This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy.
Penne alla Vodka, minus the vodka! My Penne with Tomato Cream Sauce is a healthier version of the classic Italian pasta dish, that’s just as creamy, delicious, and loaded with peas and prosciutto. This gluten-free pasta recipe is easy enough for a weeknight dinner, and elegant enough for a special meal.
The Best Homemade Pasta Sauce
Penne alla vodka is one of my mom’s favorite dishes to order when we go out to eat. In New Jersey restaurants, this classic Italian pasta dish is made with penne noodles in a tomato cream sauce, often topped with peas and prosciutto.
We used to love it when my mom would make penne with her own homemade vodka sauce. She kept hers simple, though: pasta and sauce. The recipe came from our neighbor’s Italian mother and it was loaded with butter, cheese and heavy cream. Just like her favorite restaurants – mom wasn’t skimping on those heavier ingredients!
While the version I grew up with is still delicious, I had to try lightening it up. Made with tomatoes, prosciutto, green peas, with Greek yogurt in place of vodka and heavy cream, my recipe is still rich and creamy without being heavy. It’s a meal we all happily scarf down whenever I make it, guilt free!
What You’ll Need
Here’s everything you need to make this lightened-up version of penne with homemade pasta sauce:
- Penne Pasta: In this case, I used gluten-free pasta. But you can make this recipe with regular or whole wheat pasta if you aren’t gluten-free.
- Prosciutto: I prefer my prosciutto thinly sliced, and I cut the larger pieces into strips. If you can’t find real prosciutto, thinly sliced Serrano ham or smoked ham will also work.
- Butter: Ok, so I couldn’t leave the butter out altogether. But I worked it down to just a tablespoon! For added richness in the sauce.
- Onion: Your average medium brown or yellow onion is perfect.
- Tomatoes: One can of crushed tomatoes. Aim for the best quality, preferably Italian canned tomatoes, or fire-roasted tomatoes for the best flavor.
- Greek Yogurt: My favorite cream substitute! Especially here. Plain Greek yogurt gives this pasta sauce the richness of heavy cream and the tang of the vodka all in one.
- Parmesan Cheese: Since we cut down on the butter and cheese in this recipe, I take that as a green light to indulge in a good parmigiano reggiano. Balance! Find a good quality parmesan to grate into the sauce and for serving.
- Peas: Green peas, fresh or frozen. I use frozen for convenience, but the choice is yours.
- Salt and Pepper
How to Make Penne With Tomato Cream Sauce
You can whip up the tomato cream sauce for this recipe in the time it takes to cook your pasta! While your penne is boiling al dente, here are the steps for the sauce:
Prep: First, crisp up the prosciutto in a skillet before setting it aside. Next, in the same pan, saute the onions in butter until they’re translucent.
Cook: Add the crushed tomatoes to the pan to simmer with the onions. Lower the heat after a few minutes, and stir in the Greek yogurt, parmesan, crispy prosciutto slices, and finally the peas.
Combine: Finish the sauce with salt and pepper to taste, before adding in the pasta. Once heated through, serve your penne and top with an extra sprinkle (or two!) of parmesan cheese.
Tips for Success
Below are some helpful pointers to keep in mind when preparing your penne with tomato cream sauce:
- Enhance the Flavor of Canned Tomatoes: Some canned tomatoes may impart a sharper, more acidic “canned” flavor than others. Because canned tomatoes are cooked, but not fully cooked, they don’t have the caramelization or sweetness of a freshly cooked tomato. A quick way to enhance the flavor is to add salt! And a pinch of sugar. Both salt and sugar work with the acidity to cut down on some of the bitterness and bring out the flavor of the tomatoes. Add a little at a time, making sure to taste as you go.
- Don’t Overheat: Make sure that the sauce doesn’t get too hot after adding in the yogurt. Keep it at a simmer, not a boil, so that the dairy doesn’t curdle.
- Use Full Fat Greek Yogurt: I wouldn’t recommend making this tomato cream sauce with low fat or fat free Greek yogurt, as this is more likely to split when heated.
There are easy ways to change up the ingredients in this recipe to suit your family’s preferences!
- Different Pasta: You can really make this dish with any gluten-free (or regular) pasta you like! Short pasta noodles like penne and rigatoni tend to catch more of the sauce. But you can make it with spaghetti, linguine, ravioli, tortellini – there aren’t many noodles that wouldn’t taste amazing in this tomato cream sauce!
- Different Protein: Substitute the prosciutto with another cured meat of choice, or crispy bacon instead. For even more added protein, throw in some grilled chicken or shrimp.
- Add Veggies: For an extra daily dose of vegetables, saute broccoli or asparagus to add into the sauce along with the pasta. Or throw in a handful of baby spinach towards the end.
- Add Vodka: If you’d like to enjoy penne vodka that’s true to the classic Italian dish, add a tablespoon or two of vodka into the crushed tomatoes while they’re simmering. You can also try my Best Vodka Sauce Recipe!
- Make It Spicy: Throw in a pinch or two of crushed red pepper flakes to make a spicy tomato cream sauce!
- Add herbs: Dried oregano, or fresh or dried basil can be added to give the sauce extra depth.
Make It a Meal
It’s also just as perfect for entertaining! Serve it alongside some easy Italian-inspired appetizers and sides:
- Gluten Free Garlic Breadsticks
- Italian-Style Romaine Wedge Salad
- Poached Pear Salad with Blue Cheese
- Caprese Zoodles Salad
- Spinach Feta Pinwheels
How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
Leftovers can be kept sealed in the fridge for up to 4-5 days. Reheat your penne and sauce in the microwave covered with a paper towel, or in a saucepan on the stove until heated through. You can add in a spoonful of water or milk to help revive the sauce if needed.
Does This Freeze Well?
Penne with tomato sauce can be kept frozen for up to 3 months. Store it in an airtight container and then thaw it in the fridge before reheating.
More Crave-Worthy Pasta Dishes
- Gluten Free Baked Ziti
- 5-Ingredient Easy Beefaroni Recipe
- Italian Noodle Casserole
- Homemade Gluten Free Lasagna
- Pumpkin Penne with Cream Sauce
Penne with Tomato Cream Sauce
- 16 oz. box of penne pasta regular, whole wheat, or gluten free
- 4 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto cut into strips or small pieces
- 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
- half of a medium onion diced
- 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
- 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Additional grated or shaved parmesan cheese for serving, if desired
- Cook the pasta according to the package directions until slightly al dente. While the water is boiling and pasta is cooking, proceed to preparing the sauce.
- Prehat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the prosciutto and cook, tossing around occasionally, until crispy, about 10 minutes or so. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Add the butter to the pan, and, once melted, add the onion, sauteing for 3-5 minutes, or until soft and translucent.
- Add the crushed tomatoes and bring to a gentle simmer. Reduce heat to low, then stir in the Greek yogurt, parmesan cheese, peas, crisped prosciutto, and salt and pepper.
- Return to a gentle simmer, being careful not to boil so that you don't curdle the Greek yogurt.
- Stir in the pasta and heat it through. Serve with additional parmesan cheese, if desired.