I used to wonder why cooks took the extra step of adding vodka to a tomato sauce. Was it worth all the fuss? As it turns out, the answer is yes. Taste vodka sauce next to any other tomato sauce and you’ll immediately notice that vodka sauce is more complex and flavorful. I made this savory sauce vegan-friendly by swapping out Parmesan cheese for a couple tablespoons (10 g) of nutritional yeast and traditional heavy cream for coconut milk. Don’t worry, as the coconut milk cooks alongside the acidic tomato paste, the coconut flavor mellows out, leaving just a hint of sweetness.
Penne alla Vodka [Vegan]
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup (160 g) yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon (9 g) minced garlic (See Recipe Note)
- 5 oz (142 g) tomato paste
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) vodka
- 5 oz (148 ml) full-fat, unsweetened coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons (10 g) nutritional yeast
- 1 lb (454 g) penne pasta
- Fresh basil, torn (optional)
- Add the olive oil to a large, deep-sided skillet. Turn the burner on to medium and heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and salt and reduce the heat to medium-low. Sauté the onion until it becomes golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to sauté for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and increase the heat to medium. Sauté the tomato paste until it becomes dark red, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Remove the sauce from the heat and add the vodka, coconut milk and nutritional yeast. Stir until combined and return the pan to the burner. Bring to a simmer and allow the vodka to cook off, about 30 minutes.
- Cook the pasta in accordance with the package directions. Reserve 1 cup (240 ml) of pasta water. It can be used to thin the vodka sauce if necessary. If the sauce becomes too thick, add the pasta water 1⁄4 cup (60 ml) at a time.
- Add the cooked pasta directly into the finished sauce and stir to coat. Season with fresh basil, if desired.
Two large cloves of garlic are about equal to 1 tablespoon (9 g) of minced garlic.