Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken

Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken

You know how sometimes you see a recipe on TV and just by hearing the ingredients, you think “That has to be good!”  That’s exactly what happened to me when I heard chef Chef Joe Realmuto, of Nick and Toni’s restaurant give out the recipe for his penne alla vodka.  Of course, the recipe he shared had to be scaled-down considerably from what he makes in the actual restaurant.  The first time that I make any recipe, I follow the instructions to a tee.  Then after tasting, I look for ways to modify the recipe to either make it better or better for me.  Some recipes need very little tweaking, such as this one – it really is my favorite penne alla vodka.

I did make a few adjustments like using gluten free pasta, less spice than it calls for, half the amount of heavy cream, I added fresh basil instead of fresh oregano, and I added chicken to make it more of a complete meal.  This recipe has a few decadent touches (the cream and pancetta) but both in small amounts.  The secret to this pasta is how long the sauce cooks in the oven before it is added to the pasta.  It is an easy pasta to make but granted, the oven cook time makes it more time consuming – I do promise it is worth it.


Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken

Not all a good gluten free pasta was created equal, and Barilla pasta tastes like regular pasta.  If you haven’t tried gluten free pasta before, here is some info on Barilla Gluten Free Pasta:

    • Delicious taste and texture – tastes like regular pasta
    • Made with corn and rice
    • Certified Gluten Free
    • Produced on dedicated gluten free production lines
    • Non-GMO ingredients

Here are the ingredients that I used for this pasta.  I added chicken to make it a full meal, although this can stand on it’s own, even without the chicken, because it is so flavorful and hearty.  Best of all, it is homemade and full of fresh ingredients.


1/4 cup olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes (or even less if you don’t want it too spicy)

1 teaspoon of dried oregano

1 Cup of Vodka

2 (28-ounce) cans peeled San Marzano tomatoes, drained

12 ounces of penne pasta

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons of fresh basil (plus a little more for serving)

1/2 cup of heavy cream (or 3/4 cup, if desired)

1/4 cup parmesan cheese (plus a little more for serving)

1 chicken breast, shredded (I use store-bought rotisserie chicken, you can use 2 chicken breasts as well)

1/4 cup of cooked pancetta (optional)

Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken

Set the oven at 375 degrees F.  Find a sauté pan that has a lid that can later go in the oven.  Heat the olive oil inside the pan and add the onions and the garlic until translucent.  Then add the dried oregano and the pepper flakes.  Continue to cook for 2 minutes.

Add the vodka to the pan and allow to cook down by half for a few minutes.

Note: Whenever you add alcohol to a pan, be very careful and do it away from the burner.

Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken

Put on an apron and a face shield (kidding about that last part, kinda).  Drain the 2 28oz cans of San Marzano tomatoes and reserve the liquid for another recipe.  Then add the whole tomatoes to the pan, crushing them in your hand one by one.  I have seen Martha Stewart use kitchen shears to break up whole tomatoes, but it’s not as fun.  Add 2 teaspoons of salt and a pinch of pepper.

Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken

Cover the pan and place inside the oven for an hour and a half.  Carefully remove the pan from the oven (don’t forget that the handle is hot) and allow to cool while you are cooking the penne pasta.  The sauce will already look delicious.  I use an immersion blender to blend this sauce but a blender or a food processor is recommended.  Return the sauce to the pan once pureed.

Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken

Cook your pasta following the package instructions until it is al dente.

Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken

Then add 1/2 cup of cream to the sauce.  They recommend a full cup, but I cut back and it was still fine.  It is totally up to you how much you add as long as it’s a cup or less, so that you don’t dilute all the flavor that you have built up.  Taste for seasonings and if needed, add another pinch of salt and pepper.  Simmer for another 5 minutes.  Your sauce is ready!

Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken


Add the pasta to your pan and 1/4 cup of parmesan and stir.

Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken

Add the chicken and a few pieces of the pancetta (optional) and simmer for another couple of minutes.

Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken

Voila!  It is just as delicious as it looks.  There is not a lot of pancetta in this dish, not a lot of cream, not a lot of cheese, but you can totally get away with it because the sauce is so flavorful after cooking in the oven.  There is always a way to cut back the most decadent dishes without completely substituting the ingredients – roasting and allowing flavors to develop make it so that this recipe needs very little else to taste amazing.

Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken

I think it deserves a close-up.

Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken

Add a little extra parm if you want…and who doesn’t want?

Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken

For more Barilla Gluten Free recipe ideas, check out their Pinterest account that shares new recipes all the time!

Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken


One more thing!  I purchased this pasta at my local BJ’s Wholesale Club.  Visit BJ’s Wholesale Clubs on December 22nd and 23rd to see an in-store Barilla Gluten Free pasta demo at select clubs.



For more awesome ideas and pasta dishes, check out the delicious options below! Don’t they look amazing?


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