Simple, straightforward, no-fuss, and it also happens to taste pretty darn spectacular. Just some of the reasons we love this vegan riff on the creamy, satiating, perennially popular vodka pasta.–Angie Zoobkoff

A white serving bowl and smaller white bowl partially filled with rigatoni with vegan vodka sauce and a glass of water on the side.

Rigatoni with Vegan Vodka Sauce

5 / 4 votes
This rigatoni with vegan vodka sauce has all the lusciousness of its dairy-laden cousin by incorporating a cashew purée that lends creaminess and body to the tomato sauce. Sorry, Elsie the Cow. (That’s the name of Borden brand’s iconic cow for those of you young whippersnappers.)
David Leite
Servings4 servings
Calories622 kcal
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Total Time30 minutes


  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more for garnish
  • One (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, with their juices
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup vodka*
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Finely chopped or ripped fresh basil leaves (optional)


  • Set a large pot of heavily salted water over high heat and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente according to the package directions. Drain the pasta, return it to the pot, and place it off the heat.
  • Meanwhile, in a large, deep-sided skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil. When it shimmers, add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Carefully stir in the tomatoes and their juices, salt, and as much or as little brown sugar as personal preference dictates. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Add the vodka and continue to simmer for about 5 minutes.
  • Toss the cashews and water in a blender and process on high speed until very smooth, about 2 minutes. Carefully add the tomato mixture to the blender and blend again until smooth.
  • Pour the sauce into the pot with the pasta and toss to coat. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Top each serving with a pinch of red pepper flakes and, if desired, a scattering of basil. (The sauce can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.) Originally published September 14, 2018. 


*Does vodka sauce really need vodka?

More than just an indulgent leftover from the late 70s, adding vodka to a creamy tomato sauce does, in fact, make a difference. Altering the flavor in a subtle yet pleasing way, vodka adds a touch of heat and a sharp bite that can balance out the sweetness of the tomatoes and cream. It isn’t absolutely necessary but you’ll find that your sauce won’t be quite the same without it. 
Chloe Flavor Cookbook

Adapted From

Chloe Flavor

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Serving: 1 portionCalories: 622 kcalCarbohydrates: 93 gProtein: 18 gFat: 16 gSaturated Fat: 3 gSodium: 1177 mgFiber: 4 gSugar: 7 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2018 Chloe Coscarelli. Photo © 2018 Christina Holmes. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

I’m not vegan but I enjoy trying recipes that incorporate a healthy twist like the cashew cream in this pasta dish. My kids loved it and none of us missed the heavy cream. And skipping the heavy cream made me feel less guilty when I went back for a second helping!

To make it even more healthy I’m going to try harder to track down whole wheat rigatoni next time I make it. To save time and the hassle of adding all of the sauce into the blender for a final puree, I plan on using crushed tomatoes next time as well.

This spicy vegan vodka rigatoni is absolutely fabulous, a delicious addition to any sauce repertoire. Elegant was the term my husband thought best described it. My family and I enjoyed this twice in the test week and found it to be as good 3 days later.

I feel that the cashews really add a depth of flavor. Add to that the ease of this recipe and that all ingredients were in my pantry. A quick and delicious winner.

This vegan vodka rigatoni is a wonderful, quick, no-fuss weeknight meal. The preparation is simple and straightforward, allowing you to cook the pasta while sautéing/pureeing the sauce ingredients.

When prepared as written, the finished result is delightfully creamy with a kick that made my spice-phobic friend feel, and I quote, daring while eating it (with no next-day heartburn!).

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    It was my first time making a vodka sauce and not only was it so simple to put together the flavour was absolutely delicious! It was the perfect amount of spice and I think using cashews instead of cream is brilliant, it’s the perfect way to thicken a soup and allow the flavours to shine through. I hosted a 5 course vegan Italian themed dinner and this was the favourite dish of the night!

    1. Thank you, Aryn! We are so pleased this turned out so well and that it was a favorite. Sounds like a delightful evening.

  2. I have a question about “vodka” sauces – are they legit? It has no flavor, and I assume it is being cooked off. Don’t get me wrong: I have eaten plates of penne w vodka sauce. It isn’t like cooking with wine though. Am wondering if it is just some scam from Gourmet mag c. 1990.

    1. Rachel, it’s not a scam nor a ploy by vodka companies to sell more booze. J. Kenji López-Alt, author of The Food Bab, writes: “Vodka does alter the flavor of the sauce in a pleasing way. It adds a touch of heat and a bit of a sharp bite that help balance out the sweetness of the tomatoes and the cream. Is it absolutely necessary? No, but vodka sauce just wouldn’t be, well, vodka sauce without it.”