Vegan Penne Vodka (and food’s role in my life)

By Taylor Dowd

Food has always been a huge part of my life. I’ve loved baking desserts ever since I was young. When I grew a bit older, I began to appreciate cooking too. The way food can bring people together has always fascinated me. The process of choosing ingredients, finding or creating a recipe and making a dish is one of my favorite ways to spend my time.

However, because food is not only essential to survival but also a huge social and cultural component, it can bring about personal challenges. Struggling with less-than-perfect food relationships or poor eating and health habits can be incredibly taxing, especially as a developing person. In the past several years, I’ve reconstructed the ways in which I view food and have found contentment in eating a (mostly) whole food, plant-based diet. No matter what your dietary preferences or restrictions entail, food has the power to do so much good. Finding options that nourish the mind and body, I’ve found, can be life-altering. Simply celebrating the experience of eating delicious food makes an everyday task so much more special.

Pasta is one of my favorite foods and Penne Vodka in particular is a dish I’ve loved for as long as I can remember. Because I don’t like cheese or eating dairy, I decided to test a vegan version that uses cashew cream as a substitute for heavy cream. Though the pasta’s taste has a slight variance to its non-vegan counterpart, it’s a simple and tasty option that provides leftovers for days!

Penne Vodka (recipe courtesy of Connoisseurus Veg)


Two boxes penne pasta

One cup raw cashews, soaked in water four to eight hours and drained

One cup water

Two tablespoons olive oil

One large onion, diced

Five garlic cloves, minced

One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes

One cup vodka

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

Black pepper to taste

Fresh basil or parsley, for serving


  1. Place the cashews and water into a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the pitcher or bowl as needed.

  2. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion. Sauté for about five minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and continue to sauté for another minute, until very fragrant.

  3. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes and vodka. Bring the mixture to a simmer and reduce the heat to-medium low. Continue simmering for about fifteen minutes, until the sauce thickens a bit and the alcohol has cooked off.

  4. In the meantime, boil water and cook pasta according to package instructions.

Stir the cashew mixture into sauce and bring it back to a simmer, just for a minute, until heated throughout. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.

  1. Serve over penne and garnish with fresh basil or parsley.


  1. This recipe makes quite a bit of pasta. Be prepared for leftovers or feel free to halve the recipe.

  2. I find the sauce pairs well with regular or protein penne pasta, but I particularly enjoy it with lentil pasta.

  3. I run a knife through the diced tomatoes to ensure the pieces are not too large.

  4. To make a non-oil version, substitute the oil for water. As the onion and garlic cook and the water gets absorbed, add a couple more tablespoons at a time until onions soften.

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