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This vegan spicy vodka pasta sauce is a healthy version of the classic Italian dish, penne alla vodka. This recipe is creamy and cozy, not to mention dairy-free and gluten-free.
If you've been anywhere on internet these past few months, you've probably heard about "Gigi Hadid's Vodka Sauce". This recipe from the famous model went absolutely viral and suddenly spicy vodka sauce was everywhere!
Authentic Italians know it as penne alla vodka, and I'm here today to share my dairy-free version of this popular dish!
Insert my gluten-free and vegan spicy vodka sauce! Call it vegan penne alla vodka, call it "livglutenfree's vodka sauce" recipe, or whatever your heart desires. Basically, it's a creamy and cozy comfort dish, without the cream! Blended cashews serve as the heavy cream replacement in this healthy version of the Italian classic.
Want to make this immediately? Me too. Keep reading to learn how!
One of the many great things about this delicious dish is that you probably have most of the ingredients already in your pantry. Here's what you'll need to make a creamy and comforting vegan spicy vodka sauce:
- Pasta of choice: Penne is a classic. The traditional dish is called penne alla vodka after all. Any gluten-free pasta will work, but a short and flat one like penne or rigatoni will be best.
- Raw, unsalted cashews: These will be the base for the "cream" sauce. A traditional recipe calls for heavy cream, but when cashews are soaked in boiling water for at least 30 minutes, and blended for 1-2 minutes, they become velvety and smooth. They are a perfect, flavourless substitution.
- Olive oil: Basically required for any Italian dish, olive oil is used to sauté the onion and garlic to begin.
- Onion: Diced very fine, onion gives its classic flavour and slight bite to the sauce.
- Garlic: Adds amazing flavour to the sauce.
- Tomato paste: This is the key! Tomato paste is a very concentrated tomato flavour that pairs excellently with the vodka and "cream" sauce. It is important to sauté the tomato paste for a few minutes before adding the rest of the sauce ingredients to cook out the raw flavour.
- Spices: Salt, pepper, and oregano lend seasoning to the sauce. But the most important spice is undoubtedly the red pepper flakes. I like a healthy ½ tsp to give a real kick to the sauce. Feel free to adjust the quantity to your liking, but I really like mine to be a spicy vodka sauce.
- Vodka: Upon doing some research on the origin of this dish, I wondered - why is there such a small amount of vodka if it is a key ingredient? I learned that the vodka does not actually impart much flavour to the dish - in fact you can't really taste it - but rather it acts as an emulsifier to bind the oil, tomato paste, and "cream" together. So you could skip it if you want, but I really recommend adding the vodka. Maybe pour yourself some too while you're at it.
- Nutritional yeast: This is one of the most important components to this vegan spicy vodka sauce. Since a traditional recipe would call for a heavy hand of parmesan, I felt that my vegan version was lacking a depth of flavour. I didn't really want to mandate use of a vegan parmesan, since I haven't found one I love and I figured most people may not have access to the same brands. Then I tried just adding just a small amount of nutritional yeast at the end of cooking the sauce and it made a world of difference! If you're used to vegan cooking then you definitely have nutritional yeast in your pantry. If you don't, I find it pretty easy to get at most stores. You could always try adding your favourite vegan parmesan to top, or adding in real parmesan cheese if you are just lactose intolerant (aged cheeses have very low levels of lactose).
- Fresh parsley: I love both the look and taste of a vibrant green parsley on top of my pasta dishes. Highly recommend!
How to make vegan spicy vodka pasta sauce
The great thing about this homemade pasta sauce is how quickly it comes together! Just 15 minutes of hands-on time and you have a healthy and delicious meal.
It's best to prepare the cashews at least 30 minutes before you plan to start cooking. Add to a bowl with boiling water and set aside to soak.
When ready to begin cooking, make the cashew cream so it is out of the way. Drain the cashews and add to a high-powered blender with fresh water. Blend for 1-2 minutes until smooth and creamy. Set aside.
When ready to cook, boil the water for the gluten-free pasta. Add salt to the water with the pasta and cook according to the package instructions. The sauce can be made while the pasta cooks.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the diced onion and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and spices to the skillet. Cook for 2-3 minutes to release the aromas from the spices and cook out the raw tomato flavour. Add the vodka and let evaporate for 1 minute.
Next, add in the cashew cream and nutritional yeast. Stir so that everything is combined and drop the heat to medium-low.
Reserve ½ cup of pasta water. Drain the pasta and add to the sauce skillet with the pasta water. Stir to evenly coat everything and let the pasta cook in the sauce for 1 minute. Serves 2 good-sized bowls. Garnish with fresh parsley and more red pepper flakes. Enjoy!
This vegan spicy vodka sauce is sure to impress vegans and non-vegans alike! A gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan recipe – anyone you serve will be able to enjoy this healthy and delicious pasta dish!
Have you made this vegan spicy vodka sauce? Be sure to leave a comment telling me how much you loved it, and tag me on instagram @liv.glutenfree! I hope you enjoy as much as I do!
Looking for more gluten-free & dairy-free pasta recipes? Check these out!
Vegan Spicy Vodka Sauce
- ¼ cup raw, unsalted cashews
- ¼ cup water
- ½ pound gluten-free pasta penne is traditional
- 1.5 tbsp olive oil
- ½ onion diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- ¼ tsp each: salt, pepper, dried oregano
- 1 oz vodka
- ¼ tsp nutritional yeast
- fresh parsley to garnish
- Before cooking, soak the cashews in boiling water. Let sit for at least 30 minutes.
- When ready to cook, drain the cashews and blend with ¼ cup fresh water. Blend for 1-2 minutes until smooth and creamy. Set aside.
- Boil water, add some salt, and cook the pasta according to package instructions. The sauce should come together in the time the pasta cooks.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the diced onion and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
- Add in the tomato paste and spices. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the vodka and let it evaporate for 1 minute, then add the cashew cream and nutritional yeast.
- Turn the heat to medium low. Reserve ½ cup of pasta water then drain. Add the pasta and pasta water to the sauce skillet and stir to incorporate. Let the pasta cook in the sauce for 1 minute.
- Serve and garnish with fresh parsley and more red pepper flakes. Enjoy!