Get ready for the best gluten-free penne alla vodka - with fresh gluten-free pasta, and a creamy tomato sauce that will have you drooling for more!
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If you've never had gluten-free penne alla vodka, it's a divine dish that screams comfort food. Are there jarred versions of vodka sauce you can buy at the grocery store? Yes. Should you buy them? Absolutely not!
You and I both know that homemade always tastes better. Plus, this one comes together so quickly, it won't take you much time at all. And it is one of the easiest sauces to make! While you could have your favorite gluten-free pasta with turkey bolognese, or perhaps even pesto, there's something special about vodka sauce.
Ingredients You Will Need
-Yellow Onion: This helps form the basis and flavor of our sauce.
-Garlic Cloves: Yesss, garlic of course! I use 4 regular cloves, minced.
-Extra Virgin Olive Oil: To sauté the onions and garlic together.
-Salt & Pepper: This is to taste in the recipe, no pressure here! You can always add it at the end if you aren't sure.
-Double-concentrated tomato paste: To give the deep tomato flavor of vodka sauce, and to provide thickness. I use Cento or Mutti, and find it in the grocery store in the tomato sauce/canned tomato section.
-Pure distilled vodka (make sure it's gluten-free) or 4 Tablespoons of water mixed with juice of ½ lemon. I use Tito's vodka, which is labeled gluten-free.
-Unsweetened coconut milk: Many recipes call for heavy cream, but since I have some lactose intolerance due to IBS-D, I use unsweetened coconut milk. It thickens the sauce beautifully and without the tummy ache later.
-Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving: The real deal here folks. No bagged or pre-shredded kind! Get a block of Parmesan Reggiano cheese in the specialty cheese section of the grocery store and grate it yourself. Trust me.
-1 lb. gluten-free pasta of your choice: I usually cook Jovial or Barilla gluten-free penne. You can really use whatever shape you like!
-Red Pepper Flakes, optional (for heat): I'm not a big fan of these, but my husband Dylan loves adding red pepper flakes to this gluten-free penne alla vodka. If you like heat and spice, this is for you. Otherwise, just leave them out!
Fresh parsley and extra parmesan cheese, for garnish: To make it fancy!
How To Make This Vodka Sauce
To make this vodka sauce, you saute onions and garlic in some olive oil using a heavy duty pot or a thick-bottomed pan. Then you add double concentrated tomato paste and cook that down and add the salt & pepper. The vodka gets added next to deglaze the pan, and after the mixture simmers, you stir in the coconut milk (to thicken) along with fresh parmesan cheese. Finally, you add some of the gluten-free starchy pasta water to thicken the sauce along with more parmesan or fresh parsley for garnish with the cooked pasta. Throw on some red pepper flakes if you like a little heat, some more parmesan, and fresh parsley to garnish, and it's done!
Modifications & Development Of This Recipe
I've adapted the vodka sauce from Bon Appetit and want to share a few things I changed. First, I minced the garlic, rather than leave the cloves whole. I don't know about you, but I'm not a fan of eating an entire garlic clove, and prefer it minced.
Second, I omit the red pepper flakes, unless you prefer that heat in your pasta sauce. It adds quite the zing and spice! I would suggest starting with ⅛ of a teaspoon of red pepper flakes and go from there. Another option (my preferred method!) is to leave them out completely, and use the red pepper flakes as a garnish once the dish is complete, so you can control the spiciness.
Can I Make Penne Alla Vodka This Dairy-Free?
Yes, you can. But be aware of two things:
The dairy in this gluten-free penne alla vodka can be a lot to digest, especially if you are lactose-intolerant (like myself). I use coconut milk or my favorite, So Delicious Coconut Creamer for heavy cream to reduce the dairy intake. I promise you won't taste the coconut flavor at all.
The other dairy component in this dish is fresh parmesan cheese, as it adds a lot to the dish in terms of flavor. Parmesan cheese, like cheddar cheese, are both aged cheeses, which contain lower amounts of lactose than fresh cheeses. These are some of the easier cheeses to digest if you are sensitive to lactose. If you are dairy-free, I would leave it out or substitute your favorite dairy-free parmesan.
Can I Puree the Sauce Smooth?
Yes, you can! Just do it BEFORE you add the coconut milk, or it might curdle/separate. I've made this mistake before, and it's a pain. So if you want your vodka sauce to be smooth, just transfer to a blender or food processor after you've deglazed the pan with the vodka. Then, add it back to your pan, stir in your coconut milk, and continue with the recipe as follows.
Is Vodka Gluten-Free?
Yes, pure, distilled vodka is usually gluten-free (always double-check the label). I use Tito's. Here's some helpful information from Beyond Celiac about vodka being gluten-free and what to look out for. If you don't have any vodka handy, you can substitute water with a squeeze of half of a lemon too! I've used this substitute when we didn't have any vodka on hand, and it still tasted great.
Try Making This Gluten-Free Vodka Sauce With Fresh Pasta!
Finally, to make this dish a real winner, use fresh gluten-free pasta. I tried some from Charlie's Table and it really made the dish even more scrumptious.
I was gifted a four packages of Charlie's Table fresh gluten-free pasta. They cook in less than five minutes and taste fantastic. Charlie's Table's fresh pasta is certified gluten-free and produced in a dedicated gluten-free facility. Plus they are also dairy-free, kosher, peanut-free, and soy-free! To try Charlie's Table fresh gluten-free pasta yourself, click here to view all of the shapes they offer. You can find rigatoni, tagliatelle, gemelli, and more. I really loved how soft they were, how quickly they cooked, and with sauce over them, tasted like I was at an Italian restaurant having fresh pasta.
Of course, you can use dried gluten-free pasta for this dish as well, but the fresh pasta kicks it up a notch. Both versions will taste delicious, no matter what pasta you use. The sauce is the star here! If you are looking for gluten-free pasta brand recommendations, check out this post where I compare the most popular ones on the market today.
Tips For Making Gluten-Free Penne Alla Vodka
Keep the Pasta Water. Don't drain your past! Add about ½ cup of the starchy gluten-free pasta water to thicken your vodka sauce, and then using a slotted spoon, transfer your noodles into the vodka sauce for a creamy, dreamy dinner.
Grate your parmesan cheese by hand, and use the real stuff. You'll want it to say "Parmeggiano Regiano" on the side in big letters. Pre-grated cheese have anti-caking agents that can make the cheese not melt as nicely. You want the real deal for this recipe - trust me. Don't use the sprinkle cheese, as Dylan calls it (the canned powdered parmesan) or pre-shredded parmesan. You want good quality parm here for the best results! You can usually find a block of it available in the deli area of your supermarket. It will be more expensive, but it will last you a while, and the taste and quality are fantastic.
How to Serve Gluten-Free Penne Alla Vodka
Definitely serve this dish with more fresh parmesan cheese on top! It's downright mouthwatering. Like all of my pasta dishes and how we usually enjoy pasta at home, I serve it with a side salad (maybe with some homemade salad dressing) and if I'm craving it, gluten-free garlic bread. Yum!
Looking for more gluten-free pasta dishes?
You can't go wrong with spaghetti and meatballs. It's a classic!
This gluten-free spaghetti carbonara is comfort food in a bowl. Bacon and cheese and pasta? Yes.
Do you have a ton of cherry tomatoes to use up? Try it in this burst cherry tomato spaghetti.
Love pesto but don't have any basil? Try this spinach version, which goes perfectly over penne or rotini!
Try gluten-free pad thai, with rice noodles and flavors right from Thailand.
Here's the full recipe for gluten-free penne alla vodka!
If you love this recipe, please leave a review! Thank you so much!
Gluten-Free Penne Alla Vodka Recipe
- 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- salt & pepper, to taste
- 1 4.5-oz. tube double-concentrated tomato paste
- 4 Tablespoons pure distilled vodka (make sure it's gluten-free) or 4 Tablespoons of water mixed with juice of ½ lemon
- ¾ cup unsweetned coconut milk
- 4 oz. freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving (don't buy the bagged kind!)
- 1 lb. gluten-free pasta of your choice (I use Jovial or Barilla)
- Optional: ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Fresh parsley and extra parmesan cheese, for garnish
First, prepare the sauce. Finely chop the onion and then mince the garlic. Set aside. Grate parmesan cheese using a box grater and also set aside.
In a large pot or large frying pan with a thick bottom heat the extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, until it is just starting to brown. Add the minced garlic and stir for 1-2 more minutes, but be careful to not let it burn. If the garlic seems to be browning, lower the heat as needed.
At this point, fill a medium-sized pot with water and season with salt. Bring to a boil while you continue cooking the sauce.
Add the entire tube of the concentrated tomato paste to the pan. Stir and mix well, allowing the tomato to coat the onions and garlic evenly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently until the sauce takes on a deep red color.
Add the vodka to deglaze the pan, stirring constantly, scraping up any bits on the bottom of the pot. Turn the heat to low.
(At this point, if you want your sauce to be smooth, turn off the heat and pour this tomato onion garlic mixture into a blender or food processor. Then return to the pan over low heat. Otherwise, just continue with the recipe as follows.)
Remove ¼ cup of the boiling water for your pasta with a heat-proof glass measuring cup - be careful! To the measuring cup, add heavy cream or coconut milk. This will help temper it and prevent it from breaking. Slowly, add this liquid mixture to the sauce, whisking constantly until incorporated. Turn off the burner and remove sauce from heat.
Cook gluten-free pasta according to package directions, but don't drain. With a large spoon or spider, transfer the cooked pasta and place it right into the sauce, stirring to combine, along with ½ cup of the cooking liquid. Finally, add in the grated parmesan and stir, until the sauce becomes smooth and glossy.
Garnish with additional parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes (if using), and parsley.
Gluten-Free Pasta: I like Jovial brown rice pasta or Barilla gluten-free pasta. Both work great in this recipe.
Make it Dairy-Free: Substitute your favorite dairy-free parmesan substitute to make this recipe gluten and dairy-free.
Nutrition InformationYield 4 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 563Total Fat 32gSaturated Fat 16gTrans Fat 1gUnsaturated Fat 13gCholesterol 75mgSodium 530mgCarbohydrates 45gFiber 3gSugar 4gProtein 17g
The nutrition information on each recipe card is provided as a courtesy and for your convenience. The data is calculated by Nutritionix. You are encouraged to make your own calculations based on your ingredients and preferred nutritional facts calculator. While I try to make sure they are accurate, I cannot guarantee the accuracy of these calculations.
Do you like vodka sauce?
Have you tried Charlie's Table pastas?
Tell me in the comments below!