This easy vegan vodka sauce pasta (penne alla vodka) is the perfect weeknight dinner. It's bursting with flavor and made with simple pantry ingredients. Tastes just like the real deal—you won't guess it's dairy-free and vegan! (Gluten Free option)
Quick soak cashews: Add cashews and boiling water to a small heatproof bowl. Let soak (for at least 10 minutes) while you cook (see note 4).
Boil water for pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
Start sauce: Meanwhile, warm olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions, cook until golden around the edges, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, until it's dark red and sticking to the bottom of the pot, 8 to 10 minutes. (If the tomato paste sticks as soon as you add it, reduce the heat slightly and continue cooking until the olive oil turns red).
Cook pasta: Meanwhile, cook pasta until al dente, according to package instructions. Scoop out 2 cups of the pasta water and set aside, then drain noodles.
Finish sauce: Pour vodka over the tomato paste mixture. Cook until the liquid evaporates, about 1 minute, while scraping up anything stuck to the bottom of the pot. Transfer mixture to a high-speed blender, along with cashews AND soaking water. Blend until completely smooth and creamy.
Combine: Pour the sauce back into the pot. Add salt and ¾ cup of the reserved pasta water. Warm over medium-low heat until bubbling, then add noodles and parmesan. Toss to coat. Add small splashes of more pasta water until noodles are coated in a luscious sauce. Taste and season with more salt if needed. Garnish with more parmesan and serve.
Tomato Paste: Choose double-concentrated tomato paste if you can find it. It has been cooked down more, to create a more intense flavor. Double-concentrated tomato paste is often found in tubes (rather than cans).
Pasta: Instead of penne, you could use a different noodle such as rigatoni or rotini. Choose gluten-free pasta, if needed.
Vegan Parmesan: Choose your favorite store-bought meltable vegan parmesan. We recommend a finely grated parmesan (like the ones sold in shaker containers) so that it melds into the sauce.
If you don't have a high-speed blender: A high speed blender can typically pulverize cashews quite easily—even unsoaked ones! This recipe calls for a quick soak in boiling water for at least 10 minutes to make them soft so they blend very easily. If you don't have a high-speed blender, soak the cashews for at least 30 minutes. And if for some reason you notice any small pieces of cashew after blending, strain the sauce before adding it back to the pot.