The perfect Chicken Penne Alla Vodka is only a few steps away. Juicy chicken and pasta tossed in homemade, flavor-packed vodka sauce is the ultimate pasta dinner!
This vodka sauce is so satisfying…blended with onion and garlic, a dash of balsamic to enhance the flavor of the tomatoes (the secret ingredient!), grated parmesan cheese, and just the right amount of creaminess from half and half. Add in classic penne pasta and chunks of chicken for a meal that will have your whole family scraping their plates. It really is perfect!
What is Vodka Sauce, Anyway?
Vodka sauce is an Italian orangey pink, smooth tomato sauce with a generous splash of vodka. The acid from the tomatoes and the slightly spicy bite from the vodka is mellowed out by a touch of cream.
How Do I Know This Chicken Penne Alla Vodka Is Perfect?
Made and mastered by my husband, Eric, this pasta with chicken vodka sauce is swooned over and regularly requested by family and friends! Inspired by his love for penne alla vodka growing up in a big Italian family, Eric has perfected this sauce over time to make a vodka sauce that’s just HEAVENLY.
- Penne pasta – penne is the classic pasta to use. Why? Penne is the perfect pasta for vodka sauce because of its tubular shape and ridges that capture the sauce. Rigatoni is a similar shape but is often used for heavier sauces!
- Chicken breasts – I bake chicken breasts and cube them up into bite-sized pieces.
- Can of whole peeled tomatoes – whole peeled tomatoes have a meaty texture and an untarnished tomato taste!
- Parmigiano cheese – Parmigiano-Reggiano or parmesan cheese makes this sauce even more velvety smooth while adding a nutty, saltiness that’s absolutely key!
- Vodka – duh, we’re making vodka sauce! Vodka adds a slight spiciness and depth that you can’t achieve any other way.
- Half and half – in his Italian family, Eric grew up making vodka sauce with half and half instead of cream. Half and half adds velvety richness without being too heavy.
- Sweet onion – sweet onion adds an extra tangy yet sweet bite.
- Garlic – do I need to explain? Garlic!
- Balsamic vinegar – balsamic is the secret ingredient that takes this sauce to the next level. It adds a depth of flavor that’s unparalleled, playing nicely off the acidity of the tomatoes.
- Extra virgin olive oil – olive oil is used to sauté the onion and garlic.
- Hot pepper flakes – they add a little heat if you want a kick!
- Fresh basil (optional) – although basil is optional, it’s the perfect way to garnish your chicken penne alla vodka.
- Penne – substitute rigatoni for penne.
- Chicken breasts – substitute pre-cooked chicken strips cut into smaller pieces or rotisserie chicken with the skin removed for raw chicken breasts!
- Can of whole peeled tomatoes – substitute a can of crushed tomatoes for whole peeled tomatoes.
- Parmesan cheese – substitute Romano for parmesan cheese.
- Half and half – substitute heavy cream for half and half if you prefer a very creamy, pink sauce.
- Fresh basil – substitute Italian parsley for basil.
How to Make Vodka Sauce
- Bake your chicken
Coat chicken in 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, place on a baking sheet, and bake at 425 degrees for 17-21 minutes. For more details, follow these steps for juicy chicken.
- Sauté onions and garlic
In a large pot over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil, onion and garlic, cooking for 4-5 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and vodka
Add the tomatoes and crush into small pieces using a potato masher. Add the vodka. Stir. Uncovered, heat the sauce over medium until simmering (about 5 minutes).
- Add more flavor
Add 1 tablespoon balsamic, parmesan, salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer over medium-low heat, uncovered, for at least 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.
- Slice the chicken
While sauce is simmering, make sure to take your chicken out of the oven, let rest for 5 minutes, and then slice into bite-sized chunks.
- Cook pasta
Boil your pasta until al-dente, according to the box directions.
- Blend the sauce until smooth
When sauce has simmered for at least 20 minutes, blend sauce until smooth. Add half and half, hot pepper flakes, and salt to taste. Blend for 10 more seconds. Keep sauce on low heat until heated through (and the pasta is ready!).
Add drained pasta and chicken to sauce. Stir until each piece of penne is well-coated with sauce.
Plate and garnish with fresh basil and more parmigiano!
Tips for Delicious Penne Alla Vodka
- Make sure to let your sauce simmer, uncovered, for at least 20 minutes. You can keep it on the stove for up to an hour on low heat!
- You can add sauce to the top of your pasta instead of mixing it in, if preferred!
- If you only like a little sauce on your pasta, I recommend mixing in half the sauce to start, and then adding more as desired.
Tips for Juicy Baked Chicken
Follow the recipe for Juicy Baked Chicken Breasts on my blog. You won’t regret it!
10 Ways to Use Vodka Sauce (and Penne Alla Vodka Variations!)
- With Shrimp – toss in 1 pound cooked or grilled shrimp to your penne alla vodka.
- With Sausage – add cooked or grilled chunks of Italian sausage. I recommend 4-5 links.
- With Pancetta – add 8 ounces of crispy diced pancetta to your pasta!
- With Prosciutto – add a few slices of prosciutto to a nonstick skillet over medium heat and let prosciutto heat until crispy, flipping every few minutes for 5-9 minutes.
- With Bacon – add about 12 ounces of crispy, smoky bacon to your pasta.
- With Spinach – spinach is a great vegetarian option for penne alla vodka. Toss a few large handful into your pasta with sauce. The spinach will wilt as you toss it!
- With Peas – add about 1 cup of cooked peas to your sauce right before serving!
- Classic Chicken Parmesan or Grilled Chicken Parmesan – instead of plain marinara sauce, substitute vodka sauce on your chicken parm!
- Lasagna – give the people what they want! Use vodka sauce instead of marinara for lasagna.
- On pizza or calzones – instead of regular red pizza sauce, use vodka sauce for a beautiful creamy blush finish on pizza or for a homemade calzone dipping sauce.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Yes! Vodka sauce’s signature ingredient is vodka, which gives it a distinct bite and hint of spiciness that works so well with the acid of the tomatoes.
Yes! You can freeze vodka sauce if you don’t plan on using it within 5 days of making and refrigerating it! Freeze for 4-5 months.
Vodka sauce is a light blush tomato sauce that has a unique “kick” from the vodka that plays beautifully off the acid of the tomatoes. The sauce’s light creaminess is just enough to cut the acid. It’s so versatile and absolutely divine!
What to Serve With Penne Alla Vodka
Since this recipe includes chicken, this Penne Alla Vodka is a full meal! To complete your dinner with a veggie, try Summer Squash Carpaccio, Roasted Carrots & Leeks, or a simple salad made with one of these 3 Easy Salad Dressings.
More Pasta Recipes on Tastefully Grace!
- Authentic Cacio e Pepe
- Pasta With Caramelized Onion, Sausage & Parsley
- Pasta Alla Norma
- Lobster Pasta with Leeks and Peas
- Emersion blender or regular blender
- 1 pound penne pasta
- 1 pound chicken breasts
- 1 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes
- ½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano or parmesan cheese, finely grated
- 1/3 cup plain vodka
- ¾ cup half and half
- 1 medium sweet onion chopped
- 3 large garlic cloves chopped
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Dash hot pepper flakes
- Fresh basil optional
- Bake or grill your chicken. To bake, coat chicken in 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, place on a baking sheet, and bake at 425 degrees for 17-21 minutes until the thickest part of your chicken reaches at least 165 degrees.
- While the chicken is baking, in a large pot, add 2 tablespoons olive oil, onion and garlic. Sweat for 4-5 minutes over medium heat.
- Add the tomatoes and crush into small pieces using a potato masher. Add the vodka. Stir. Uncovered, heat the sauce over medium until simmering (about 5 minutes).
- Add 1 tablespoon balsamic, parmesan, salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer over medium-low heat, uncovered, for at least 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.
- While sauce is simmering, make sure to take your chicken out of the oven, let rest for 5 minutes, and then slice into bite-sized chunks. Wrap in foil to keep warm.
- Boil your pasta until al-dente, according to the box directions.
- When sauce has simmered for at least 20 minutes, use an emersion blender or regular blender to blend sauce until smooth. Add half and half, hot pepper flakes, and salt to taste. Blend for 10 more seconds. Keep sauce on low heat until heated through (and the pasta is ready!)
- Add drained pasta and chicken to sauce. Stir until each piece of penne is well-coated with sauce.
- Plate and garnish with fresh basil and more parmigiano!
- You can immediately bake your chicken or let it marinate in the fridge for up to 24 hours!
- Store leftover sauce in the fridge for up to 5 days before freezing.