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Penne alla Vodka [GF, DF, SF]

dinner gluten free recipes vegan Jan 07, 2019

A Nod to My Sister's Penne alla Vodka Recipe

My sister has one of THE BEST Penne alla Vodka recipes around. It's a 'lick the bowl clean' kind of awesome. And a dish so good, I never dared to order it at a restaurant because it always paled in comparison. That creamy pink sauce of hers is...was....divine!

These days, however, I'm kickin it dairy free. But that doesn't mean I still can't enjoy Penne alla Vodka. I love taking old recipes and recreating them with a new twist. 

And to be honest, this recipe wasn't that hard to recreate. The sauce contains minimal ingredients - it's a mixture of tomatoes, heavy cream, red pepper flakes and of course, vodka. 

So the only thing I needed to make a swap for was the dairy. Seems easy enough!

And since I've cut dairy out of my kitchen for quite some time now, I've learned a thing or two about the awesome alternatives. There's plenty of options! You've got cashews - which work like a charm but don't always work for people with a nut allergy. Cauliflower, which is really great in soups but a little thick for what I was going for. And coconut milk, but can add a different taste.

I opted to try the cashews - since they never let me down.  

Could I Recreate My Sister's Magic?

In the kitchen I went to try to recreate the magic. I really wanted it to taste and look just like hers - creamy, spicy and with that same beautiful pinkish hue. I soaked my cashews for 2 hours ahead of time so they were nice and plump. You could also boil them for 10-15 minutes if you forget to soak. And then made the red sauce base. When it came to add the cream, I blended up the cashews and poured in the goodness.

And guess what? It tasted and looked just. like. hers. And the best part, I only needed to make one swap - cashews for heavy cream. That was it!  

But What About the Pasta, You Ask?

Oh that's another easy swap. For all my pasta recipes (like my Cacio e Pepe), I use brown rice pasta from Jovial. For me there is no other, Jovial Foods for the win, always. If you prefer you can use a grain free pasta made of legumes but I really enjoy the taste and texture of the brown rice. 

Penne Alla Vodka

Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free
Author: Jessica Yeager
Inspired by: My sister ❤️
Serves: 2-4


  • 1 box brown rice penne pasta, Jovial
  • 2 16oz jars crushed tomatoes, Jovial
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • ¼-½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ tsp salt
  •  ¼ tsp black pepper
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
  • ⅛ tsp white pepper
  • Drizzle EVOO
  • 1 cup cashews, presoaked for 2 hours
  • ¼ - ½ cup vodka

Get the Goods

**Be sure to presoak your cashews 2 hours before cooking. 

  1. In a large pot, add the crushed tomatoes, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, bay leaf, fresh basil, white pepper and olive oil
  2. Simmer on medium heat to bring flavors together
  3. Remove one cup of sauce. Pour into a high speed blender, to be used shortly
  4. Add the vodka to the sauce in the pot and let it simmer for at least 30 minutes
  5. Meanwhile, rinse your cashews and add them to the blender (with the sauce)
  6. Blend on high until smooth and creamy
  7. Begin making your pasta
  8. Once the sauce has simmered long enough to burn off some of the alcohol (about 20 minutes, do a taste test to see), you can add the cashew cream from the blender. I usually add this at the end of cooking and then let it everything simmer just a few more minutes
  9. Again, do a taste test of your sauce and season to your liking
  10. Pour over your penne and garnish with more basil if desired
  11. Serve with gluten free sourdough bread from Bread Srsly
  12. Eat well to live well! Buon appetito!


  • Forgot to soak cashews: no problem, boil for 10-15 minutes
  • Make it spicy: use the full amount of red pepper flakes (½ tsp)
  • Make it sweet: I don't like my sauce sweet, but if you do, add a natural sweetener like maple syrup, honey or coconut sugar to get the job done
  • Gluten free bread: I serve it with sourdough bread from Bread Srsly
  • Making ahead for a party? Bring your sauce in a separate container and pour over pasta right before serving

DO TELL...Have you ever used cashews to replace dairy in a dish before?!

This recipe was created by Jessica Yeager, CNE  <–click the link and come hang out on FB with me!

Or tag me on the gram with #jessicayeagercne if you make this recipe! I LOVE seeing your creations <3 

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