A dreamy, creamy Italian vodka sauce recipe that’s healthy and dairy-free! Easy Lightened Up Gluten-Free Penne alla Vodka that’s vegan, top 8 allergy-free, and perfect for a weeknight family dinner! Comfort food that won’t weigh you down so you can ask for seconds!
You may remember I was obsessed with my plans to make penne alla vodka once I turned 21 so I could go out and buy a bottle of vodka just to make this dish. Well, that was over a year ago and I never bought any vodka. I ended up just borrowing some from my brother because why wait when all I needed was 1/2 cup for this vodka sauce. This used to be one of my favorite Italian pasta dishes growing up (and giving me BIG tummy aches) so making a gluten-free and vegan version was more than a must! And let me tell you, this penne alla vodka was everything I dreamed it would be!
So what is “penne alla vodka” and why is it so good?
First, you have penne pasta, obviously, and any pasta dish is bound to be delicious! Now imagine a super creamy, cream-based tomato sauce with the fragrant, fruity aroma from the vodka. That distinct, slightly sweet taste forms because vodka is an “abundant source of ethyl alcohol that during cooking, can react chemically with acids in the food to form fragrant, fruity compounds called esters” (source). The unusual in Italian cooking, the specific mixture of the tomato + heavy cream + vodka allow the sauce to actually “work” even though, “the acidity of the tomatoes tends to make the oil in the cream separate” but, “the vodka serves as an emulsifier, allowing the water and lipids to remain mixed together,” creating that perfect creamy and iconic, aromatic, orange colored sauce!
Penne vodka was just one of those tried-and-true Italian dishes I would always order when we went out to an Italian restaurant, had a family gathering, weddings, those types of events. It was always a safe option for this pasta loving little girl. It was always a “special occasion” dish; we never had it at home (although that’s probably because my mom was not keen on cooking!) It’s also not a picture of health. From the heavy cream, parmesan cheese, some versions even include prosciutto or bacon! Not a light meal to say the least (but super delicious!)
How do you lighten penne alla vodka up?
Simple! It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3 and pretty close to impossible to mess up! Grab your gluten-free penne, cooked al dente. Saute a chopped shallot, garlic, pepper, and a splash of olive oil. Then add in the vodka, plain tomato sauce, coconut milk, and our obligatory nutritional yeast for that dairy-free cheesiness! Then just stir in the cooked pasta to the simmering sauce and voila! Penne alla vodka is one of the most simple, yet magically delicious pasta recipes to have ever been devised!
Hold on! Isn’t vodka flavorless? And what happens to the alcohol content?
Legitimate questions I know you’re wondering! Don’t worry, I’m not trying to get your family drunk either! Like I mentioned earlier, “undiluted alcohol overpowers natural flavors, but smaller traces (typically achieved by “burning off” the vodka) actually release new flavors. So it’s not that vodka adds flavor, it’s that it unlocks flavors already hidden in the tomato” (source). The alcohol content is mostly “burned off” through the slow simmering process of making the sauce. And as that article also point out, the minimal amount of alcohol that is left is distributed throughout the ENTIRE sauce and this recipe serves 6! As long as you simmer, you’ll be fine!
Easy Lightened Up Gluten-Free Penne alla Vodka
- 1 12oz Box Gluten-Free Penne Pasta
- Vodka Sauce:
- 1 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 Large Shallot (minced)
- 1 Tsp Minced Garlic
- ½ Tsp Black Pepper
- ½ Cup Gluten-Free Vodka (Smirnoff is great!)
- 1 15oz Can Plain Unsalted Tomato Sauce
- ½ Cup Lite Unsweetened Canned Coconut Milk
- ¼ Cup Nutritional Yeast
- Fresh Parsley (to top)
- Cook the penne, al dente, according to package directions, drain.
- In the meantime, in a large sauce pan, saute the olive oil, shallot, garlic, and pepper until fragrant.
- Now slowly pour in the vodka and allow it to simmer for 8-10 minutes before adding the tomato sauce, coconut milk, and nutritional yeast.
- Mix well and allow the sauce to continue to simmer for another 10 minutes.
- Fold in the cooked penne and serve with fresh parsley.
You can’t simmer your sauce too long. Just like a soup, a homemade sauce just gets better and better with time! So hands off, let it do it’s ‘thang! You’ll have a delicious and healthy gluten-free Italian pasta dinner in no time. Full of flavor, aroma, and family-approved way to have “alcohol”! And if for some reason you don’t want penne alla vodka, you could make some gluten-free PIZZA alla vodka? Swap that typical pizza sauce for VODKA sauce!
So tell me:
+ What’s your favorite Italian pasta sauce?
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