This recipe is delicious for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with me. It’s a vegan spin on Pasta alla Vecchia Bettola, a Florentine recipe that’s been brought to many places around the world, including and especially Nick & Toni’s restaurant in East Hampton, where it’s been on the menu for twenty plus years.
I know this, because Ina Garten has created her own version of it, inspired by the Nick & Toni’s entree, and that 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 a vegan version, and doing that was about as easy as swapping regular heavy cream for cashew cream and my walnut herb parmesan or hempesan in place of regular parm.
It’s pretty hard to improve on an Ina Garten recipe, and my version of her version of the Nick & Toni version of Pasta alla Vecchia Bettola 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 less salt, though I’ve tried and liked the amount of kosher salt called for. Ina uses Diamond Crystal kosher salt, which is my go-to for home cooking, too; you can substitute fine sea salt, but then you’ll want to use less salt than I list, because it’s more concentrated.
Part of what makes the recipe special is that the tomatoes in the vodka sauce are slow roasted, rather than cooked over the stove. This makes the sauce more concentrated in flavor than it would be otherwise, and it also means that a lot of the cooking time for the recipe is inactive. Yes, you have to wait an hour and a half for it to finish roasting, but you can do what you need to do at home during that time, and once the tomatoes and onions roast, finishing the sauce is as easy as popping it into a blender with the cashew cream.
There are, I’m sure, a lot of other ways that you could modify this recipe. You probably could get away with chopped or diced tomatoes, instead of whole, and I’m reasonably sure you could reduce the vodka, or maybe try white wine instead.
But honestly, when I’m veganizing or recreating the recipe of someone who really knows food—let alone a recipe like this, which has been passed down through the kitchens of many chefs who are a lot more experienced than I am—I tend to leave it alone. And that’s what I’ve done here. The recipe has been serving me well for years, and I’m happy to finally be getting it on the blog!
Vegan Pasta alla Vecchia Bettola
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 smallish white or yellow onions, chopped, or 1 large (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
- 2 28-ounce cans whole, peeled plum tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt <u><strong>or</strong></u> 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (more to taste)
- 1 lb rigatoni, penne, or another short pasta shape
- 1 cup cashew cream
- 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, divided
- 6 tablespoons vegan parmesan, for serving
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!
Recipe can be halved.
If you like, you can prepare the sauce in advance and store it for up to four days in the fridge. To serve, boil your pasta and add the sauce to the drained pasta with fresh oregano as instructed in step four.
Pasta sauce can be frozen for up to 1 month.
This recipe is always a hit with friends, and I love making it when I have people over. When I do that, I usually prepare the sauce ahead of time and store it in the fridge for a couple days. When I’m ready to make dinner, all I have to do is boil my pasta and then add the sauce to the pasta pot with the fresh oregano, heat, and serve.
The sauce makes quite a lot (at least six cups), and you may have more than you need for your pasta. Don’t worry about it: the sauce will keep in the fridge for up to 4 days, and it can also be frozen for a month or so.
I haven’t tried the recipe with anything other than cashew cream. I’m guessing plain cashew or almond yogurt would work well (or heavy cream if you’re not vegan). But 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.
I hope you’ll love Ina’s (veganized) classic as much as I do. It’s a good time of year for a cozy pasta supper, right?