Recipe: Creamy Cashew-Pesto Pasta

I eat pasta for dinner wayyyyyy more than I should probably admit…

But let’s be real: pasta is delicious and filling and the perfect vehicle for any random veggies and sauces that you have lurking in your refrigerator. And it’s so quick and easy to throw together after a long day at work so honestly I’m not even ashamed to tell you that I eat pasta for dinner most weeknights!

IMG_8977Pasta with pesto has always been one of my favorite summer meals. I grew up eating it with fresh mozzarella and perfectly ripe tomatoes and all of these flavors automatically bring me back to eating dinner on my family’s front porch in Massachusetts. As soon as I started cooking for myself, I tried my hand at my mother’s recipe and felt such a strong connection to my past and all of the food memories I held so dear. But then I went vegan… and all of a sudden the heaps of parmesan cheese in the original recipe went out the window. I managed to veganize the recipe over the years, but the amount of olive oil in it just doesn’t agree with my body like it used to. I am constantly experimenting, trying to recreate pesto-flavored sauces and spreads made with wholesome ingredients that make my body feel amazing, and this recipe is my absolute favorite. The addition of spinach gives it a nutritional boost and adds to its beautiful green color!

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This recipe came together once I started growing my own basil plant outside on my deck,and I realized that I could add some fresh basil to my standard cashew cheese sauce to make it more like a pesto. This led to me throwing a shit ton of spinach into my Vitamix to add to the green color and up the nutritional quality of the sauce, because let’s be real: it’s ooey and gooey and creamy and some extra veggies never hurt anyone.

Now, the tapioca starch in this sauce is incredibly important and here’s why: it thickens the sauce and it gives it a slightly stretchy quality when you heat the sauce up, which makes it seem just a little bit cheesy. When you first blend up the sauce it is going to seem WAYYYY too liquidy and you’re going to think that there was too much water added so here’s a little disclaimer: I do it this way because once I heat it up with the pasta on the stovetop, it thickens up, and this way it makes more pasta sauce and lasts longer. And it’s more bang for my buck! If you want a thicker sauce without having to heat it up, start with one cup of water and then adjust if needed. It’s totally up to you, just wanted to acknowledge that at first you’re going to be like “what the hell, this does NOT seem like pasta sauce!” But trust me, once it’s all mixed up and sitting on the heat for a few minutes, it will be creamy and gooey and will result in a comforting bowl of carby goodness.

Creamy Cashew-Pesto Pasta 

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INGREDIENTS: 

3/4 cup cashew pieces (raw is preferable but I’ve also used roasted cashews when they were all I could find)
1/2 cup spinach, tightly packed
1/4 cup fresh basil, tightly packed
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 1/2 teaspoon tapioca starch
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste (I used 10 cranks of my pepper grinder)
2 cups water (or start with 1 cup and adjust to desired sauce thickness)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
16 ounce bag of gluten free pasta (Tinkyada is pretty much the only gluten free pasta I’ll buy)
2 large heirloom tomatoes, diced

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil + salt generously
  2. Combine cashew pieces, spinach, fresh basil, nutritional yeast, tapioca starch, sea salt, dried oregano, dried basil, cracked pepper, water (start with 1 cup if you want a thick sauce or 2 cups if you want enough sauce for a full pound of pasta), lemon juice, and apple cider vinegar in a high speed blender and blend until smooth. You can also do this in a standard blender, but I would soak the cashews beforehand so that they will blend up easier. You should really soak your cashews all the time, regardless of what type of blender you have, but I’m never planning that far ahead!
  3. Add pasta to boiling water and cook until it reaches desired texture. I like to leave mine on the slightly al dente side because you’ll be cooking it a bit longer once you’re heating it up with the sauce and you don’t want the pasta to turn into complete mush!
  4. While the pasta is cooking, dice up some heirloom tomatoes and sprinkle with some salt and pepper if desired.
  5. Once it is cooked, drain pasta and add it back to the pot with a generous amount of the cashew pesto sauce. I used almost all of the blended sauce for the pound of pasta, leaving probably 1/2 cup leftover for me to store in the fridge. Add as much or as little sauce as you want. Turn the heat down to medium low and let it heat up, stirring constantly so as not to have a scorched pot situation! You will notice that after a minute the sauce will start to thicken up and take on that ooey gooey quality. Keep stirring and moving the pasta around in the pot until you don’t have any liquid left and all of the sauce is clinging to the pasta. This took me around three or four minutes.
  6. Serve pasta with diced tomatoes and freshly ground black pepper. Enjoy!

Let me know if you give this recipe a try and keep your eyes peeled for more vegan and gluten free recipes coming to the site soon!

Love, Brenna

 

 

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