This is a vegan Pasta alla Vecchia Bettola—a plant-based version of the classic recipe from Nick & Toni’s restaurant in the Hamptons, New York. It’s pasta alla vodka with a rich, deeply flavorful, roasted tomato sauce, and it’s lightened up with some silky (and dairy-free!) cashew cream.

A luxurious, creamy dish of vegan pasta alla vodka rests on a linen cloth against a white surface.

This recipe is delicious, and it has absolutely nothing to do with me.

It’s a vegan spin on Pasta alla Vecchia Bettola, a Florentine recipe has found its way to many places around the world. One of those places is Nick & Toni’s restaurant in East Hampton. Pasta alla Vecchia Bettola has been on the Nick & Toni’s menu for twenty plus years.

Ina Garten has created popularized this recipe with a version of her own. Her version has a lot of adoring fans, me included. When I saw it in the Food52 Genius column in 2016, I knew I wanted to try making a vegan Pasta alla Vecchia Bettola.

As it turns out, doing that was about as easy as swapping regular heavy cream for cashew cream and my cashew parmesan or walnut herb parmesan in place of regular parm.

What is Pasta alla Vecchia Bettola?

The name of this dish translates to “old tavern pasta.” It’s appropriate, I guess, since the recipe is so cozy and homey.

Pasta alla Vecchia Bettola is made with a creamy roasted tomato vodka sauce. Slow roasting the tomatoes is what gives the recipe its intensity of flavor. Cream—in this case, cashew cream—is what helps to keep it just light enough.

The cooking time for the vegan Pasta alla Vecchia Bettola is considerable because of the roasting time required. But it’s inactive work, and it’s so, so worth it.

A close up image of a pasta dish with a rich, creamy tomato sauce and crushed red pepper flakes on top.

Veganizing Pasta alla Vecchia Bettola

It’s pretty hard to improve on an Ina Garten recipe, and I wouldn’t try. My version of her version of the Nick & Toni dish is as faithful as can be. The only big difference I make, aside from the cashew cream, is that I reduce the oil in the recipe by half.

I also use a little less salt. Ina uses Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, which is my go-to for home cooking. You can substitute fine sea salt, but then you’ll want to use about half of the salt listed, because fine sea salt has greater salinity than Diamond Crystal Kosher.

I’m sure that there are a lot of other ways to modify the Pasta alla Vecchia Bettola. You use chopped or diced tomatoes, instead of whole peeled. You could use fresh tomatoes in place of canned. I think you could successfully omit the oil, though the sauce might lose some of its flavor and richness.

But when I’m veganizing a recipe that’s just about perfect, I tend to leave it alone. And that’s what I’ve done here.

Can I leave out the vodka?

Yes, you can! The vodka acts to intensify and enhance the flavor of the sauce. It can also help to emulsify it. But the sauce is still legitimately wonderful without the vodka. If you would prefer to leave it out, just omit the ingredient in step 1, reducing the sauce without it.

Can I substitute the vodka?

If you don’t have vodka at home, but you do have some white wine, you can use it as a 1:1 replacement in the vegan Pasta alla Vecchia Bettola recipe. Otherwise, skip the vodka and proceed with the recipe. It’ll still taste great!

What’s a good substitute for the cashew cream?

Full disclosure, I’ve never tried this recipe with anything other than cashew cream. But one “hack” I’ve used in creamy vegan sauces before is to blend up vegan cream cheese and water. I’m sure that would work well in the Pasta alla Vecchia Bettola.

Additionally, I think that plain cashew or almond yogurt would work well in the recipe. So would a plain/unsweetened vegan creamer of choice.

Honestly, though? For creamy sauces, I tend to find that cashews can’t be beat. I like to make my cashew cream in big batches and freeze it in glass jars (always with some space at the top, since frozen liquids expand!) for 4-6 weeks at a time. I’m never sorry when I realize that I can pop some out of the freezer at a moment’s notice.

Can the sauce be made ahead?

If you like, you can prepare the sauce in advance and store it for up to four days in the fridge. To serve the Pasta alla Vecchia Bettola, boil your pasta. Add the pre-made, stored sauce to the drained pasta with fresh oregano as instructed in step four. 

The pasta sauce can be frozen for up to 1 month.

Storing vegan Pasta alla Vecchia Bettola

The leftovers of this pasta dish keep nicely for up to three days in an airtight container in the fridge. And yes, they can be frozen! I’ve frozen my leftovers for up to six weeks at a time. This is a pasta recipe that I like best when it’s freshly made, but I always polish off the leftovers happily.

More creamy pasta meals

Creamy, saucy pasta is one of my favorite things. (It’s right up there with cake.) If this recipe speaks to you, then here are a few other favorite creamy, cozy, carby meal options to explore!

A round, white dish holds a creamy vegan pasta alla vecchia bettola, or pasta alla vodka. A fork is resting in the dish.
A luxurious, creamy dish of vegan pasta alla vodka rests on a linen cloth against a white surface.
4.84 from 6 votes

Vegan Pasta alla Vecchia Bettola (Pasta alla Vodka)

Author – Gena Hamshaw
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours
Yields: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 small or 1 large onion, chopped (2 1/2 cups after preparation)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or grated on a microplane
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (more to taste)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 56 ounces whole, peeled plum tomatoes with their juices (2 28-ounce cans)
  • 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt (substitute 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (more to taste)
  • 1 lb rigatoni, penne, or another medium pasta shape (use gluten-free or whole grain flour if you prefer)
  • 1 cup cashew cream
  • 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, divided
  • 6 tablespoons cashew parmesan cheese (for serving)

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 375F. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, deep, ovenproof sauté pan that has a tight-fitting lid (you can substitute a Dutch oven). Add the onions and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the red pepper flakes and dried oregano and cook for 1 more minute. Add the vodka and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, until the mixture is reduced by half.
  • Drain the tomatoes through a sieve and crush them into the pan with your hands or using a handheld potato masher. Add the salt and black pepper. Cover the pan with its lid and place it in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente. Drain and return to the pot.
  • Place the tomato mixture and the cashew cream into a blender and purée in batches until the sauce is completely smooth and creamy. (Careful while you blend, since hot liquids like to splatter.) Add most of the sauce to the pot with the cooked pasta, along with one tablespoon of the fresh oregano. Heat the pasta and sauce over low heat for about 5-8 minutes, or until the pasta has absorbed the sauce and thickened up. Add the remaining sauce as needed; I usually end up using all of it, but I add most of it at the beginning and the rest as I heat and stir.
  • Divide the pasta onto plates and top each with a sprinkle of fresh oregano and a tablespoon of your vegan parmesan. Enjoy!

Notes

 
 
A white bowl, which is resting on a light gray linen against a white surface, has been filled with a creamy plant-based pasta alla vodka.

I hope you’ll love Ina’s veganized classic as much as I do. It hits the spot every time.

xo

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Recipe Rating




    8 Comments
  1. 5 stars
    I’ve made this recipe a few times, and it is a hit! This time I used my abundant fresh tomatoes from the garden, and put the sauce over gnocchi. It was delicious!

  2. Incredible recipe. I agree, it helps to make things in advance. I did the cashew cream and roasted the tomato blend on a Sunday night then threw in all together and blended for dinner the next day. I also froze half and that came out amazing as well. Will definitely make this again!

  3. Hi Gena, I usually don’t cook with alcohol — do you think I could use vegetable broth instead of the vodka (or possibly the white wine you suggested), or would I completely miss the spirit of the dish (no pun intended!)?

    • You absolutely can, OR you can just skip adding the alcohol. The flavor is slightly different, but I’ve tried both versions, and I’d say they’re both very tasty 🙂 Spirit of the dish or not!

  4. 5 stars
    I just made this sauce this morning, planning to serve it tonight. A couple of comments for anyone who is planning to try it – read the whole recipe, including the recipe for cashew cream. PLAN AHEAD. I generally have cashew cream on hand but didn’t this week, so I made it a few days ago in order to have it ready for today. Consider making it early in the day and setting it aside til serving time (or make it a day or so early) – it reduces the number of pots, pans, dishes, steps, etc. you’ll be dealing with at serving time. Plan to add more liquid (I used water) and/or cashew cream and to have to tamp, scrape, and smoosh it down in the blender when pureeing the sauce. It was REALLY thick. Ultimately, however, the sauce tastes DELICIOUS and rich and creamy.
    Can’t wait to serve it tonight on imported Italian casarecce (short twists of pasta https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casarecce) – we only buy imported Italian pasta made with 1 ingredient (semolina durum wheat) and nothing else.