For a year, a little bottle of Skyy vodka from a conference sat in my cupboard, waiting for me to finally tackle a dairy-free vodka sauce. It’s a recipe that I’ve wanted to create for ages, but have hesitated as most dishes using alcohol are simply too pungent for my palate.
I finally took the plunge, and was rewarded with a rich, creamy, full-bodied sauce that is amazing with pasta (I use gluten-free noodles), fresh herbs, and nearly any protein.
This vodka sauce is also completely dairy-free, vegan, and made with delicious whole food ingredients.
For that extra something special, I roast the tomatoes (and optionally garlic) to bring out their robust flavor. It seemed only fitting since I’d be pairing them with such a bold beverage. That said, most of the alcohol does cook off the longer it simmers, and the flavor significantly mellows, resulting in a vodka sauce that is more creamy tomato than liquor-infused.
I also use a blend of cashews and cashew milk beverage for a truly rich and nutritious alternative to dairy cream that isn’t over the top heavy. Overall, it’s a comforting dish that’s easy to make any day, but with a touch of elegance and a beautiful pink hue (I used red and yellow heirloom tomatoes in the vodka sauce pictured below, so it has more of a creamy orange hue) that makes it perfect for Valentine’s Day, too!
Special Diet Notes & Options: Creamy Roasted Tomato Vodka Sauce with Penne
By ingredients, this recipe is dairy-free / non-dairy, egg-free, gluten-free, peanut-free, soy-free, vegan / plant-based, and vegetarian. Can be served over your favorite spiralized “noodles” for paleo.
Add-Ins: To make this even more of a meal, you can add cooked chicken, bacon or pancetta, shrimp, or your favorite vegan protein (vegetarian bacon, tofu, tempeh, etc.) to the dairy-free vodka sauce when you add the penne pasta.
No Vodka? Vodka sauce reportedly works well with dry white wine as an alternative. For alcohol-free, I think if you used the garlic and shallots, you could skip the alcohol altogether (you wouldn’t need to do the long simmer, but you may need to use less salt, if needed. It wouldn’t be vodka sauce anymore, but I’ve made tomato-cream sauces this way and they are mighty tasty.
I created this recipe for So Delicious Dairy Free, to highlight their amazing creamy yet light cashew milk beverage – it’s a new unsweeetened staple in my kitchen!
- 2 lbs cherry, grape or mini tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1¼ teaspoons salt, divided, plus additional to taste
- 1 to 2 garlic cloves, whole, unpeeled (optional)
- 1 shallots, thinly sliced or minced (optional)
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- ½ cup vodka (or two 50 mL mini bottles)
- ½ cup raw cashew pieces
- ¾ to 1 cup unsweetened cashew milk beverage (can sub unsweetened coconut milk beverage)
- 4 large basil leaves, minced
- 12 ounces dry penne (gluten-free, if needed)
- Preheat your oven to 375ºF.
- Place the tomatoes on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with 1 tablespoon oil and ¼ teaspoon salt. Place the garlic, if using, on the baking sheet. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the tomato skins have "popped" and are starting to brown in spots.
- Let the tomatoes cool 10 minutes, then add tomatoes with juices to a blender. Squeeze garlic pulp, if using, into the blender and add ½ teaspoon salt. Puree until smooth.
- Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add shallots, if using, and saute until tender, about 3 minutes. Add red pepper and continue to saute 30 seconds.
- Remove from heat, whisk in tomato puree and vodka. Return to the heat and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer 15 to 20 minutes.
- While the sauce simmers, grind the cashews in a spice grinder until powdered. Add the cashew flour, ¾ cup cashew milk beverage, and ½ teaspoon salt to your blender, and whiz until smooth and creamy. If desired, strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove any remaining nut bits.
- Cook pasta according to package directions.
- Whisk the cashew cream into the tomato sauce, and continue to simmer for a few minutes, or until thickened. Add more cashew milk beverage if the sauce thickens too much. Taste test, and sprinkle in more salt, to taste (we use another ¼ to ½ teaspoon)
- Stir penne into sauce. Serve topped with fresh basil.
Acidity - If the sauce tastes a bit too acidic (can depend on your tomatoes), add a dash of sugar or a pinch of baking soda.
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Hi Alisa, can the sauce be made ahead of time and kept in the fridge for a couple of days? I’m getting hungry just looking at this recipe. 🙂
Hi Licia, I’ve had it as leftovers and still quite good, so it should be okay. I wouldn’t make it more than a day ahead though to start, personally!
Can’t wait to try this – vodka sauce was one of my favorites prior to my lactose “thing.” A hint for the alcohol-free version – use a little white wine vinegar or rice vinegar to add the depth of flavor you would get from vodka or wine. Basically vinegar is alcohol that has been fermented with a bacteria – it no longer has any alcohol content, but it maintains some of the flavor profile of the original drink. The bitterness will also cook out.
Thanks for the tip Liz!
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This recipe is SO amazing. I’ve tried other recipes to get creamy sauces before and they’ve failed miserably. This one did not disappoint. In fact – you’d never know it wasn’t full fat, full dairy. Thank you for this – I’m going to tell everyone!!
Fantastic! So glad you enjoyed my recipe Lindsey!
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Alisa, this is art. For something dairy free, it looks so good and creamy!
Thanks Arman 🙂
Hi Alisa, thank you so much for sharing this recipe! I love eating pasta, but struggle with it because I want to drench it in cheese or alfredo sauce (despite my lactose intolerance). My boyfriend also struggles with all the pasta I want to cook us because it’s the same thing every week. This was not only delicious, but there was something about the texture and mixture of flavors that’s got me craving more. Thank goodness there were leftovers!
Awesome… So glad you enjoyed it so much! It’s a favorite around here, too 🙂 Thanks for giving your feedback!
I forgot to get cashews at the store and now snowed in. Can I use anything else in their place?
Hi Susan, see my coconut milk option in the post. You could also use another nut – macadamias would be the best, almonds should be good, though not as creamy, part pine nuts might also work nicely. Cashews are still my first choice, for flavor and creaminess, but some of these other options should still function nicely.
I am seriously in love with cashew cream as the creamiest dairy sub ever – I bet the cashew milk makes it that much more rich!
It does not add that special creamy touch!
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I love a cashew based pasta sauce, especially when paired with tomatoes – I think this might be dinner Friday night! 🙂
It should be 🙂 Hmm, Friday night – a perfect evening to celebrate the weekend with a little vodka or white wine, don’t you think?
I love the way you made the recipe look so easy, I will definitely give it a try.
Thanks for sharing.
That’s a gorgeous sauce! Nothing missing from that!
I can see that some people would want to strain the cashew cream for a smooth consistency, but I’d like extra texture and crunch as a contrast. However, to each their own!
I don’t strain and there is absolutely no crunch because the cashews are pre-ground! But it’s possible that a few tiny bits will remain.
I haven’t eaten vodka sauce in years because it seems too indulgent. What an awesome alternative!
I love vodka sauce.. will have to try cooking with cashews!
Such a beautiful dish! I love the creaminess. Will add chicken for a one dish meal.
Thank you! yes, it is delicious with chicken – enjoy! 🙂
This looks so so so yummy! How decadent and allergy-friendly!
Penne with vodka sauce is one of my favorite dishes. I’m so happy to have your dairy-free version. I think roasting the tomatoes is a brilliant way to add more flavor to winter tomatoes. Can’t wait to try this.
Thanks Dana! It’s one of my favorites now, too 🙂