Pasta with vodka sauce has been one of my favorite meals for as long as I can remember. Because of this, I have been researching and working on a comparable vegan penne alla vodka for years, and I finally did it.
My inspiration was the penne alla vodka you get as a first course at a venue for a wedding or fancy birthday party. Maybe that’s weirdly specific, but I have multiple memories of this particular dish, and I needed to recreate the decadence of that sauce without the heavy cream and cheese. The magic of cashew cream is no secret, and it’s what makes this creamy vegan pasta sauce possible. In fact, you can substitute cashew cream for heavy cream in just about any recipe that calls for it.
Vegan Penne alla Vodka Recipe:
- Smokey Tempeh Crumbles
- 1 8-oz package of tempeh, broken into crumbles
- 1/4 cup gluten-free tamari
- 1/4 cup + 1 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 ½ tsp smoked paprika
- 3 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp liquid smoke
- Vodka Sauce
- 2 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1/3 cup vodka
- 1 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 cup cashews, soaked in boiling water for 30 minutes, rinsed and drained
- 3/4 cup fresh water
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 12 oz penne pasta, cooked according to box instructions
- 1/4 cup reserved pasta water
- Garnish options: fresh basil, vegan parmesan, red pepper flakes
- To make the Smokey Tempeh Crumbles: Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium bowl, whisk together tamari, maple syrup, garlic, cumin, onion powder, smoked paprika, nutritional yeast, and liquid smoke. Toss in tempeh crumbles and let sit for 15-30 minutes. Pour tempeh mixture over a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Spread into an even layer. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Remove from oven, set aside.
- To make the Vegan Penne alla Vodka: Put the olive oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Once the oil heats up, add the onion and cook for 6-8 minutes, or until the onion starts to become translucent. Then add garlic and hot pepper flakes; stir to combine. Cook for one more minute, then pour in the vodka. Let the alcohol evaporate until it’s reduced to about half.
- Add the diced tomatoes, reduce the heat to low, and cook partially covered for 45 minutes. Stir frequently.
- While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Right before the water begins to boil, add a generous sprinkle of salt. Add the pasta when the water comes to a rolling boil. Cook according to the box’s directions, or until al dente. Drain and set aside in the same pot.
- To make the cashew cream: Blend the soaked cashews and fresh water together in a blender. It should be the same consistency as heavy cream. If the cashew cream is too thick, add more water 1 tbsp at a time.
- After 45 minutes of simmering, season the sauce with salt and pepper. Then add the cashew cream, bring the sauce up to medium heat, and let it cook uncovered for around 8 minutes. Add sauce to the blender in batches until it is all completely smooth.
- Add the pasta to the sauce and turn off the heat. Add 1/4 cup of pasta water if the sauce is too thick.
- To Serve: Top each plate of pasta with a serving of tempeh. Garnish with vegan parmesan basil leaves, and red pepper flakes when serving.