This restaurant-quality chicken penne alla vodka recipe is easy to make, healthy, and made with Greek yogurt instead of heavy cream. The penne pasta is tossed in a rich, delicious, and lightened-up tomato cream sauce and served with juicy chicken. So good, it’s better than the real thing!
The best penne alla vodka with chicken
We love homemade Italian recipes, especially in the cold, cozy months. However, I like to get creative with classic recipes and make them just a little lighter and healthier without sacrificing flavor – like these chicken parmesan stuffed sweet potatoes, crustless chicken pot pie, and chicken broccoli pasta bake.
Growing up, I always ordered penne alla vodka when we went out to restaurants to eat. The tomato-based sauce is so creamy and flavorful that it’s hard to beat! But, let’s be honest, most penne alla vodka recipes are heavy, rich, and made with butter and heavy cream. So here’s your healthy version that tastes like the real thing!
This delicious penne alla vodka recipe is creamy, protein-packed, healthy, and served with juicy seared chicken. Our homemade version tastes just like a restaurant’s dish, focusing on more nutritious and wholesome ingredients. This recipe is quick and easy to make, guilt-free, high-protein, gluten-free, and the perfect balanced meal.
The best part about this recipe is that it is made with Greek yogurt instead of heavy cream or butter. You can mix the cooked and sliced chicken into the sauce or serve it on top of the pasta for a complete meal. This is seriously the best healthy version of a chicken penne vodka sauce!
Why you’ll love this healthy recipe:
- High Protein: It’s packed with over 30 grams of protein.
- Creamy and Guilt-Free: We substitute classic heavy cream with Greek yogurt.
- Quick & Easy: Very simple steps for beginner cooks to follow.
- Perfect Balance: This dish has all comforting flavors of classic penne alla vodka with lightened-up, healthier ingredients.
- Gluten-Free: Use gluten-free penne pasta.
- Meal Prep: Make ahead and store in your fridge for busy days.
- Use Rotisserie Chicken: To make this recipe even easier, and ready in under 25 minutes.
- Try this delicious and cheesy lightened-up chicken pesto lasagna next!
This healthy chicken penne alla vodka is easy to make and calls for simple ingredients. Here is a list of exactly what you will need to make this recipe:
- Raw Chicken Breasts: The protein source for this chicken vodka sauce. We’ll sear it in the same stovetop pan as the sauce.
- Seasonings: You’ll need dried oregano, garlic powder, salt, and pepper to season the chicken and the sauce.
- Olive Oil: For sautéing and flavor.
- Onion: Adds depth and flavor to the sauce; I used white onion.
- Garlic: Use fresh garlic cloves for the best flavor. It really enhances the savory profile.
- Tomato Paste: Provides a rich, concentrated tomato flavor and helps thicken the penne alla vodka sauce.
- Vodka: Adds complexity and depth to the sauce; don’t worry, the alcohol burns off.
- Canned Tomatoes: Forms the base of the tomato sauce. You can use whole peeled or crushed tomatoes.
- Greek Yogurt: Adds creaminess without excessive calories and replaces the traditional heavy cream. You can use 0%, 2%, or 5% plain Greek yogurt.
- Milk: Further enhances creaminess and texture. I like whole or 2%, but low-fat or skim milk works too.
- Parmesan Cheese: This is my favorite ingredient and adds the best rich, cheesy, and traditional flavor to this healthy penne alla vodka sauce.
- Pasta: You can use gluten-free, chickpea, whole wheat, or regular penne pasta.
Kitchen tools needed
This one-pot healthy penne alla vodka is so easy to make. It will come together in under 40 minutes with these few kitchen tools. Here is a list:
- Large pot or Dutch oven
- Wooden spoon
- Cutting board + sharp kitchen knife
- Small dish or bowl
- Blender (optional)
- Microwave-Safe Bowl
- Measuring Tools: 1/2 teaspoon, 1 tablespoon, 1/3 cup, and 1/2 cup.
How to make healthy penne alla vodka with chicken
Homemade chicken penne alla vodka is so easy to make. It’s lightened up with Greek yogurt and made without butter or heavy cream. Here are step-by-step instructions with pictures for visual reference:
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. (You can use the same pot for cooking the chicken and the sauce, or opt for two separate pans).
Meanwhile, combine the salt, pepper, oregano, and garlic powder in a small dish. Then season the chicken breasts with this mixture and cook the chicken for about 5 minutes on each side or until it’s cooked through. Remove the chicken and set it aside on a plate or cutting board to rest.
Reduce the heat to medium and add the finely chopped onion to the pan where you cooked the chicken. Tip: there is no need to wipe anything clean; keep the oil and juices for flavor.
Then, cook for 3-5 minutes until the onion is soft and beginning to brown. Add the minced garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, then stir in the tomato paste. Cook until everything is well coated, and the mixture becomes jammy.
Carefully add a small splash of vodka (about 2 tablespoons) to deglaze the pan, especially if there are bits or pieces stuck to the bottom. Stir and scrape up any browned bits. Add the rest of the vodka and stir for 1 – 2 minutes until most of the vodka has evaporated out. This allows the alcohol to burn off!
Then, add the tomatoes and break some of the tomatoes up using a wooden spoon. Cook the sauce for 15-20 minutes, or up to 30 minutes, until the vodka smell dissipates and the sauce simmers and thickens.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions until it is al dente. Drain the cooked pasta, rinse it under water so it doesn’t stick together, and set it aside.
Whisk the Greek yogurt and milk in a separate bowl until no clumps remain. Microwave the mixture for 5-10 seconds until it’s warm but not bubbling. Then, when the tomato sauce is ready, turn off the heat and add the grated cheese.
Then, carefully transfer 2 to 3 cups of the sauce into a blender (or use an immersion blender directly in the pot). Add the yogurt and milk mixture and blend until it is light ping and mixed – about 15 to 25 seconds. NOTE: you can do this for all the sauce if you want a thin sauce… I like some chunks, so I blended 3 cups.
After that, transfer the blended sauce back to the pot on the stovetop and carefully taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking.
Finally, add the cooked pasta to the sauce and mix until everything is combined.
Serve the healthy penne alla vodka with the chicken slices on top, or cut up the chicken into slices and stir it into the sauce + pasta. Sprinkle additional grated Parmesan cheese on top if desired.
Recipe tips for home cooks:
- Control Heat: Use medium-high heat to sear chicken, but don’t let it get too hot to avoid burning.
- Deglaze the Pan: Add vodka to release flavorful bits stuck to the pan after cooking the chicken.
- Simmer the Sauce: Let the sauce simmer for at least 15-20 minutes for a better flavor and to burn off the alcohol.
- Prevent Curdling: Be cautious when adding yogurt and milk to the hot sauce to prevent curdling. Make sure you are adding it to a small (slightly-cooled) batch of sauce in the blender.
- Customize It: Feel free to personalize the recipe by adding spinach, using different pasta, or adjusting spice levels by adding red chili flakes.
- Add Frozen Peas: Sneak in some veggies by adding 1 cup of frozen peas to the sauce after you blend it!
- Use Rotisserie Chicken: Use rotisserie chicken if you are short on time or prefer pre-cooked chicken. Simply heat it up, cut it up into bite-size pieces, and mix it into the sauce. You’ll need about three cups. This tip makes this recipe under 25 minutes.
Reasons why this penne alla vodka is healthy:
This penne alla vodka sauce is made with wholesome ingredients, Greek yogurt, without heavy cream, and has no added sugar. Here are four reasons why it is healthy:
- Simple Ingredients: This homemade penne alla vodka calls for healthy ingredients like tomatoes, onions, Greek yogurt, and lean chicken breasts!
- Sugar-Free: There is NO ADDED sugar to this recipe.
- No Heavy Cream or Butter: This healthy penne alla vodka recipe is made with Greek yogurt instead of butter or heavy cream.
- Gluten-Free: There is NO gluten in this recipe. Simply use gluten-free or chickpea penne pasta.
- High Protein: There are over 30 grams of protein per serving if you use regular pasta and 42 grams of protein if you use chickpea or protein pasta.
Ingredient substitutions and variations:
- Chicken Thighs: If you prefer darker meat or have chicken thighs on hand, you can use boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead of chicken breast.
- Rotisserie Chicken: No need to cook the chicken! Just slice or shred it and incorporate it into the pasta sauce in step ten.
- Penne Alternatives: While penne is traditional, you can use other pasta shapes like rigatoni, fettuccine, farfalle, or spaghetti.
- Vodka Substitute: If you prefer not to use alcohol, you can omit the vodka altogether. The sauce will still taste great without it. I recommend adding a splash more of milk if this is the case.
- Vegetarian: To make this dish vegetarian, omit the chicken. You can also add sautéed mushrooms for extra flavor and texture.
- Canned Tomatoes: While the recipe uses canned tomatoes, you can make your tomato sauce from scratch or a jar of marinara sauce.
- Cheese Options: Instead of Parmesan, try using Pecorino Romano or Asiago for a slightly different cheese flavor.
- Whole Wheat Pasta: Use whole wheat penne or another whole grain pasta for added fiber.
- Higher Protein: Use chickpea or protein penne for 11 extra grams of protein per serving.
What to serve with penne alla vodka:
Penne alla vodka is a rich and creamy pasta dish that goes well with many dishes. Here is a complete list of the best things to serve with this chicken penne alla vodka:
- Garlic Bread: There’s nothing better than toast, buttery garlic bread for dipping.
- Salad: A fresh green salad with dressing like this cucumber carrot salad or strawberry goat cheese salad.
- Roasted Vegetables: A simple side of roasted veggies is a great healthy choice. We love these crispy balsamic maple brussel sprouts and this crispy broccoli and cauliflower.
- Bruschetta: Try serving it with toasted bread topped with tomato and basil.
- Grilled Chicken or Shrimp: Protein additions to the meal. We use chicken in this recipe, but you can also use shrimp for a lower-calorie option.
- Breadsticks: Crunchy sticks for dipping. Make sure they are gluten-free if needed.
- Dessert (like tiramisu or gelato): A sweet treat to finish the meal. Try this healthy tiramisu!
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use chicken thighs instead of chicken breast?
Yes, you can substitute boneless, skinless chicken thighs for chicken breast in this recipe. Keep in mind that cooking times will decrease by 2 minutes.
What type of vodka should I use for the sauce?
You can use any regular vodka for the sauce. There’s no need for a premium or flavored vodka; a basic vodka works just fine. Make sure it is unflavored.
Can you taste the vodka?
No, you cannot taste the vodka in penne alla vodka sauce. It enhances the overall flavor rather than being a prominent taste. Plus, the alcohol burns off like when you cook with wine.
Can I make this recipe without alcohol (vodka)?
If you prefer not to use alcohol, you can omit the vodka. The sauce will have a slightly different flavor profile but still be delicious.
Can I make the sauce ahead of time and reheat it?
Yes, you can make the sauce ahead of time and reheat it when you’re ready to serve. Store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days and gently reheat it on the stove, stirring occasionally.
What can I do if the sauce curdles when I add the yogurt and milk?
If the sauce begins to curdle when you add the yogurt and milk, you can use a blender to smooth it out. Alternatively, let the sauce cool slightly off the heat before slowly whisking the yogurt and milk mixture. Make sure the heat is OFF when you put in the yogurt mixture!
Can you freeze vodka sauce?
Yes, you can freeze this healthy vodka sauce. It can be frozen in an airtight freezer-safe container for up to 3 months. However, remember that dairy-based spices may change in texture when thawed.
How to store and reheat chicken penne alla vodka:
Storing: If you have leftovers, allow the dish to cool to room temperature. Then, transfer it to an airtight container. You can store it in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.
Reheating on the stove: Reheating on the stovetop is the best way to maintain the sauce’s creamy texture. Heat a pan over low to medium heat. Add a splash of water or chicken broth to the pan to prevent the sauce from becoming too thick. Place the leftover Chicken Penne alla Vodka in the pan and gently heat it, stirring frequently until it’s warmed through.
Reheating in the microwave: Place a microwave-safe cover or microwave-safe plate over the dish to prevent splatters. Then, microwave on medium power or in 30-second short intervals, stirring in between each one and repeating until the dish is warmed. This helps ensure even reheating and no burning.
If you loved this recipe, try these healthier pasta dishes next!
- Lemon Caper Pasta
- Chicken Broccoli Pasta Bake
- Chicken Pesto Lasagna
- Sweet Potato Gnocchi
- Healthy Chicken Bolognese
Did you make this recipe?
If you make this recipe, be sure to comment and rate it down below. Also, don’t forget to tag me @healthfulblondie on Instagram and use the hashtag #healthfulblondie so I can see your delicious creation and share it with my followers!
Heathy Chicken Penne Alla Vodka
- 1 lb chicken breast, sliced in half to create thinner cutlets and lightly flattened (pounded) for even thickness
- ¼ – ½ tsp salt and pepper, of each
- 1 ½ tsp dried oregano
- ¾ tsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ½ cup onion, finely chopped
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- ⅓ cup vodka, unflavored (it cooks off, adds a sharp and tangy flavor)
- 28 oz can whole peeled or crushed tomatoes
- 4 – 5 leaves of fresh basil, to finish the sauce
- Salt, to taste
- ½ cup Greek yogurt, plain 0%, 2% or 5%
- ½ cup milk, whole milk & half and half are best but you can use low-fat milk
- ⅓ cup freshly grated parmesan, + more for serving
- 8 oz dried pasta, whole wheat, gluten-free, chickpea, or regular (spaghetti, fettuccine, fusilli, farfalle bowtie, rotini, or penne)
- Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. (You can use the same pot for cooking the chicken and the sauce, or opt for two separate pans).
- Meanwhile, combine the salt, pepper, oregano, and garlic powder in a small dish. Then season the chicken breasts with this mixture and cook the chicken for about 5 minutes on each side or until it’s cooked through. Remove the chicken and set it aside on a plate or cutting board to rest.
- Reduce the heat to medium and add the finely chopped onion to the pan where you cooked the chicken. There is no need to wipe anything clean; keep the oil and juices for flavor. Cook for 3-5 minutes until the onion is soft and beginning to brown. Add the minced garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, then stir in the tomato paste. Cook until everything is well coated, and the mixture becomes jammy.
- Carefully add a small splash of vodka (about 2 tablespoons) to deglaze the pan, especially if there are bits or pieces stuck to the bottom. Stir and scrape up any browned bits. Add the rest of the vodka and stir for 1 – 2 minutes until most of the vodka has evaporated out. This allows the alcohol to burn off!
- Then, add the tomatoes and break some of the tomatoes up using a wooden spoon. Cook the sauce for 15-20 minutes, or up to 30 minutes, until the vodka smell dissipates and the sauce simmers and thickens.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions until it is al dente. Drain the cooked pasta and rinse it under water so it doesn’t stick together and set it aside.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the Greek yogurt and milk until no clumps remain. Microwave the mixture for 5-10 seconds until it’s warm but not bubbling.
- When the tomato sauce is ready, turn off the heat and add the grated cheese.
- Carefully transfer 2 to 3 cups of the sauce into a blender (or use an immersion blender directly in the pot). Add the yogurt and milk mixture and blend until it is light ping and mixed – about 15 to 25 seconds. NOTE: you can do this for all the sauce if you want a thin sauce… I like some chunks, so I blended 3 cups.
- Transfer the blended sauce back to the pot on the stovetop. Carefully taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and mix until everything is combined.
- Serve the sauce over cooked pasta with the chicken or cut up the chicken into slices and stick it into the sauce + pasta. Sprinkle additional grated Parmesan cheese on top if desired.
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