Here’s something you may not know about me. I LOVE pasta. Mind you, my love of pasta does not rival my love of peanut butter; but it’s definitely way up there. Unfortunately, as most dairy-free pasta lovers know, pasta with red sauce and no cheese can get monotonous. At Italian restaurants, I get a raised eyebrow or two when I ask the waiter to take out the beautiful fresh mozzarella, or I turn down the daily special with cream sauce. It’s a little depressing. So at home, I decided to recreate something that reminded me of the phenomenal lasagnas I had as a kid, the ones bursting with creamy ricotta and covered with a cheesy crust. Or maybe the baked ziti that always calls my name when I see it on the menu…
I started experimenting a lot with a simple ricotta made from soaked cashews. Cashew cream is an AMAZING addition to a dish if you’re looking for a silky, creamy element that does not, in fact, contain dairy. You have to soak the cashews for several hours (at least 6), but once they’re soaked, all you need is a high speed blender. Boom. That easy. And you’re ready to make my awesome pasta bake.
Vegan Veggie and Sausage Pasta Bake
Cashew Ricotta —
- 1/2 cup cashews, soaked at least 6 hours
- 1 TB nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp oregano
- vegetable broth as needed
- salt and pepper to taste
Pasta Bake —
- 1/2 box pasta of choice – I love using Banza pasta, especially penne or rotini
- 1 cup marinara sauce
- 2 cups spinach, chopped (frozen will work, just defrost and press out water before
- 1 link vegan Italian sausage – Lightlife, Tofurkey, and Trader Joe’s are all brands I’ve tried
- 1 med. zucchini, sliced
- 1-2 cups mushrooms, sliced (depending on how much you like mushrooms)
- olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 TB bread crumbs
- 2 TB nutritional yeast
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Make the cashew ricotta. Place all ingredients in a high speed blender, blending until NO CASHEW CHUNKS remain. Add veggie broth as needed to the desired consistency. You want a slightly thick, but creamy texture. Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
- Put a medium saucepan of salted water on high heat until boiling. Add pasta until al dente. Drain.
- While the pasta is cooking, slightly sauté the mushrooms, zucchini, and sausage until the veggies are bright green and the sausage is slightly browned. They will continue cooking in the oven.
- In a large mixing bowl, add the marinara sauce, cashew ricotta, sautéed veggies and sausage, spinach, and cooked pasta. Stir together. This will look like a gloopymess. Don’t worry about it.
- Pour all ingredients in an ungreased baking dish (I use an 9×9 dish). Cover with foil. Bake for 15 minutes.
- Remove dish from the oven and take off the foil cover. Mix together the bread crumbs and nutritional yeast and sprinkle to the top of the bake.
- Return the dish to the oven and put on high broil for 5-10 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are toasted. Do not leave the kitchen for this… Depending on your oven, it may broil faster than expected. You don’t want a burnt pasta bake.
- Remove from the oven and serve!
I am completely aware of my addiction to pasta. But honestly, pasta gets such a bad rep. In my professional (HA) opinion, pasta is the greatest blank canvas for anything and everything that tickles your fancy. And it’s super easy to make SMART AND NUTRITIOUS choices when it comes to pasta. Choose whole wheat or bean pasta over refined white pasta to prevent blood sugar crashes and improve satiety. Add veggies to increase vitamin, mineral, and fiber content. Add lean protein sources to keep you full and contribute to your daily protein intake. There are a million ways to make a healthy pasta dish. Feel free to try mine and let me know what you think!