Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken

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My first experience with Penne alla Vodka with Chicken was cooking a “gourmet” meal for a group of college friends in our dorm’s basement kitchen. Looking back, I’m not sure which impresses me more: our resourcefulness (that kitchen was equipped with little beyond a hot pot and a few forks someone had “donated” from the dining hall) or our audacity to make a vodka sauce on a campus that doesn’t allow vodka. After one bite, we felt validated. The pasta tasted glorious and was worth the risk.

Healthy Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken. BEST RECIPE! A lighter version of classic vodka sauce made with tomatoes and almond "cream." Dairy free and delicious!

While I don’t remember anything else we ate—my hunch is the full menu included the penne alla vodka with chicken, wine (from a box), and cake (also from a box)—penne alla vodka has been one of my favorite comfort food dishes since. It’s not one that I make often, but every time I eat it, I’m transported back to that fun, silly night and the joy of good company.

If you aren’t familiar with penne alla vodka or are wondering how to make a vodka sauce, it’s a delightful, rich mix of crushed tomatoes and cream. As its name suggests, penne alla vodka is also made with vodka, which is cooked down and keeps the acidity of the tomatoes from causing the cream to break and separate. This is culinary science at its most delicious.

Best Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken. A healthy twist on the classic recipe that's just as delicious!

The count of classic penne alla vodka with chicken calories typically puts it on the “special indulgence” list. I couldn’t resist the urge to see if I could take the classic comfort food and make it better for you.

SUCH A HIT! This is one of the lightened-up recipes I’ve been proudest of lately, and I can’t wait for you to try it.

How to make the best penne alla vodka with chicken. One of the must-try pasta sauces!

The Best Penne alla Vodka with Chicken Recipe (Done Lighter!)

 A few of the skinny swaps in this Penne alla Vodka with Chicken recipe were simple, such as replacing the regular penne with whole wheat penne for an extra boost of nutrients, fiber, and protein. The largest challenge (and thus the one I most needed to tackle) was what to do with the full cup plus of heavy cream called for in many classic penne alla vodka recipes.

My solution? A “cream” made of ground almonds and Almond Breeze almondmilk Original Unsweetened.

Almond milk used to make almond "cream" for an easy and healthy penne alla vodka recipe

Almondmilk has long been my go-to ingredient to give sweet and savory recipes like this Healthy Chicken Pot Pie and this Creamy Polenta richness without adding excess calories. Combined with the bulk and healthy fats in the ground almonds, it creates the most incredible “cream” that once stirred into the vodka sauce is a dead-ringer for the Italian classic.

As an additional bonus, this recipe is entirely dairy free. You can add a bit of Parmesan if that isn’t a concern; we opted for nutritional yeast, which is loaded with nutrients and has a similar “cheesy” taste to Parmesan.

This recipe is now on our favorites list. Ben took it to work every morning we had it in the refrigerator (the surest sign of his recipe approval). It makes a big batch and reheats well, so it’s a great recipe to make at the beginning of the week, then keep on hand for fast, healthy meals all week long.

Healthy Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken Recipe. A simple and delicious healthy pasta recipe.

Penne alla Vodka with Chicken Recipe Variations

  • Penne alla Vodka with Chicken and Broccoli: Stir steamed broccoli into the pasta at the end.
  • Penne alla Vodka with Chicken and Shrimp: After sautéing the chicken in Step 2, sauté 1 pound of peeled and deveined shrimp; stir it in with the chicken at the end.
  • Vegetarian Penne alla Vodka: Simply omit the chicken! Thanks to the almonds, this pasta recipe is still plenty satisfying without it.

What to Serve with Penne alla Vodka with Chicken

5 from 11 votes
Healthy Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken. BEST RECIPE! A lighter version of classic vodka sauce made with tomatoes and almond "cream." Dairy free and delicious!
Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
25 mins
Total Time
40 mins
 
Healthy Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken. An easy, family friendly dinner that everyone loves! A lighter version of classic vodka sauce — Creamy and delicious!
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: Easy Pasta Recipe, Healthy Vodka Sauce Recipe, Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken
Calories: 475 kcal
Author: Erin
Ingredients
  • 3/4 cup raw almonds soaked in water for at least 4 hours or up to 10 hours (if you have a high-powered blended such as a Vitamix, you can skip the soak)
  • 3/4 cup Almond Breeze almondmilk Original Unsweetened
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil divided
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 1 large yellow onion diced
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 pound whole wheat penne or similar whole wheat pasta
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast or Parmesan optional—use nutritional yeast to make dairy free or omit
  • Thinly sliced fresh basil or chopped fresh parsley
Instructions
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drain the almonds, then place them in a blender with the almondmilk. Puree until smooth, thick, and creamy. Depending upon your blender, this may take several minutes and you may need to stop and scrape down the blender a few times. The mixture will be the consistency of a paste and will have brown flecks of almond skin in it. Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, in a very large, deep skillet or Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium high heat. Once hot, add the chicken. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper. Sauté until lightly browned on all sides and cooked through, about 4 to 6 minutes. Remove to a plate and set aside. Make sure you have the vodka measured and on hand.
  3. To the same pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Let warm up, then add the onion and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook until the onion begins to soften, about 3 to 4 minutes, then add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds, being careful not to burn it.
  4. Carefully add the vodka (be especially careful if your stove has an open flame). Scrape to deglaze the pan, then let the vodka cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Bring this sauce to a steady simmer, then reduce the heat to a low simmer over medium low, adjusting the heat as needed so that the sauce simmers gently (you want it to continue to reduce but not bubble aggressively). Let simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the blended almond mixture until the sauce is smooth and the almond mixture is well incorporated (the sauce will turn a light, creamy red color). Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
  5. While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta in the boiling water to al dente, according to package instructions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid, then drain the pasta and immediately add it to the sauce. Toss to coat the pasta, then stir in the chicken, adding a bit of the pasta cooking liquid to loosen the sauce as needed. Stir in the nutritional yeast. Serve hot, sprinkled with basil or parsley.
Nutrition Facts
Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken
Amount Per Serving (1 (of 8), about 2 cups)
Calories 475 Calories from Fat 126
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 14g 22%
Saturated Fat 2g 10%
Cholesterol 28mg 9%
Total Carbohydrates 46g 15%
Dietary Fiber 9g 36%
Sugars 7g
Protein 24g 48%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Healthy Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken. BEST RECIPE! A lighter version of classic vodka sauce made with tomatoes and almond

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About Erin Clarke

I’m fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food taste incredible. Wearer of plaid, travel enthusiast, and firmly convinced that sweets and veggies both deserve a place at the table. MORE ABOUT ERIN…

33 comments

  1. Love this version so much! 

    Rating: 5
  2. Heather S Christo Reply

    This looks awesome Erin- perfect easy dinner for heading back to school, the kids will love it!

  3. This is penne alla vodka done right, and you made it dairy free!! So delicious!

    Rating: 5
  4. Loving this makeover, Erin! I rarely  indulge in vodka sauce because I know how many calories it packs. Yikes. Definitely puts me over the edge! But this lighter version is perfect! Using almonds and almond milk is so smart!

  5. Such a genius idea to use almond milk for the sauce.

    Rating: 5
  6. I’m so intrigued with the addition of almond milk!. I have to try this soon.

    Rating: 5
  7. Looks incredible! Can’t wait to make it!

    Rating: 5
  8. I’ve never tried making a homemade vodka pasta sauce before…this looks delicious!! :)

  9. Looks like a perfect weeknight meal!

    Rating: 5
  10. Stephanie Manley Reply

    I gotta try this with the almond milk. I have people over that can’t enjoy dairy.

    Rating: 5
  11. I am so in love with vodka sauce. It’s one of my all time favorite pasta sauces. I’ve never thought to make it with almond milk – totally need to try this as I still haven’t met my summer goal weight (LOL summer is almost over).

    Rating: 5
  12. My favorite- I love that it’s made with almond milk!

    Rating: 5
  13. Can’t stop drooling!

  14. I love Almond Breeze almond milk! It really does taste the best and I can’t wait to try cooking with it! Especially in your pasta sauce, which sounds so delicious :)

  15. Such a classic – so good!

    Rating: 5
  16. I really don’t frequently consider using almond-milk in savory recipes…they all look yummy even however!

  17. Hi there – so you boil the almonds after you soak them?

  18. Made this for dinner tonight and my entire family loved it! Can’t wait to make it again! Thanks Erin❤️☘️👯

    Rating: 5
  19. Do you have to use whole almonds for this or can you use sliced? I happen to have sliced on hand. 

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