I remember the first time I had pasta alla vodka: in an Italian restaurant in Los Angeles — La Cucina, I think. (I was traveling and eating on someone else’s dime, which is the best!) I don’t remember what seafood it had in it, but that sauce! It hooked me. All the happy flavors of marinara, plus the extra body that cream brings to the sauce, plus a subtle little tang from the cooked-down vodka. (No, it doesn’t taste alcoholic at all.) The entire rest of my trip, at every restaurant, I tried anything that sounded like that dish, never recreating that first wow! experience.
Genuine alla vodka sauce contains cream and vodka — both no-no’s if you’re eating Paleo, or any version of a dairy-free, alcohol-free diet. And then there’s the pasta. Non buono if you’re eating gluten-free! So although I loved this dish, and had made it at home before, I thought it was just something I could no longer enjoy except for the occasional splurge. ‘Cause I do believe in food freedom!
And I didn’t really set out to recreate that dish: I was just trying to throw together a quick meal for myself with what I had on hand. Which was some homemade marinara, shrimp (both in the freezer), and some zucchini. Hmm, I thought, I can make zoodles and top them with marinara and shrimp!
Then, as that was cooking on the stovetop, I thought how nice a little creaminess would be in that sauce. Then — aha! — I remembered I had some coconut yogurt in the fridge! I stirred a bit into the sauce and tasted it: the yogurt adds not just creaminess, but also that slight bit of tang you get from cooked-down vodka. And it brought back the memory of that first heavenly taste.
(Sure, you could try a different brand. I just haven’t tested any others, so I don’t know how they’d turn out. Or, if you’re not avoiding dairy, you could substitute some sour cream or full-fat plain Greek yogurt for the coconut yogurt.)
And this dish really goes together quickly. If your shrimp is already thawed and you have marinara on hand, you’ll be enjoying delicious, MOL (mmm out loud) food in less than 20 minutes!
I highly recommend using homemade marinara. It’s so simple, takes just 30 minutes, and tastes infinitely superior to store-bought. (Check out my homemade marinara recipe.) However, if you don’t have time, you can certainly use jarred marinara. Look for a sugar-free brand, if possible.
If you don’t like shrimp, you could substitute lobster or crab. Or chicken, if you must.
I’ve made a short video showing just how easy it is to make zoodles. Please note: I say that they only need to be cooked a minute or two. It will probably be longer than that, but it depends on the thickness of your noodles, the heat in your dish, and your desired texture. Just taste them every so often; you’ll learn what works for you.
If you don’t have a spiralizer or veggie noodle tool, you can use a vegetable peeler for fatter, irregular noodles. Or pick one up: they’re only about $15. You can get this one at Bed Bath & Beyond, or on Amazon. (Click the image below nets me a few cents via Amazon affiliate program. No additional cost to you!)
Not avoiding gluten or grains? Sure: use your favorite pasta. Cook it beforehand, and add it when you would add the zoodles. (Did you know that cooking pasta, cooling it in the fridge, then reheating it changes the starch? It reduces its impact on your blood sugar, and the resistant starch is “superfood for your digestive system.” Cool, huh?!)
Whether or not you’ve tried pasta alla vodka before, I think you’ll love this dish!
Paleo pasta alla vodka recipe
2 medium zucchini
10 oz. large raw shrimp (fresh or frozen, peeled and deveined, no tails)
salt and pepper
oil for cooking the shrimp (olive oil, coconut oil, or avocado oil)
1.5 cups marinara (homemade, if possible. here’s my recipe.)
1/4 cup CoYo brand coconut yogurt, plain flavor*
optional: a couple large leaves of fresh basil
*Note: if you’re not avoiding dairy, you may substitute full-fat plain Greek yogurt for the coconut yogurt, reducing amount to 3 tablespoons.
Prepare the zoodles and set aside. Thaw the shrimp. Pat them dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mince or julienne the basil, if using, and set aside.
Heat a medium-large saucepan over medium heat. Once it’s ready (a few drops of water splashed in the pan should sizzle a bit before evaporating), add a drizzle of oil and let it heat up a minute; then add the shrimp. Let the shrimp cook on one side until you see most of the tails starting to turn pink-white. Turn the shrimp over and cook until most of them are curled into a closed circle. You want them just barely or even a little under-done. They’ll continue to cook after you take them off the heat.
Remove the shrimp to a dish and keep warm. Add the marinara to the pan and heat through; add the yogurt and stir till well mixed.
Add the zoodles and stir to combine. Let them cook in the sauce until they’re done to your liking. Pull out a noodle to taste-test the texture. This should only take a few minutes.
When it’s all heated through and the zoodles are done to your taste, remove the mixture to a serving bowl or individual bowls or plates, and top with the shrimp and basil.