This healthier penne alla vodka with chicken is made with no heavy cream! Pureed roasted vegetables are my secret for a creamy vodka sauce that tastes just as good as the original. High protein, with 42 grams of protein per serving.
Healthy Penne alla Vodka with Chicken
Penne alla vodka is an Italian classic I wanted to recreate at home but with some changes to lighten it up. I skipped the cream, swapping roasted zucchini and onion which I pureed into the sauce. For more protein, I served this over protein pasta and added chicken breast. Tommy, who orders vodka sauce any chance he gets gave this two thumbs up! For more vodka sauce recipes, try this Penne Alla Vodka with prosciutto and half and half or my Spicy Vodka Chicken Parmesan.
Healthy Penne alla Vodka Ingredients
- Chicken Breast: You’ll need six thin chicken cutlets. See more chicken breast recipes here.
- Seasoning: Season the chicken with salt, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning.
- Onion and Garlic: Cut one onion into half-inch chunks and smash six garlic cloves.
- Zucchini: Roasted zucchini is pureed to make the sauce creamy.
- Shallots: Finely mince one shallot, for flavor.
- Salt and Pepper season the vodka sauce.
- Crushed Tomatoes: I love Tuttorosso’s crushed tomatoes, but buy whatever you can find.
- Broth: Use chicken or vegetable broth.
- Parmesan: Add freshly grated Parmesan to the sauce, and top your bowl of pasta with some more.
- Tomato Paste: Before adding the vodka, cook the tomato paste for a couple of minutes to toast it.
- Red Pepper Flakes: Sprinkle the sauce with red pepper for a bit of a kick.
- Vodka: Use a good-quality vodka for the sauce, such as Tito’s.
- Basil: Simmer the sauce with a sprig of basil and garnish with more.
- Pasta: I used Barilla protein pasta, gluten-free pasta will also work.
How to Make Penne alla Vodka with Chicken
This healthier vodka sauce recipe is creamy without using any heavy cream. Here’s how to make it:
- Season the chicken with olive oil, salt, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and black pepper.
- Roast Vegetables: Toss the zucchini, onion, and garlic with oil, salt, and pepper, and roast on a sheet pan until tender and browned.
- Blend the roasted veggies with crushed tomatoes, broth, and parmesan until smooth.
- Boil salted water for the pasta.
- Cook the chicken on high heat on a grill pan until cooked through.
- Tomato Paste and Shallots: Sauté the minced shallot and salt in a Dutch oven or deep, large skillet. Stir in the tomato paste and red pepper flakes and cook for a minute or two.
- Vodka: If you have a gas stove, turn it off or remove your pot from the heat. Pour in the vodka, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, and return the pot to the heat. Cook until most of the liquid reduces. Then add the pureed vegetables, basil, and black pepper, and simmer for five minutes.
- Cook the penne until al dente according to package directions. Reserve a cup of pasta water before draining the pot.
- How to Serve: Remove the basil sprig from the sauce and pour in the reserved water a little at a time if needed. Toss the vodka sauce with the penne and transfer to six bowls. Top each one with chicken and parmesan.
- Chicken: If you can’t find chicken cutlets, buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts and cut them vertically with scissors to make thin pieces.
- Meat: Swap chicken with Italian chicken or turkey sausage.
- Vegetarian Penne alla Vodka: Omit the grilled chicken.
- Seasoning: If you don’t have Italian seasoning, replace it with whatever dried herbs you have, like basil, oregano, and parsley.
- Vegetables: Add spinach to the vodka sauce.
- Zucchini: Substitute zucchini with yellow squash.
- Spiciness: Omit red pepper flakes for a milder dish, or add more for an extra kick.
- Pasta: Sub penne with any short pasta shape, like rotini, fusilli, or orecchiette. You can also use whole wheat or gluten-free pasta if you prefer.
What to Serve with Penne alla Vodka
Since this penne alla vodka has chicken and zucchini, it’s a complete meal by itself. However, here are some side dish ideas if you want to serve it with a veggie:
Store penne alla vodka with chicken for up to four days in an airtight container in the fridge. You can also freeze it for up to three months and thaw it in the refrigerator before microwaving it until warm.
Penne alla Vodka FAQ
Penne alla vodka sauce is primarily made of tomatoes, cream, and vodka. My healthy vodka sauce recipe has no heavy cream and instead uses a roasted vegetable puree to thicken the sauce and give it a wonderful texture.
Vodka is what distinguishes penne alla vodka from other creamy pasta dishes. It makes the creamy tomato sauce cohesive and enhances its flavor.
The alcohol cooks out of the sauce, making it safe for children and people who don’t drink alcohol to eat. You can swap vodka with white wine, or if you prefer not to cook with alcohol, omit it. It’ll be good either way!
More Pasta Recipes You’ll Love
- Penne with Brussels Sprouts and Meat Ragu
- Instant Pot Spaghetti and Turkey Meatballs
- Baby Pasta Shells with Asparagus and Marinara
- Turkey Sausage and Tomato Sauce over Pasta
- Spaghetti Carbonara
Penne alla Vodka with Chicken
- 1 medium onion, cut 1/2-inch chunks
- 6 cloves garlic, smashed
- 12 ounces zucchini, peeled and cut in 1/4-inch slices (from 2 small or 1 large)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 shallots, minced fine
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided, plus more for the cooking liquid
- 15 oz can crushed tomatoes, I love tuttorosso
- 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, fresh grated, plus more for serving
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
- 3 tablespoons good quality vodka
- 1 sprig fresh basil, plus more for garnish
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 lb dry penne pasta
- Preheat the oven to 425F.
- Season the chicken with 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, garlic powder, Italian seasoning and black pepper.
- Toss the zucchini with garlic, onion, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper and spread on a sheet pan. Roast 25 minutes, until tender and browned, tossing halfway. Once done, transfer the vegetables to a large blender and add the crushed tomatoes, broth and parmesan. Puree until very smooth.
- Meanwhile, fill a large pot with water, salt generously, and bring to a boil.
- Heat a grill pan on high heat. Spray with oil and cook the chicken, 2 to 3 minutes per side until cooked through. Set aside on a cutting board and slice.
- In a Dutch oven, deep large skillet or pot, add the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil over medium heat. Saute the minced shallot with 1/2 tsp salt until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, and red pepper flakes and cook 1 to 2 minutes to toast the tomato paste
- When the tomato paste smells caramelized, it’s time to add the vodka.
- If you have a gas stove, turn it off or remove the pot from the heat. Pour in the vodka (it will sizzle!), use your spoon to scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, and return the pot to medium heat. Cook until most of the liquid reduces, about 2 minutes then add the pureed vegetables along with the basil and black pepper and bring to a gentle simmer, 5 to 6 minutes while you cook the pasta.
- Meanwhile, drop the pasta into the boiling water, give it a stir, and cook according to package instructions. Cook until the pasta is al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the water, then drain the pasta.
- Remove the basil from the sauce and add reserved pasta water, if needed. to loosen.
- Toss with the cooked pasta and transfer to 6 bowls. Top each with grilled chicken, chopped basil, and freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and serve.