Penne and Spinach a la Vodka

A few weeks back I was pleasantly stunned to read that meat consumption is down 12% since 2007. No one’s sure if it’s just the economy or whether Meatless Mondays is starting to have an impact, but meat consumption is clearly down. I’d like to think it’s all the meatless delicious recipes we’re starting to see in restaurants, magazines, and blogs.

As Maggy and I continue to find ways take ways to take meat off the dinner plate and still eat sumptuously, we’ll share what we discover with you. Here’s our latest contribution to the cause—Penne and Spinach a la Vodka.

Evaporated milk makes a wonderful low-fat and calorie alternative to heavy cream in this sauce. Just makes sure to add that pinch of baking soda to neutralize some of the sauce’s acidity, which will prevent the milk from curdling.

Here’s to less meat, better meat!

Penne and Spinach a la Vodka
Serves: 4 to 6
  • Salt
  • 12 ounces penne (whole grain or white, your choice)
  • 8 ounces (about 8 cups) baby (or coarsely chopped) fresh spinach
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ medium sweet onion, such as Vidalia
  • 3 medium garlic cloves
  • 1 cup each: vodka and chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup evaporated milk
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, plus extra for topping
  1. Bring 2 quarts of salted water to boil in a large soup kettle. Using back-of-the-box times as a guide, add pasta and cook, partially covered and stirring frequently at first to prevent sticking, until just tender. Add spinach to the boiling pasta the last few minutes of cooking. Reserving 1 cup of pasta water, drain penne and return it to the pot.
  2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook until tender and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add vodka; bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by half. Add broth and tomatoes; return to a simmer and stir in baking soda.  Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer to pasta sauce consistency, about 15 minutes. Stir in evaporated milk and simmer to blend flavors, 3 to 4 minutes longer. Add ⅔ of the sauce to drained pasta; toss to coat. Serve, topping each portion with additional sauce and a sprinkling of cheese.
Don’t forget to add the baking soda which neutralizes some of the acid in the tomatoes and keeps the milk from curdling.


Keep It Fresh

Keep up-to-date with:
New recipes, contests and giveaways, Three Many Cooks news, and much more.


  1. Cassie Sue says

    Sadly meatless mondays have not caught on at our house with my steak loving hubby, but I have found with these meatless dishes I can add a lot less meat then we would normally eat with a dinner (maybe a few shrimp tossed with the pasta) and it keeps the hubby happy. So I will say that reduced meat mondays has been working for us.

  2. says

    That’s all that matters, Cassie Sue. As the last line of my post says, “Here’s to less meat, better meat!” Adding a few shrimp to this pasta would be excellent!

  3. says

    Too funny! I actually made vodka sauce last night! My husband had never had it before, since he’s allergic to dairy. I used coconut milk in place of the cream in my recipe, and made it a little extra spicy, and it was insanely good! I definitely need to add spinach next time though. Anything to some more veggies in. And yes, less meat, better meat, has become our mantra!

  4. Laura says

    love the usage of evaporated milk instead of heavy cream! i cannot tell you how many recipes i gloss over because of the inclusion of cream. i know you can’t always substitute heavy cream, but I’m going to start experimenting with evaporated milk in other recipes that call for heavy cream so i won’t have to miss out.

  5. laura says

    Oh, this sounds soooo good. I usually skip cream sauces because they’re just too rich for me. Is substituting whole milk just as effective as the evaporated milk? or would that create a dish that’s lacking body? Thank you so much. You just might know how much I love your recipes and books, but if not, I and my family and friends just love the talent you share with all of us.

  6. says

    Hey Laura,

    Since half the water has been been gently cooked out of evaporated milk, it’s richer than regular milk. Unless there’s a good reason, I’d stick with evaporated milk.

    And thanks for the good words. I love sharing what I learn in the kitchen.

  7. Molly says

    I’m converted myself (not my family) to meatless all meals except dinners Tuesday through Sunday. If I can get away with it more I do but I’m always trying to watch/make sure to get enough protein. Any idea as to how much protein is in a serving of this? It looks delicious!

    To Cassie, I’ve become good at preparing meals that are both contain meat and not meat. For instance, spaghetti – I make two pans, one with meat/meatballs, the other full of stir fried veggies and split the sauce between both pans. Or I make a “side” to a meat meal that really can just be eaten as a vegetarian meal. At first I was frustrated no one joined me in my vegetarian ways but now I’m having fun with it. Even this recipe could serve as small side to a steak or grilled chicken breast and a main meal for me!

  8. mindy says

    This sounds great! Thanks for the information on evaporated milk. I’ve always wondered when it should and when it should not be used in recipes and what it can sub for. I’ll have to keep a can in the pantry.

  9. says

    Wow, I can’t believe that meat consumption is down that much is such a short time span! Hopefully people are truly trying to balance their meals with a variety of options. This version of penne a la vodka sounds awesome, and I appreciate the low-fat option.

  10. Shelley says

    Thank you for letting us know about the pinch of baking soda. I have a tomato cream soup recipe that calls for the baking soda and I never knew why! I am making your bean bugers for dinner tonight because the last time I made them my husband said he preferred them over meat burgers! Thank you for all of your recipes, my life is now so delicious!

Share Your Comments & Feedback:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *