This spin on penne alla vodka (penne noodles in vodka sauce) incorporates everything you love about this classic Italian dish—with a few healthy swaps you’ll feel good about eating.
Growing up in a predominantly Italian family, penne alla vodka (which translates into penne with vodka sauce) was no stranger at Sunday afternoon meals and holiday spreads. Sometimes it was the main course. Sometimes it comprised just one of many courses (I did say I grew up in an Italian family, right?).
Needless to say, I can appreciate a bowl of noodles enveloped in a bowl of creamy red sauce. But of course not every day is a special occasion, and sometimes I feel like making a few healthy swaps.
If you’re looking to copy the taste of indulgent penne alla vodka minus the accompanying nutritional profile, then look no further. This recipe combines an easy, partially homemade sauce with lighter zucchini noodles and tender sliced chicken for a punch of protein. It’s the perfect weeknight meal or healthier weekend indulgence—really, it works for any time.
Zucchini alla Vodka with Chicken
Makes 6-8 servings [15 minutes prep + ~30 minutes cook time]
2 pounds chicken breasts
25 oz canned vodka sauce
1/2 large sweet yellow onion, diced
4 gloves garlic, finely chopped
14.5 ounces diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon arrowroot powder or cornstarch
Salt + pepper, to taste
Fresh parsley and/or grated parmesan cheese, to top
Spiralize the zucchini using a spiralizer. If you don’t own a spiralizer, you can also slice the zucchini length-wise into thin strips. Using your hands or a knife, break the zucchini strands apart into strips no longer than about 5-7 inches long. Set aside.
Saute the diced onion in a large skillet using medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic to the pan and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent the garlic from burning.
Add the diced tomatoes, vodka sauce, oregano, and basil to the pan. Turn the heat up to medium-high, cover, and let simmer until sauce starts to bubble, about 5-7 minutes. Once the sauce bubbles, whisk in the arrowroot powder or cornstarch and allow to simmer until the sauce thickens up. Turn off heat and set sauce aside.
Dice the chicken into bite-sized pieces and season with salt and pepper (to taste). Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pan, then saute the chicken until cooked through and no pink remains. Add chicken to the sauce.
In the same large pan or other large pot/pan that will hold all of the zucchini, add the zucchini and season with salt and pepper (to taste). Saute the zucchini for 2-3 minutes or until slightly softer (but not too soft or the zucchini won’t hold up well in the sauce).
Combine the zucchini noodles with the chicken/sauce mixture and stir well to combine. If the sauce is too watery at this point, continue to simmer on the stove and add additional arrowroot powder or cornstarch.
Top with a sprinkle of chopped parsley and parmesan cheese and enjoy!