Lightened-Up Penne a la Vodka is the comfort food you crave, remade without the guilt (butter & heavy cream) – but doesn’t disappoint on being creamy, cheesy, silky, and full of flavor.
FULL-FAT VODKA SAUCE
If you’ve ever made vodka sauce before, it’s no mystery as to what makes it so amazing. The sauce calls for about 2 sticks of butter & something like 2-3 cups of heavy cream, like most good things in life. Which is why it is literally my favorite pasta sauce. Forget the vodka, it’s made up of about 80% fat.
Fat can be a good thing (egg yolks), but it can also be very heavy (baby back ribs). In moderation, this is all good. In fact, I will eventually post my family’s traditional Penne a la Vodka sauce for your cheat meals/days/bulking/treats/entertaining. It’s a no-fail recipe that any beginner could make and always looks impressive.
FAT, THE MACRONUTRIENT
Let’s backtrack for a second. I do not want you to get the impression that I’m shaming eating fat or even coming close to saying that “fat makes you fat”. This is really far from the truth. Without getting too in-depth as to what kinds of fats there are, our bodies need this macronutrient. Just like the other two macronutrients (carbs & protein), fats are vital to our body’s daily functions. And just like carbs and protein, some fats are better for you than others.
The real reason foods loaded with fat tend to be heavier is because fat has more calories per gram than the other two macros. Carbs and protein are both 4 calories per gram, while fat (in all forms) carries 9 calories per gram.
So, that’s why your 2 tbsp of peanut butter (180 calories) is the same as the 4 ounces of chicken breast you eat for lunch (180 calories), even though the portion is very different. You intuitively know this too: whole milk nutrition vs skim milk, 80% ground beef vs 92%, etc. Fat does not make you fat, the extra calories do. So when you’re losing weight, it’s a great place to cut unnecessary calories from.
PENNE A LA VODKA, HOLD THE FAT
Now that you understand what makes this dish so heavy & why – you also understand what needs to be replaced in this recipe. However, what I did not want to happen was to cut out all the good stuff and be left with something that tastes “kinda, sorta” like Penne a la Vodka. What this Lightened-Up Penne a la Vodka DOES make is a happy medium, that you may not even be able to taste.
So in this recipe, the butter gets cut way down. The heavy cream gets replaced with…yup, plain Greek yogurt! And you wouldn’t even know it. My husband pretty much hates yogurt and couldn’t tell. Lastly, the vodka – is eliminated. But, Christine, why? Vodka isn’t a fat. And what’s vodka sauce without the vodka? Well, yes – however, alcohol – besides being there to deepen the tomato flavor, is kind of a useless waste of calories in a lightened-up version.
Also, assuming you’re making this version for any health-related goals, alcohol just doesn’t fit into this one. While we’re on the topic, when we ingest alcohol, our bodies cannot do anything with it. It provides us with nothing. It’s technically its own macronutrient that our bodies can’t store as fat. What this means though, is that since our bodies cannot store it, it switches to burn the energy (calories) in alcohol and postpones fat burning (even in a deficit). So, in short, alcohol consumption inhibits fat oxidation. I linked an article below if you’d like to learn more about this!
But I digress. Without much of the fat and the vodka, this Lightened Up Penne a la Vodka is still creamy, silky, and familiarly delicious. The whole dish comes together much quicker too! Making it perfect for a weeknight indulgence – or maybe it will just feel that way! Making a big batch of the sauce to portion out throughout the week is also a fantastic idea!
Lightened-Up Penne a la Vodka
- 8 oz penne
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter
- ½ cup diced shallot
- 2 cups tomato sauce – can or premade jar
- ½ cup diced Canadian ham
- 4 tbsp nonfat half and half
- ¼ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
- ¼ cup minced fresh parsley
- Parmesan cheese
Boil a pot of water and cook pasta according to directions (8-10 min).
While the pasta is cooking, heat a stockpot on medium and add in butter. When butter has melted, add in shallot, moving around to coat in the butter.
Once the shallot is translucent (3-4 minutes), add in the tomato sauce and stir. Bring this to a boil and then lower to a simmer.
Add in the Canadian ham and the half and half to the sauce. The sauce will start to lighten in color. Turn the heat off and work the Greek yogurt into the sauce, stirring until it is fully incorporated. Finally, mix in most of the fresh parsley (save some to top your pasta!)
Drain your pasta, return to pot, and toss a couple ladles full of sauce into your pasta to coat.
Serve with more sauce on top, grated parmesan cheese, and the leftover fresh parsley!