This classic and oh so easy American-Italian penne alla vodka 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 having seconds of as a main meal or a tasty side dish.
This post is brought to you by Almond Breeze
Healthier Penne Alla Vodka Recipe
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 its 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 of the homemade vodka sauce, 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.
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 homemade vodka 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.
On to that note about creaminess. This homemade vodka 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
What’s in Penne Alla Vodka?
Penne vodka pasta requires just a handful of ingredients, many of which are pantry staples at my house.
Here’s what you’ll need to make this creamy vodka sauce pasta:
- Penne pasta
- Olive oil
- Yellow onion
- Red pepper flakes
- Crushed tomatoes
- Unsweetened Original Almondmilk Cashewmilk Blend
- Fresh parsley
- Kosher salt and pepper
How to Make Penne Alla Vodka
Not sure how to make vodka sauce? It’s so much simpler than you’d think.
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.
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 chili flakes for a little heat.
Finally, the cashewmilk is added to the sauce, making it a lightened-up sauce that gently coats the penne noodles.
See how we did that? Low-cal. Low-fat. Same delicious flavor.
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!”
Can I Omit the Vodka?
Nope, the vodka is key in this penne vodka pasta. Without it, you’d be left with a bland tomato sauce.
Can I Add a Protein to Penne Alla Vodka?
Yes, cooked chicken would be a great addition to this vodka sauce pasta. You can sear chicken fresh for this recipe or use leftover chicken from last night’s dinner.
Tips for Making Penne Alla Vodka
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. Just note that the homemade vodka sauce pairs best with short, sturdy pastas.
Lastly, if your homemade vodka sauce seems a bit thick after you’ve stirred in the pasta, add some of the starchy pasta water to loosen things up. Add a little bit at a time, otherwise you may wind up with runny vodka sauce.
More Easy Pasta Recipes to Make
- Spaghetti Alla Carbonara
- One-Pot Penne Pasta with Turkey and Spinach
- Creamy Pasta with Salmon and Asparagus
- Baked Sausage and Cheese Rigatoni
- Mom’s Homemade Spaghetti and Meat Sauce
- Shrimp Scampi Pasta
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Bookmark this recipe and leave a comment below, or take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
Lighter Penne alla Vodka
- 1 pound penne pasta
- kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 yellow onion , small diced
- 3 cloves garlic , pressed or minced
- 1 pinch 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)
- Cook the penne pasta in salted water according to the package directions. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water and then drain the pasta.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
What to Serve with Penne Alla Vodka
- Caesar Salad with Garlic Croutons
- Roasted Asparagus
- Classic Blue Cheese Wedge Salad
- Berry Delicious Fruit Salad
- Arugula Salad with Shaved Parmesan
- Avocado, Grapefruit, & Fennel Salad
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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. There may be affiliate links in this post of which I receive a small commission. All opinions are always my own.
Doesn’t the vodka ignite when added to a hot skillet?
LOVE penne alla vodka, but the heavy factor felt like such a commitment. What a wonderful way to lighten it up!
what would you suggest substituting for someone who is allergic to almond (or all nuts for that matter)
Laura | Tutti Dolci
Penne alla vodka is a favorite of mine and I love your lightened up version for summer – making this immediately!
it is very yummy and delicies
Vodka for the win. Thank you for the recipe. I’m definitely going to try this out.
Great Nicole, I think you’ll really like it, it’s light and perfect for summertime.
Thanks Nicole, hope you enjoy!
How do you dice up the onions so tiny and consistent? I’ve been cutting onions for many years, but I can’t do that.
Hi Derin! Maybe I should do a how to video on that! This video shows how I do it, and I do it the extra awesome way and make the extra horizontal cuts as they show in the video. It’s the easiest way to cut an onion for sure. http://www.thekitchn.com/video-how-to-dice-an-onion-48681 Enjoy!