Fusilli with Dairy-Free Vodka Sauce & Seasoned Breadcrumbs

With the wide range of gluten-free pastas available today, this dairy-free version of the classic can easily feed all those family dietary requirements in one quick dish!

My teenage grandson loves creamy pastas with a vodka tomato sauce. At lunch recently, he ordered just that at one of our favorite restaurants, but the dish was so rich he couldn’t even begin to eat half of it. In fact, he brought it home and got two more meals out of it. Since he should be avoiding dairy to begin with, I promised I would make him a dish that satisfied that food craving, but wouldn’t set off his dairy alarm bells.

Two easy substitutions

I needed to replace both the heavy cream and the cheese on top for my new creation, and both were pretty easy steps. First, I substituted one of my favorite cream substitutes, canned coconut milk, and I used the light version so as not to impart a coconut flavor to the dish. It was still more than creamy enough.

To top it off, crunchy breadcrumbs! The Italians call this type of topping “pangrattato” or grated bread. I’ve often used toasted breadcrumbs on top of pasta dishes or casseroles where folks are expecting browned cheese, and it’s a pretty satisfying substitution. By adding a little nutritional yeast flakes, you get a hint of cheese flavor. I had at least one gluten-free diner to please as well, so I opted for a gluten-free pasta and crumbs.

Thumbs up from all

The dish was a hit with the grandson and a passel of his friends as well. It is simple, delicious, and a great week-night pasta plate. Nothing fancy, but mighty tasty.

Yes, you use vodka in this sauce, but you can omit it if you don’t have it on hand or can’t consume any alcohol at all. The vodka doesn’t add a ‘vodka flavor’ since it is mostly flavorless, but it does enhance the other flavors in the dish.


Fusilli with Vodka Sauce & Seasoned Crumbs

1 lb. brown rice or whole wheat fusilli

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, crushed

Pinch red pepper flakes

1/2 cup vodka, optional

28 ounce can crushed tomatoes or crushed up whole tomatoes

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn, plus a little more

1 cup lite coconut milk

Magic Crumb Topping, below

Put a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat and add the onion. Cook until the onion is soft and add the crushed garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir this for about a minute, then remove the pan from the heat and add the vodka and tomatoes. Return to the heat, and add the basil leaves.

Reduce the heat, and cook for 20 minutes or so so the alcohol will cook off. Add a few more basil leaves toward the end of the cooking time.

In the meantime, salt the water and drop in the pasta, stirring occasionally. Follow the package directions for length of time once the water is back to the boil.

Once the pasta is cooked, reserve a cup of the water and drain; you might or might not need this. Add the pasta to the sauce, stir well, then fold in the coconut milk. Add a little of the pasta water if you want to make it more creamy, just a few tablespoons at a time.

Turn out to a platter, sprinkle with some of the crumb topping (you won’t need it all, but it saves nicely), and tear a few more basil leaves to garnish.


Magic Crumb Topping

I call this a magic topping because I use it on tons of dishes and it makes every one of them better. This dried breadcrumb topping is good on just about any type of pasta, casserole, fish or tofu, bean dishes (think cassoulet), or even roasted vegetables! You can make it with wheat, or gluten-free crumbs, and it’s dairy free, so almost everyone can indulge. The nutritional yeast adds a slightly cheesy flavor to the crumbs, but if you can’t have yeast, omit this.

I make my own breadcrumbs out of stale bread, but you can also use purchased dried  panko. Look for a brand with some texture, not too fine.

You can add any herb or spice you like depending on how it is going to be used. For this dish, I kept it simple, but I could have easily added a little dried oregano or ground fennel.

1 tbsp. vegan butter

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, smashed

1/2 tsp. sweet paprika

1/4 tsp. salt

Few grinds of pepper

1 cup whole wheat or gluten-free breadcrumbs

1 -2 tsp. nutritional yeast flakes

In a large skillet, heat the butter and olive oil with the garlic. Add the paprika, salt and pepper, and cook for a minute or so, then remove the garlic clove and add the breadcrumbs.

Keep the breadcrumbs moving as you toast them so they do not burn.

Once browned, dump into a bowl and add the nutritional yeast flakes, adding a little at a time to your own taste. Mix it up, and you are ready to top!

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12 Comments Add yours

  1. Love the addition of vodka and red pepper flakes. 🍃🌶

    1. Thanks! Boosts the simple flavors.

  2. How smart of you to make this traditional dish gluten and dairy free! And not heavy with fat and calories, sounds perfect!

    1. Necessity is the mother! With the food restrictions in my family and friends network, I have to pull a lot of rabbits out of hats!

  3. Ally Bean says:

    I never would have thought to use coconut milk in this, but I can see how it’d work. What are nutritional yeast flakes? I’m unfamiliar with them.

    1. You can find it at most health food stores and co-ops and some supermarkets. It is a deactivated yeast product that has a cheesy flavor and is quite nutritious, loaded with B vitamins, fiber, and protein. It is one of my favorite little additions to vegetarian recipes.

      1. Ally Bean says:

        Huh. Will look for it. Thx.

  4. martigrois says:

    Wow, what a recipe! I can’t wait to cook this… I love pasta recipes

    1. You will be happy! Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Yummm this looks so good! And that’s so cool you’re a member of Slow Food.

    1. It’s a great organization! Thanks for stopping by!

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