Whole-wheat penne and earthy kale tossed in a creamy sun-dried tomato cashew sauce. This virtuously hearty, plant-based pasta dish is weeknight-friendly and kid-approved.When all you want is a bowl of creamy pasta, let this recipe be the answer. I like to think of it as a healthier, adult-version of mac n’ cheese, but with Mediterranean flair.
The velvety sauce gets its luscious creaminess from blended cashews, while sun-dried tomatoes add a bright punch of flavor. Every time I cook with sun-dried tomatoes, I’m quickly reminded how much I appreciate their intense flavor and delicate sweetness. Outside of blending them into sauces, they’re absolutely divine tossed in salads or used as a topping for crostini.Also a key player in the sauce is my go-to flavor enhancer: nutritional yeast. If you’re not familiar, nutritional yeast is a dairy-free seasoning especially favored by vegans for its deeply savory, cheese-like flavor. I use nutritional yeast the same way I would grated cheese—tossed in salads, stirred into soups, or sprinkled over pasta.
Nutritional yeast is sodium-free and actually packs a hefty bit of protein into each serving. Since many plant-based eaters favor this product, many brands are fortified with vitamin B12, an essential vitamin that maintains healthy nerve cells and helps prevent a certain type of anemia. If you wind up with leftover sauce, use it in anything from salads and grain bowls to a meat or fish topper. It’s versatile flavor compliments just about any protein, vegetable, or grain you pair it with.
Repurposing leftovers is one of my favorite pastimes, by the way. This recipe is endlessly riffable using your favorite protein or vegetables. If you’re not trying to keep it plant-based, sprinkle in some crumbled Italian sausage, grilled chicken, or even shrimp. I also love it with sautéed mushrooms and tempeh for a little extra oomph.
Sprinkle some crushed cashews overtop for added crunch and you’ve got yourself a nutritious, comforting pasta dish. This is how you win weeknights, my friends!
- ⅓ cup raw cashews
- 1 cup warm water
- ½ cup drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
- 3 Tbsp. nutritional yeast (or grated parmesan cheese if not making plant-based)
- 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- ¾ tsp. kosher salt
- ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1 lb. whole-wheat penne (or pasta of choice)
- 3 cups roughly chopped lacinato kale
- Fresh basil for garnish
- Soak cashews in 1 cup warm water for 20 minutes.
- Transfer cashews and soaking water to a blender. Add sun-dried tomatoes, nutritional yeast (or cheese), lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper; blend until smooth.
- Cook pasta according to package instructions in salted water. Reserve 1 cup pasta water; drain remaining. Transfer cooked pasta back to pot and place back on burner with heat turned off; add ½ cup reserved pasta water and kale; toss pasta continuously for about 1 minute, until kale begins to wilt. Alternate adding cashew sauce and remaining pasta water, stirring continuously, until sauce coats noodles and desired level of creaminess is achieved. (Note: you may not end up using all of reserved pasta water or sauce, but better to have extra.) Divide pasta evenly onto each of 5 plates. Garnish with additional chopped cashews and fresh basil, if desired.