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Set a large pot of heavily salted water over high heat and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente according to the package directions. Drain the pasta, return it to the pot, and place it off the heat.
Meanwhile, in a large, deep-sided skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil. When it shimmers, add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Carefully stir in the tomatoes and their juices, salt, and as much or as little brown sugar as personal preference dictates. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Add the vodka and continue to simmer for about 5 minutes.
Toss the cashews and water in a blender and process on high speed until very smooth, about 2 minutes. Carefully add the tomato mixture to the blender and blend again until smooth.
Pour the sauce into the pot with the pasta and toss to coat. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Top each serving with a pinch of red pepper flakes and, if desired, a scattering of basil. (The sauce can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)