100% accurate compared to regular dairy heavy cream.
    • Raw sunflower seeds, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes, then drained and blended with just enough water to cover. This will lend a nice creamy texture similar to the cashews, but it will also impact the flavor somewhat.
    • Canned full-fat coconut milk — Only if you don’t mind the flavor of coconut in savory dishes.

Storage & Reheating

Store your leftover vegan penne alla vodka in an airtight container for up to 3 days in the refrigerator. Reheat in the microwave.

If you don’t think you’re going to eat all of it night of, you can keep some vodka sauce separate and add it to some freshly cooked pasta the next day. Leftover and reheated pasta tends to get overcooked so if that bothers you, try storing it this way.

More Vegan Pasta Recipes

vegan vodka sauce

Vegan Vodka Sauce (Vegan Penne Alla Vodka)

Rich and creamy vegan penne alla vodka. An easy and delicious alternative to regular tomato sauce.
5 from 6 votes
Print Pin Rate
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Author: Eric Ames

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil or vegan butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes optional
  • 2-3 small shallots or 1 small white onion finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 4.5 oz tube tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 1 cup cashew cream recipe follows
  • 1/2 cup vegan parmesan shreds see notes
  • 8 oz dry pasta of choice or up to 1 lb, depending on how saucy you like it
  • 1 cup pasta water
  • salt to taste
  • fresh basil to garnish

Cashew Cream

  • 1/3 cup raw cashews soaked 4+ hours or boiled 10 minutes
  • 3/4 cup water

Instructions

Prepare the Cashew Cream

  • Drain soaked cashews. Blend with 1 cup water until completely smooth. Set aside.

Vegan Vodka Sauce

  • Cook pasta until al dente according to package directions. We like this dish saucy so we usually use 8 oz of pasta. If you don't like it as saucy, feel free to use up to 1 lb. Reserve 1 cup of the starchy cooking water when the pasta is done.
  • In the meantime, heat olive oil or vegan butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add red pepper flakes (if using) along with the diced onion and minced garlic. Sauté 3-5 minutes, until the onions are soft and translucent. We don’t want to brown them.
  • Add in the tomato paste and stir to coat the onions and garlic. Keep cooking this mixture, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. We want to cook off the raw flavor of the tomato paste and slightly caramelize it. You’ll know it’s ready when it goes from a bright red color to a darker orange-red color.
  • Deglaze the pan with the vodka. Stir to combine, and to scrape off any tomato paste that might have started to stick to the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes, allowing liquid to cook off until it has reduced by about half.
  • Stir in the cashew cream and vegan parmesan. Reduce the heat to medium-low if the sauce is bubbling vigorously.
  • Add in the al dente pasta along with 1/2 cup reserved pasta water and stir to coat. We will be finishing the cooking process for the pasta in the sauce, so keep cooking and stirring occasionally for another 2-3 minutes. The starch in the cooking water will thicken the sauce. If you feel it needs to be thinned out more, feel free to stir in additional pasta water a few tablespoons at a time, until you achieve the consistency you prefer.
  • Season with salt to taste.
  • Serve the pasta alla vodka with fresh chopped basil and, if you like, sprinkle on some extra vegan parmesan. Enjoy.

Video

Notes

No cashews: You can utilize blanched, slivered almonds to make an almond cream instead, but note it may not blend quite as smooth as the cashews and will have a slightly sweeter flavor. You can also try one of the following options, though please note it will impact the flavor of the sauce, so you will want to make sure you use a product whose flavor you enjoy on its own.
     -1 cup Silk Dairy Free Heavy Whipping Cream Alternative
     -1/2 cup coconut cream (scooped off the top of a refrigerated can of full-fat coconut milk) + 1/2 cup water
     -1/2 cup vegan sour cream + 1/2 cup water
Vegan parmesan: My favorite options available in the states are:
     -Follow Your Heart shreds, which come in a tub. It’s usually located with the tofu and other vegan specialty ingredients at grocery stores. I’m able to find it at my local Kroger, Whole Foods, and Sprouts.
     -Violife Parmesan, which comes in a wedge that you can grate yourself. Violife is easily found at Whole Foods and can also be found at some other grocery stores depending on location.
Recommended pasta shapes: Penne and rigatoni are two classic choices for this recipe. However, feel free to use any pasta you like. I tend to favor shapes such as radiatore, fusilli or rotini, because they have lots of grooves that hold onto the sauce.
Did you make this recipe?We’d love for you to leave a review on the website! You can also share a photo on IG and tag @sarahsvegankitchen_ or #sarahsvegankitchen.

3 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    My boyfriend and I are obsessed with this dish. Since we discovered it we’ve made it several times and it’s truly become one of our favorites. Every week we have to make it at least once. Thanks Sarah + Eric!

  2. Lacey Lucarini

    5 stars
    This was amazing!!! Newly vegan I miss so much of my favorites but my god this was delicious!!

  3. 5 stars
    I knew this recipe was going to be the real deal when I read “I’m from New York.” This recipe is EVERYTHING. Probably my favorite vegan recipe. Penne alla vodka was something I really missed going vegan, so this fills a void in my life I didn’t know was possible. The Follow Your Heart vegan parmesan is a MUST. There is no comparison. Also I’ve made this with white wine or sherry and results are delish. THANK YOU.

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