Let’s Cook! Not-quite Penne alla Vodka

March 14, 2012

Most everyone that cooks much has a few “go-to” recipes in their repertoire – maybe it’s the can’t miss special dish to impress guests, or that healthy version of a classic that still tastes good or the one you know you can make easily on a busy evening and still feel like you’ve made something special, or maybe it’s one that’s all of those… and that’s what this recipe is…

Like many (okay, probably most) of us, I really have to try and watch what I eat most of the time (try to ignore the specialty hot dogs you’ve seen the pics of from Disney for now), but I still have to have something full of flavor not to feel too deprived. I came across the basis for this recipe in Rocco Dispirito’s “Now Eat This!” cookbook where he takes “150 of America’s favorite comfort foods” and lightens them up to under 350 calories a serving… some of the techniques for mimicking fried foods look to be a bit tedious, but some have some genius substitutions that really bring down the calories (and fat) while still producing a darn tasty dish. When I first tried his recipe “No Cream-No Cry Penne alla Vodka” I was doubtful, but when I took my first bite I was amazed at the flavor! I was wondering if I’d sampled a bit too much wine and it had blurred my judgment, so I took some leftovers the next day to Mistress Sandra and Co-Worker Kelly for their assessments (not telling them it was a “sorta-diet” dish) and it was met with raves… when I made it for Miss Bonnie, well, we’ll just say she was grateful… around these parts it’s even now just known as “The Pasta” (as in, “I’m making The Pasta tonight”, to which the response is usually “Yummm!”).

So now that I’ve built this dish up so that it could never live up to the hype I’ve given it… Let’s Cook!

Not-quite Penne alla Vodka


1 Box Whole-Wheat Penne Pasta (usually about 13 – 14 ounces)

1 Jar of your favorite Marinara Sauce (usually about 24 ounces, pay attention to labels if you’re really watching the calories and fat – of course your homemade red sauce would be great too!)

1/2 cup or so Tequila (optional, see below)

Pinch (okay, 1/8 to 1/4 Tsp depending on your spice desires, you can always add more) of crushed Red Pepper

1 container (7 ounce) of 2% Plain Greek Yoghurt (this is the genius sub for the cream, trust me…)

1 Cup (or a bit more if you like) chopped Fresh Basil (don’t make it if you don’t use this or I’ll hunt you down and hurt you)

Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper to taste

8 Tbl Shredded (or grated if you prefer) Parmesan (or Parmigiano-Reggiano) Cheese (fresh please, not the stuff from the can!)


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to directions until still fairly firm (probably 8-9 minutes). Drain.

While the pasta is getting ready, put the marinara and red pepper into a large skillet and bring to a simmer over medium heat.

If desired, add the tequila to the jar and shake (put the, lid back on, of course!) to get out any remaining sauce…

and add to the skillet…

Now we must note that in his recipe Rocco (quite accurately) states that the traditional ingredient of vodka “is colorless, odorless, and without much flavor – not really attributes of a superstar ingredient”, so he simply omits it (and it flavorless calories) from the dish… well, Dedicated Readers know I can’t omit any alcohol, so I decided to add the all-time Eating (and Drinking) Around the World favorite: Tequila! We can move on now…

Simmer the sauce, stirring frequently, until a bit thickened and hot – 5 minutes or so. Remove from the heat.

Put the yoghurt in a bowl and stir a bit to loosen it up. Add about 1/2 cup of the sauce and stir it in well to temper the yoghurt (and prevent it from curdling when added to the hot sauce).

Now stir the yoghurt mixture into the marinara until smooth.

In a large bowl put the drained pasta, the sauce, basil and most of the Parmesan (reserve a bit for topping each serving)…

and now mix your little heart out… taste and stir in salt and pepper as desired…

Put into a bowl, sprinkle a bit of parm on top, serve and wait for the accolades!

A nice green salad and a glass of wine and you’ve got a great meal!

This dish is wonderful as is, but often I’ll doctor it up with additions…here some cooked chopped kale and sauteed mushrooms are joining the party…

Kale really ups the nutrition ante – you can also add it to the pasta for the last minute or two of cooking and it will be done… chopped/sliced fresh spinach can be added to the hot mixture at the end if you like… if you really feel the need some animal protein, cooked chicken breast can been folded in as well…

Give this a try – it’s one of my favorites, and almost semi-healthy! Would love to hear your thoughts after you try it! And yes, there even is a very tenuous and oblique Disney relation (for me at least) to this recipe (if you insist on knowing, ask and maybe I’ll add it to the comments…).

Now back to the kitchen – see you soon!

4 Responses to “Let’s Cook! Not-quite Penne alla Vodka”

  1. Jenn Says:

    This looks awesome! Saved and bookmarked 🙂 I have all the ingredients minus the fresh basil right now. Thanks!


  2. Karen Says:

    This must have been delicious. The fresh greens at the last minute are a nice addition.


  3. This sounds great! Going to try it this week. Love reading your blog btw, long time lurker 😀


  4. sambycat Says:

    walt loved vodka?


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