Prep: Drain the tomatoes over a small bowl or measuring cup, reserving the sauce. Use your hands to crush the tomatoes into the small bowl, then set aside. You can also use a potato masher and mash the tomatoes directly in the bowl. Add the remaining sauce from the can to the same bowl with the tomatoes.
Aromatics: Warm the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes, until translucent and slightly golden. Add the garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and sauté for an additional minute, until the garlic is fragrant.
Deglaze: Deglaze the pan with vodka (Note: if cooking over gas, remove the pan from the flame and carefully pour in to prevent fire) and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the crushed tomatoes and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the pan and stir well. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.
Cook the Pasta: Bring the a large pot of salted water to a boil while the sauce simmers. Cook the penne until al dente according to the package directions. Drain, but do not rinse.
Blend: Transfer the tomato mixture to the blender along with the cashews and water. Blend on high for 60 seconds to form a smooth and silky sauce (See notes for a chunkier version). Return the blended sauce to the sauté pan and simmer for an additional 3 to 5 minutes. Turn the heat to low and stir in the extra tablespoon of butter for an extra creamy sauce.
Serve: Add the cooked pasta to the pan and toss until evenly coated. Serve warm, topped with vegan parmesan and fresh oregano, or as desired. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Tomatoes: A 28-ounce can of tomatoes makes about 3 cups of “sauce”; if you don’t want to crush your tomatoes by hand, you can also sub it with crushed tomatoes or 3 cups of your favorite marinara! This recipe would also work well with fresh tomatoes – just peel them first, and process in a food processor until chunky.
Vodka: This recipe is called vodka sauce for a reason, so it won’t be the same if you leave it out. If you don’t cook with alcohol, my best recommendation would be to use an alcohol-free vodka alternative, like Strykk or Clean Co. Cashews: you can soak your cashews in water overnight in the fridge, or cover with boiling water and let sit for at least 30 minutes before using. If you do not want to use cashews, 3/4 cup of coconut cream or a vegan creamer would be a great substitute! If you use either of these options, omit the extra 1/2 cup of water.
Cashews: soak cashews in water and stick in the fridge overnight, or soak them in very hot water for about 30-45 minutes before blending
Chunky Sauce: if you’d prefer to have some tomato and onion pieces in the sauce, (1) blend the cashews with the water alone in the blender and pour it in like cream for a super chunky sauce, or (2) blend the cashews and water with 1/2-3/4 of the sauce for a more subtle texture.