whole wheat pasta with creamy vegan pesto


I've said it before and I'll probably never stop saying it: pesto is one of my favorite things, ever. Put it on pasta, on toast, on whatever (or just hand me a spoon) and I am going to be happy about it. It's one of those transformative foods that doesn't take much effort but can really pump up any dish.

Since I've recently mastered the world of vegan mac and cheese thanks to the magical capabilities of the cashew, I had to ask: what about the other very, very not vegan sauce that I typically steer clear of? I am, of course, talking about the very, very typically dairy-laden alfredo sauce. Slathered on top of fettucine was one of my favorite ways to enjoy this decadent dish when I was a kid, care-free of what all that heavy cream was doing to my insides. But couldn't there be a way to replicate this? With what I now know cashews and a little nutritional yeast can do, I thought: yep, it's worth a try. Combine that gumption with my passion for pesto and I knew a master recipe was about to be born.

For this recipe, you'll need:

1/2 pound of your favorite whole wheat pasta (farfelle was my shape of choice)
1/2 cup cashews, soaked in water for at least two hours**
2 teaspoons + 1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 small white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk
1 tablespoon organic corn starch
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups kale***
1/2 cup almonds, toasted
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 medium cauliflower, cut it florets (optional)
1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved (optional)

**The longer you can soak your cashews, the better. If you know you're going to whipping this up later in the day, drop them in a bowl of cold water first thing that morning. 

***Kale pesto has sort of become my standby, but you can use any favorite green or green herb you like: chard, spinach, mint, etc. Of course traditional basil would be amazing, but it's not exactly plentiful in February. Try what you like and see what works best for you. 

If you're going to top this lovely dish with some roasted veggies, begin by preheating your oven to 375 degrees. On a large baking sheet, toss your cauliflower in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Transfer to the oven for fifteen minutes. After that time, add your tomato halves and cook for 15 minutes more until the tomatoes start to soften and the cauliflower begins to brown.

Meanwhile, preheat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Heat your remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil and add your onions, sautéing for about 5-7 minutes. Add 1 clove of your garlic and sauté for one minute more. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook your pasta according to the package instructions.

In a blender (the more power, the better), add your onions and garlic along with your soaked cashews, almond milk, corn starch, nutritional yeast, mustard powder, nutmeg and some salt and pepper. Basically: everything. Blend until smooth, about 1-2 minutes. 

Transfer your sauce (the texture of which will be pretty thin right now, but don't worry) back to the medium saucepan. Get the heat up to medium and cook for about five minutes, whisking often, until thickened. (What you're looking for is a sauce that coats your whisk/spoon and doesn't easily drip.)

Keeping an eye on your sauce, add your kale (or green of choice), remaining clove of garlic and toasted almonds to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped, about ten pulses or twenty seconds. Toss in with your sauce, which should now be getting close to done. 

Pour your sauce over your prepared pasta and fold together until evenly coated. Serve as is or top with your roasted veggies (other toppings that might be great: broccoli, scallions, caramelized onions, bell peppers). I dare you, I really do, to tell me it doesn't taste exactly like the alfredo you remember.

Looking for other things vegan yet creamy?