Lightened-Up Penne alla Vodka


A lightened-up penne alla vodka recipe made with protein-packed red lentil penne and coconut cream. This version has less calories and fat, more protein and fiber and it’s still loaded with creamy flavor. Gluten-free and vegan. This post is sponsored by Barilla®. 

Plate of creamy, vegan penne alla vodka.

Can you believe Valentine’s Day is right around the corner? Whether you avoid it like the plague, celebrate Galentine’s Day instead or are looking forward to a date night with your sweetheart, I’ve got a recipe for you. Now I’m curious… which camp do you fall into?

Serving bowl of healthy, vegan and gluten free penne alla vodka next to a box of Barilla red lentil penne, garlic and fresh basil.=

Isaac and I used to go out for alllll of our special occasions – birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, etc. – but as we’ve gotten older, we’ve started loving nights in almost as much as nights out! I love creating special nights in. I get out the cloth napkins (if that isn’t #adulting, I don’t know what is…), the fancy wine glasses and set the table for a fun sit down meal. Bonus ambiance points for flowers and candles. The vibe of our dinner is almost as important as the food itself… almost. 😉

Which brings me to this pasta dish! I feel like Italian food plus a nice glass of wine is the perfect date – either out at a restaurant or at home. So, when Barilla approached me to create a healthy, vegan pasta dish for Valentine’s Day I was all in. Sounds like our ideal date night!

Healthy and vegan penne alla vodka on a plate next to garlic and fresh basil.

I love creamy vodka sauces, but I wanted to take a stab at a vegan version for you guys! I know a lot of you are plant-based or have dairy sensitivities and might be missing your creamy pasta sauces. The key ingredients in this sauce are: crushed tomatoes, coconut cream and vodka. Yes, you actually use vodka in the recipe! It’s used to heighten the flavor, but all of the alcohol cooks off so it’s family friendly. We actually didn’t have vodka on hand when I created this recipe, so I used vermouth instead and it was still delicious! 

Serving bowl of vegan penne alla vodka topped with fresh basil.

As you probably know by now, I used my beloved Barilla legume pasta to up the nutrition factor of this dish. I used the Barilla Red Lentil Penne specifically, which is made with just red lentils… so cool! It is packed with plant-based protein and is an excellent source of fiber. Protein and fiber are usually not words used to describe pasta, so I am obsessed with Barilla’s new line! If you want to check it out, it’s sold on Amazon

Plate and serving bowl of vegan penne alla vodka next to a box of Barilla red lentil penne.

For topping the pasta you can use dairy-free shredded parmesan or my hemp parmesan and chopped fresh basil. Don’t forget the basil. . . it’s so aromatic and brings this dish to the next level.

More Healthy Pasta Dishes You’ll Love

If you make this penne alla vodka please be sure to leave a comment and star rating below. Your feedback is so helpful for the EBF team and for other EBF readers who are thinking about making the recipe. 

Vegan Penne alla Vodka

5 from 3 votes
A lightened-up penne alla vodka recipe made with protein-packed red lentil penne and coconut cream. This version has less calories and fat, more protein and fiber and it's still loaded with creamy flavor. Gluten-free and vegan.
Healthy and vegan penne alla vodka on a plate next to garlic and fresh basil.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 4


  • 1 box, 8 oz Barilla Red Lentil Penne
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup vodka or vermouth
  • teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 1/3 cup coconut cream
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • ¼ cup dairy-free shredded parmesan or hemp parmesan


  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add pasta and cook until done, about 7 to 9 minutes. Drain.
  • Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and onions and cook for 5-6 minutes or until onions are translucent and fragrant. Carefully add crushed tomatoes into the skillet. Bring to a simmer and add salt, pepper and crushed red pepper. Stir to combine and cook for about 2 minutes before pouring in the vodka and simmering the sauce for another 5-6 minutes. Add in the coconut cream.
  • At this point you can add the drained pasta back to the pot and pour in the sauce to combine. Or you can plate the pasta and add sauce on top.
  • Sprinkle fresh basil and parmesan over the pasta and toss to mix. Serve immediately, passing additional parmesan if you like.


Serving: 1/4 of recipe Calories: 456kcal Carbohydrates: 57g Protein: 18g Fat: 18g Saturated Fat: 6g Fiber: 11g Sugar: 4g
Course: Lunch/Dinner
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: vegan penne alla vodka


Please leave a comment and star rating on this post and share on social media using the hashtag #eatingbirdfood. I love seeing your recipe shares!
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Recipe Rating

    1. carly
      May 26, 2020 AT 6:24 pm

      5 stars
      i can’t express how much i loved this recipe! my kitchen smelled like a five star italian restaurant and my family loved it. i didn’t have coconut cream, so I used fat free half and half. the sauce was slightly too thin for my taste (because I subbed the cream), so I thickened it up by blending some of the crushed tomatoes. thanks brittany!

      1. Brittany Mullins
        May 26, 2020 AT 10:29 pm

        Ahh that makes me so happy to hear, Carly! I’m so glad this pasta dish was a hit with your family. Thanks so much for trying it and for coming back to leave a comment + star rating. I really appreciate it. <3

    2. Jody
      February 16, 2020 AT 10:15 pm

      4 stars
      Can we just say…. DELISH! Just made this and it was perfect! Just enough and you don’t leave the table feeling super full or bloated. I’m not fully vegan, but do appreciate vegan meals a few times a week. This was truly the perfect recipe for the taste buds and the tummy. Thanks so much for sharing!

      1. Brittany Mullins
        February 18, 2020 AT 3:23 pm

        Ahh that makes me so happy to hear, Jody!! I’m so glad you enjoyed this recipe. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment + star rating. I so appreciate it. <3

    3. Jill Diamond
      February 13, 2019 AT 7:23 am

      How much Vodka is in the recipe? When do you put the coconut cream in?

      1. Brittany Mullins
        February 13, 2019 AT 8:26 am

        Hi Jill. Both of these are in the recipe. 1/4 cup of vodka and the coconut cream is added in step 2. 🙂

Parchment paper lined with protein balls.


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