This classic and oh so easy American-Italian penne pasta recipe got a nip and a tuck with a lightened up ingredient that cuts the calorie count but keeps it creamy, making it a dish you’ll have no regrets from asking for seconds as a main meal or a tasty side dish.

Lighter Penne alla Vodka Recipe |

This post is brought to you by Almond Breeze

If you’re a first-timer to the world of this popular, creamy tomato sauced dish, just know you will not get drunk on it. You won’t even find a little buzz.

It seems like this is always the first question people wonder about this dish once they hear it’s name. But no, so if you’re looking for a boozy buzz, you’ll want to consume a killer dirty martini or three on the side because the alcohol is all cooked out, but the flavor it creates remains.

I call penne alla vodka the gateway tomato pasta sauce for those who aren’t big tomato fans. It’s definitely a converter. And here’s why.

Lighter Penne alla Vodka Recipe no cream |

This penne pasta dinner has a lot of things going for it.

First, the ingredient list is short and the ingredients are simple, and likely, you’ll have everything on hand—unless you finished off your bottle of vodka with those three dirty martinis.

Next, for non-tomato fans, this sauce is an easy one to like. It’s light and smooth and delicately coats the pasta. This is not a goopy, overbearing sauce that drowns your noodle bites, and it doesn’t have any big chunks of tomato to get the haters all up in their sad-face emoji mood.

What you’ll discover with this sauce is a unique flavor you won’t find with sauces that have, say, wine added to them. The vodka in this sauce flavors the onions for a sweetness, and a roundness in flavor you don’t get in other tomato sauces. In fact after it’s cooked, you likely won’t taste the vodka taste at all, but after having this dish a few times, it’s absolutely recognizable. It’s transformative.

Almond Breeze pasta ingredients |

On to that note about creaminess. This sauce is a creamy tomato sauce hybrid, but because I’m using Almond Breeze’s Original Almondmilk Cashewmilk Blend to provide the creaminess, we’ve cut the calorie count and fat percentage in a huge way.

Likely you’re familiar with almondmilk, I mean, I’ve been using it in recipes here on the blog for years. But did you know about cashewmilk? Cashews are used all the time in vegan cooking as a thickener, where they are typically soaked in water then whizzed in a blender or food processor. But thanks to Almond Breeze Almondmilk Cashewmilk Blend, all the work is done for us. That’s why I’m using it to create the creamy factor in this recipe.

A few more benefits of Almond Breeze’s cashewmilk are:

  • it’s made with real almonds and cashews grown in California
  • it’s only 25 calories per cup
  • it is a great source of vitamins D and E and each serving provides 45% of your daily recommended value
  • it has no sugar, no cholesterol, and no saturated fat

Pan of Lighter Penne alla Vodka Recipe made with Almondmilk |

Sautéeing the onions with the garlic in olive oil, nice and slow, imparts a sweetness that really punctuates this sauce.

Once the onions are softened, add in the vodka to cook through and flavor the onions even more.

Pan of Lighter Penne alla Vodka Recipe made with Almondmilk |

Next, add the crushed tomatoes. Using crushed tomatoes keeps the sauce light and tomato chunk-free, making even the pickiest tomato eaters happy. At this stage add a pinch or more of chile flakes for a little heat.

Lighter Penne alla Vodka Recipe made with Almondmilk |

Finally, the cashewmilk is added to the sauce, making it a lightened-up sauce that gently coats the penne noodles.

Lighter Penne alla Vodka Recipe made with Almondmilk |

See how we did that? Low-cal. Low-fat. Same delicious flavor. If you’re into upping the healthy-ish factor even more, use whole wheat pasta or gluten-free instead of regular semolina wheat penne. And of course, this dish does not require penne pasta. Use whatever you noodle you have a craving for.

And finally, for those of us who are always looking for easy dinner ideas, this whole, healthy shebang can be on the table in 30 minutes or less. That’s reason in itself to say, “cheers!”

Lighter Penne alla Vodka Recipe made with Almondmilk |

Bookmark this recipe and if you make it, please let me know! Leave a comment below or take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.

Lighter Penne alla Vodka Recipe
Serves: serves 4-6
  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, small diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • ¾ cup Unsweetened Original Almondmilk Cashewmilk Blend
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Parsley, chopped, for garnish
  1. Cook the penne pasta in salted water according to the package directions. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water and then drain the pasta.
  2. In a dutch oven or a large skillet with at least 3-inch high sides, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and the garlic and stir to coat. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally so the garlic doesn't burn, then set the temperature to low and season with kosher salt and the red pepper flakes. Cook until the onions are soft and lightly golden, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Bring the heat back up to medium, add the vodka and cook for another 4-5 minutes or until the vodka has reduced by half.
  4. Add the tomatoes, and cook for about 5 more minutes or until the sauce thickens. Stir in the Almondmilk Cashewmilk blend and cook for another 2-3 minutes, then season with more kosher salt and pepper to taste. Add the penne noodles and toss to coat. If the sauce seems too thick, add a bit of the reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve hot or at room temperature.


To see more of my recipes made with almond milk, check them out here, including recipes for:

Chicken Saté with Almond Butter Dipping Sauce

Dreamy Creamy Mango Pops

Superfood Salad with Lightened Up Poppyseed Dressing


This post is part of a partnered series with Blue Diamond Almond Breeze. As always, thank you for reading and supporting companies I partner with, which allows me to create more unique content and recipes for you. All opinions are always my own.  

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