Pasta alla Vodka with Sausage and Broccoli is a family favorite that can be as plant-based or as meaty as you want it. Here’s how to make this customizable weeknight pasta pleaser, based on your family’s preferences.
With the sky-high price of eggs and meat, it’s no wonder many Americans are turning to more plant-focused diets this year. Plant-based meats are more ubiquitous than ever, and with forward-looking brands like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, you can enjoy your favorite meals with more health- and environmentally-conscious ingredients.
Most plant-based meats compare their products to traditional meat with figures like “87% less water” and “96% less land” usage (Impossible Foods). And if you’re looking to lower your saturated fat and cholesterol intake, eating a more plant-based diet is one way to help.
But more importantly, Pasta alla Vodka with Sausage and Broccoli is just delicious! You can make it vegan by using a plant-based meat, coconut milk, and vegan parmesan, or go the traditional route with pork/turkey/chicken sausage, heavy cream, and Parmigiano Reggiano. If you have a skeptical child, this is a great vehicle for making plant-based swaps, because you’ve got carbs and cheese to cover up any suspicion.
Start by heating some olive oil in a dutch oven (or nonstick is great here, too). Saute some shallots and garlic until they become translucent. Then add in some crumbled sausage (if using plant-based sausage, keep it chilled until it’s time to cook — meat substitutes hold their shape better when chilled). Add sausage, and brown it. Plant-based meats can be very sticky, but don’t worry, some fond on the bottom of the pan is actually desirable (as long as it doesn’t burn).
After it is sufficiently browned, add in the usual suspects for vodka sauce: red pepper flakes, and a whole tube/can of tomato paste. Let the tomato paste turn from red to a brick/rust color, then pour in the vodka to deglaze the pan. Once the vodka has almost entirely cooked out, add heavy cream or a can of full-fat coconut milk.
Reduce heat, and let the sauce thicken. You’ll know it’s ready for pasta when you draw your spoon through it and it leaves a trail. It should be thicker than you think, so you can toss the pasta and sauce with some of the starchy pasta water to create a glossy, silky smooth texture.
While the sauce-making is happening, roast broccoli florets in a 400ºF oven. When your pasta is finished cooking, reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Add pasta to the pan with the sauce, and start with a 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Stir, stir, stir until it becomes glossy. Add your vegan parmesan cheese (or regular). Stir, stir, stir. Fold in your broccoli, sprinkle with some parsley or basil, and serve it up!
This is a great way to incorporate a plant-based meal into your normal dinner routine. Buon appetito!
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Sausage & Broccoli Pasta in Vodka Sauce
1 pound vegan sausage (like Beyond Sausage) or pork Italian sausage, removed from casings
2 small shallots, minced (equal to about ⅓ cup)
4 cloves garlic, minced or grated
½-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, depending on desired spice level
4-6 ounces tomato paste (either an entire tube or small can)
¼ cup vodka
1 (13.5oz) can of coconut milk or 2 cups heavy cream
1 pound short pasta
1 large head broccoli cut into 1” bite-sized florets
⅓ cup grated vegan parmesan or parmigiano reggiano cheese, plus for more serving
¼ cup torn basil leaves or chopped parsley, for serving
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
In a large pot, bring salted water to boil over medium-high heat. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Cut broccoli into 1” florets and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread evenly onto a sheet pan, and roast in the oven for 10-12 minutes, until broccoli is crisp tender and browned at the edges. Set aside.
In a dutch oven, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add minced shallots, garlic, and red pepper flakes to taste. Cook until the shallots become translucent.
Add sausage, and cook, breaking it up into small pieces, until it has turned brown, about 8-10 minutes (If using pork sausage, cook until no pink remains, and outside has caramelized).
Move the sausage-vegetable mixture to the side of the pan and add tomato paste. Cook tomato paste by itself, stirring constantly, until it caramelizes and turns a brick/rust color, then incorporate the paste into the sausage mixture.
Add the vodka and stir vigorously to scrape up any fond that has accumulated on the bottom of the pan. Once the vodka has almost completely cooked away, add coconut milk (or heavy cream) and stir until the sauce turns a pale coral color. Continue cooking over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens enough to leave a trail when you pull your spoon through it. Turn off heat, but keep sauce warm until the pasta is finished cooking.
Drop pasta into boiling, salted water and cook according to the minimum time listed on the package. Before draining pasta, remove 1 cup of starchy cooking water.
Add pasta directly to the pan with sauce, and stir to incorporate. Add ½ cup of pasta water and continue stirring until sauce loosens and becomes glossy (keep the rest of the pasta cooking water on hand in case it needs more later). Stir in grated parmesan and broccoli. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper if needed. Serve immediately topped with additional parmesan, basil or parsley, and a drizzle of olive oil for garnish.
Since vegan sausage releases less fat while cooking, you may need to add more olive oil to brown it. I’ve found it also requires more stirring than animal-based products. If you use coconut milk instead of heavy cream, keep stirring frequently to avoid separation. I prefer the broccoli cooked separately from the pasta. In my opinion, when the broccoli is boiled in the pasta cooking water, everything takes on the broccoli flavor. However, doing so means fewer dishes and not heating the oven, so it’s up to you!