Rejoice Italian food lovers! This creamy Dairy Free Penne Alla Vodka is as comforting as the classic, but thanks to two tricks, the vodka sauce is vegan.
Decadent Penne Alla Vodka is a true pleasure, but its high calorie count puts it on our special indulgence list.
If you follow a vegan diet or eat dairy-free, it’s on the no-no list, since most vodka sauces are made with heavy cream or half-and-half.
Thanks to two tricks, this sneaky penne is entirely dairy free, and if you decide to skip the chicken, it’s (gasp!) vegan too!
Making a Dairy Free (Vegan) Penne Alla Vodka Sauce
This easy dairy free vodka sauce uses three secret ingredients to make the sauce vegan, without losing its creaminess.
- Almond Milk. Almond milk has long been my go-to ingredient to give sweet and savory recipes (like this Healthy Chicken Pot Pie and Creamy Polenta with Zucchini and Tomatoes) richness without adding excess calories. It is creamy and its mild flavor does not distract from the recipe.
- Ground Almonds. Blending up the almonds with almond milk creates a “cream” that, once stirred into the vodka sauce, is a dead-ringer for the Italian classic. Plus, almonds are a wonderful source of fiber and protein!
- Parmesan or Nutritional Yeast. While optional, I love adding cheesy flavor to my penne vodka. If you don’t need the dish to be dairy free, you can add a bit of Parmesan. We opted for nutritional yeast, which is loaded with nutrients and has a similar “cheesy” taste to Parmesan. (See all my recipes using nutritional yeast here.)
- Soak the almonds then blend with the almond milk to create the vegan “cream.”
- Brown the chicken (omit or swap with Crispy Tofu to make vegan).
- Saute the onions and garlic. Pour in the vodka (very carefully), and deglaze the pot. Add the tomatoes, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Simmer for about 10 minutes, then stir in the almonds. Add the pasta (and chicken or tofu) to the sauce, top with nutritional yeast and herbs. ENJOY!
Dairy Free Penne Vodka Storage Tips
- To Store. Refrigerate leftover pasta for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
- To Reheat. Rewarm on the stove or in the microwave, with a splash of almond milk, oatmilk, or water to keep the pasta from drying out.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you’re able, I highly suggest trying this recipe with the vodka, as there is not a true substitute. My suggestion (which I have not yet tried) is to replace the vodka with water or almond milk, plus a squeeze of lemon juice.
Try replacing the nuts and almond milk with full-fat coconut milk. Start with a half cup, then add more as needed (note that making penne alla vodka with coconut milk would be an experiment, as I have only tested the recipe as written).
The vegan vodka sauce is gluten free. To make the entire pasta gluten free, use your favorite gluten free pasta noodles in place of the whole wheat noodles.
Dairy Free Penne Alla Vodka
- 3/4 cup raw almonds, soaked in water for at least 4 hours or up to 10 hours if you have a high-powered blended such as a Vitamix, you can skip the soak
- 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts optional, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt divided
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup vodka
- 1 large yellow onion diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 28- ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 pound whole wheat penne or similar whole wheat pasta
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- Thinly sliced fresh basil or chopped fresh parsley
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drain the almonds, then place them in a blender with the almond milk. Puree until smooth, thick, and creamy. Depending upon your blender, this may take several minutes and you may need to stop and scrape down the blender a few times. The mixture will be the consistency of a paste and will have brown flecks of almond skin in it. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a very large, deep skillet or Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium high heat. Once hot, add the chicken. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper. Sauté until lightly browned on all sides and cooked through, about 4 to 6 minutes. Remove to a plate and set aside. Make sure you have the vodka measured and on hand.
- To the same pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Let warm up, then add the onion and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook until the onion begins to soften, about 3 to 4 minutes, then add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds, being careful not to burn it.
- Carefully add the vodka (be especially careful if your stove has an open flame). Scrape to deglaze the pan, then let the vodka cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Bring this sauce to a steady simmer, then reduce the heat to a low simmer over medium low, adjusting the heat as needed so that the sauce simmers gently (you want it to continue to reduce but not bubble aggressively). Let simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the blended almond mixture until the sauce is smooth and the almond mixture is well incorporated (the sauce will turn a light, creamy red color). Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
- While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta in the boiling water to al dente, according to package instructions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid, then drain the pasta and immediately add it to the sauce. Toss to coat the pasta, then stir in the chicken, adding a bit of the pasta cooking liquid to loosen the sauce as needed. Stir in the nutritional yeast. Serve hot, sprinkled with basil or parsley.
- TO STORE: Keep leftover dairy free penne all vodka in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- TO REHEAT: Gently rewarm leftovers in a Dutch oven on the stovetop over medium-low heat, splashing in broth, almond milk, or water as needed to loosen the sauce. Or, reheat this recipe in the microwave.
- TO FREEZE: Freeze in an airtight freezer-safe storage container in for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
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