Why Traditional Vodka Sauce Isn't Vegetarian-Friendly

The average person likely knows that, say, a bolognese sauce has meat in it and is clearly not vegetarian-friendly. But, what the average person may not know is that vodka sauce is also not always meat-free.

Oftentimes, vodka sauce actually contains pancetta or bacon. If used, the process of making traditional vodka sauce begins with pancetta being cooked with onions or shallots and crushed red pepper before the other ingredients — such as the more well-known ingredients of tomatoes, cream, and vodka — are added. And if pieces of pancetta are not used, it's fairly common for pork fat to be integrated into the sauce.

While it's likely that it will be explicitly noted if a particular vodka sauce contains pork, it's best not to assume. If you go out to a restaurant and want to order a pasta dish with vodka sauce, check in with your server to find out for certain. Luckily, most store-bought pasta sauces won't contain any meat, so you should be safe (although it doesn't hurt to double-check to make sure there was no pork fat incorporated into the recipe).

Making your own vegetarian (or vegan) vodka sauce is easy

Of course, the best way to ensure that your vodka sauce is 100% vegetarian-friendly is to make it yourself at home. Tasting Table has a recipe for a Classic Penne Alla Vodka, featuring a homemade vegetarian sauce. To make this meat-free sauce, all you need is onion, garlic, vodka, butter, heavy cream, and canned crushed tomatoes, as well as salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste. The cooking process is simple: Sauté the garlic and diced onion with frequent stirring over medium-high heat, for about five minutes; lower heat to medium, and add the tomatoes and vodka, stirring for about three minutes. Next, reduce heat to low and stir in the heavy cream, as well as the salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Finally, stir in the butter, then cover and simmer for about five minutes.

You could even take this recipe one step further: From vegetarian to vegan. In order to make it vegan, all we have to do is find a substitute for the butter and heavy cream. Luckily, there are plenty of vegan butter out there, such as plant-based butter from brands like Flora or Miyoko's. As for substituting the heavy cream, you can opt for coconut cream or mix two-thirds of a cup of your favorite non-dairy milk with one-third of a cup of oil for a homemade alternative. Whether you opt for the vegetarian or vegan option, you can rest easy knowing it's meat-free.