Ina Garten is a true icon. Her unabashedly decadent approach to classic dishes is such a welcome contrast to most of the recipes in the plant-based world that eliminate oil, gluten, and seemingly all things yummy. This is my take on her Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola, originally by Joseph Realmuto. I’ve been making this vegan penne alla vodka (along with other Ina recipes) for years—it’s such a crowd pleaser!
This recipe takes a while to come together, but most of the time is hands-off while the delicious sauce stews in the oven. If you’re having people over, it’s best to plan ahead. You can always bake + blend the sauce in advance and keep it at a very low simmer on the stove until you’re ready to cook off the pasta and serve it up.
This is particularly easy to veganize since you’re already busting out your high-speed blender to blend the delicious tomato sauce.
Vegan Penne Alla Vodka Recipe Ingredients
Here’s what you’ll need to make this recipe:
- Penne pasta – While penne is classic in this dish, rigatoni, farfalle, or other short pastas would work well, too.
- Garlic and onions – Once sautéed, these turn sweet and savory and form the flavor base of the sauce.
- Fresh oregano – For a fresh yet earthy, pungent layer of flavor that cuts through the decadence.
- Crushed red pepper – It lends the signature spice.
- Vodka – It is in the name, right?
- Whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes – These break up easily but retain their delicious tomato flavor that forms the bulk of the sauce.
- Raw, unsalted cashews – Rather than adding heavy cream, simply throw a handful of whole raw cashews into the blender and watch the sauce turn silky and creamy.
How to Make This Vegan Penne Alla Vodka
First things first, grab a dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed, oven-safe pot. Sauté down the onions and garlic in plenty of olive oil. Once softened, throw in the oregano and red pepper flakes. Then it’s vodka time! Make sure to stand back to avoid flames. Lastly, you’ll add the tomatoes and ample salt and pepper, and bake for 1 1/2 hours in a 375 degree oven.
Meanwhile, cook the penne pasta until al dente, according to package directions. Don’t forget to aggressively salt your pasta water! We want flavor throughout the whole dish, not just in the sauce.
To finish, blend the baked sauce in a high-speed blender (working in batches if needed), adding the cashews for creaminess. Return to the pot and add the pasta and cook for a final 1–2 minutes to bind everything together, adding a splash of pasta water to loosen the sauce if needed. Serve!
Have something green, bright, and acidic on deck to fill out the table and ensure a balanced spread. This pasta is so dreamy and decadent that a leafy salad or lemony broccoli on the side will be a welcome addition. It’s also delicious served with my simple caprese salad.
In the rare event of leftovers, this pasta reheats well the next day. Add a splash of water to loosen up the sauce.
More Favorite Plant-Based Pastas
If you love this vegan penne alla vodka recipe, try one of these plant-based pastas next:
Vegan Penne Alla Vodka
- Dutch oven
- High-speed blender
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 yellow onions diced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano plus more for garnishing
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes plus more if desired
- 1 cup vodka
- 2 28-oz cans whole peeled san marzano tomatoes
- sea salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 lb penne
- 1/4 cup raw unsalted cashews
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup grated vegan parmesan (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Heat the oil in a large dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes until they begin to turn translucent. Add the garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute, being careful not to burn the garlic.
- Carefully add the vodka, standing back to avoid flames, and simmer for 5–7 minutes, until the mixture is reduced by half.
- Add the tomatoes, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place it in the oven to bake for 1 1/2 hours.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions, until al dente. Drain, reserving about a cup of pasta water, and set aside.
- Pour the tomato mixture, cashews and water into a high-speed blender and blend until completely smooth and creamy. Be sure to vent the top with a towel to let the pressure out—the mixture will be very hot. Return the blended mixture to the dutch oven.
- Add the fresh oregano, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper and simmer, partially covered, for 10 minutes. Add the pasta to the sauce and cook for 2 minutes so that everything comes together nicely. Add a bit of reserved pasta water if you like a thinner sauce.
- Off heat, stir in 1/2 cup of the vegan parmesan cheese (if using) and serve sprinkled with extra herbs and parmesan.