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Lighter Penne a la Vodka is a lightened-up version of the classic Italian comfort food dish.


Maybe you were wondering if Ben worked for Buca di Beppo in high school, and has had an unnatural obsession with their mouthwatering, homestyle Italian food ever since? You were? Good.


He routinely asks me to scour the internet for copykat recipes of theirs to make for dinner, like Meatball Roulade.


Meatball Roulade? What the heck is meatball roulade?! A roll of meatballs? That actually doesn’t sound half bad…


Usually I talk him off the ledge, as these restaurant style recipes can take hours to handcraft and simmer – time I just don’t have during the busy work week – and are way too heavy to indulge in on the regular.

Hmm, why don’t we have a salad instead?!” I’ll suggest.

“That is not the same.” he’ll reply.


Well my man finally threw out a request I just couldn’t refuse – to recreate one of his all-time favorite Bucca dishes: Penne a la Vodka.


Pasta (my favorite) and marinara sauce, laced with cheese (my second favorite) and vodka (my third favorite)? Sold! (It’s been a long week, people!)


Restaurant style Penne a la Vodka typically overwhelms marinara sauce with heavy cream and tons of pasta, but the recipe I used tonight called for skim milk, healthy(er) whole wheat penne, and just a wee bit of parmesan cheese.

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Since I scaled back on the serving size you’d normally get at a restaurant too, I was able to add a seasoned, grilled chicken breast on top. Yay, volume!


(PS this Mr BBQ Grill Pan ROCKS!)


Got to splurge a bit with broiled mozz on top! ;)


Lighter Penne a la Vodka


Lighter Penne a la Vodka is a lightened-up version of the classic Italian comfort food dish.


Serves 6-8

  • 1 pound whole-grain penne
  • 16oz good quality marinara sauce (I used Gino's)
  • 1 1/2 cups skim milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 6-8 chicken breasts
  • garlic powder, salt & pepper
  • shredded mozzarella cheese


  1. Bring marinara sauce to a simmer over medium heat in a large saucepan. Slowly add milk, whisking to combine, and bring back to a simmer. Lower heat and continue to simmer until sauce thickens, ~5 minutes.
  2. Add crushed red pepper flakes and vodka to the marinara sauce. Continue simmering for at least 10 more minutes.
  3. Pound chicken breasts flat, spray each side with non-stick spray, and season with garlic powder, salt & pepper. Grill or sauté in a skillet until cooked through.
  4. Meanwhile, boil a large pot of water. Add a generous dash of salt and pour in pasta. Cook to al dente, drain and return to the pot. Pour in sauce and parmesan cheese. Mix to combine.
  5. Top each portion of pasta with a chicken breast and mozzarella cheese. Broil until golden brown.


This recipe is courtesy of Iowa Girl Eats, http://iowagirleats.com.


I’ll admit, I’ve never actually had Penne a la Vodka before, so I have nothing to compare it to, but I thought this was delish! I think I would like it even better with regular white pasta though. The whole grain is a little too off the beaten path for an Italian dish like this. Ben’s not home from work yet, so I’m anxious to see what he thinks too. :)


The bite from the vodka was just noticeable, but not so much as to where I was like, ok I’m eating vodka for dinner.


Which, as much as I like a splash in my Arnold Palmer, Watermelon Cooler and Lemonade, I’m not in the habit of doing. ;)

And, as much as as I’d like to partake in any one of the above beverages this evening, there is STILL laundry to be done. How do two people accumulate SO much?! I’ll never understand it! Oh, life. ;)

Have a great night!


Would you/do you ever cook with vodka or other alcohol?

One of my all time favorite recipes I’ve ever posted on IGE is Wine Braised Beef Shepard’s Pie. omggggggg.