There are days when everything seems to go wrong. By the time dinner time rolls around, my bucket is just empty. It’s tempting to take a break from cooking, but the truth is: a home-made platter of pasta will be far more comforting than anything I can get ready-made. When that happens, I like to whip up an instant sauce following one of the three recipes below. Although the exact recipe changes from one time to the next, the results are always the same: a healthy quick vegan pasta dish. YUM! In this blog post, I will teach you how to make an instant sauce using pantry ingredients and leftover produce. Read this today so that, next time you’re craving a fast and comforting dinner, you’ll be able to create a delish and quick vegan pasta dish… lickety split.

* Photos to accompany this post are forthcoming, but I wanted to share before Friday night, because you need to read this before you need to cook it! *

If at all possible: roast some vegetables (no time? skip this step!)

When you walk into the kitchen, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit right away, just in case you find something in the produce drawer that will go well with your pasta. And I bet you will! The following veggies make amazing pasta companions:

  • mushrooms (quartered or sliced thickly),
  • cabbage of any color (chopped into chunks),
  • red or sweet onions (chopped into chunks),
  • carrots (sliced into half-moons, not too thick, not too thin),
  • red or orange bell peppers (big slices),
  • and of course cauliflower (just hack it into chunks, no time to preciously separate the florets).

Toss your findings with salt and pepper, perhaps adding 2 teaspoons of olive oil. That’s optional. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (to make clean up quicker) and spread your veggies on it in a single layer. Don’t crowd them too much or they’ll steam instead of roast! Slide that into the oven. They’ll be ready in 30, or whenever the pasta and sauce are done. You can toss them a bit at the halfway point, but really if you forget it’s not a big deal.

Set a pot of water to boil

Fill your big pasta pot to the 1/2 or 2/3 mark, put it on your biggest element, and turn it up on high. Now turn your attention to what you can do for a sauce. But keep an eye on it: as soon as it boils, you can throw in the pasta.

Instant sauce idea #1: Creamy hummus

It doesn’t get easier than that. It would be embarrassing to call it a recipe! All you need for this instant vegan sauce is to have at hand is about 1 cup of hummus, whether it’s store-bought or home-made doesn’t make a difference.

  1. Bring a big pot of water to a boil, add your pasta of choice, and cook for the suggested amount of time.
  2. Just before draining, cautiously use a measuring cup with a handle or a ladle to scoop out 1 cup of the pasta’s cooking water.
  3. Quickly drain the pasta then return it to the hot pot, but off the heat. Throw in a big scoop of hummus – between 2/3 cup and 1 1/2 cups depending on your taste (and the amount of pasta) – and stir quickly to coat. Add in some of the pasta cooking water to make the hummus “sauce” more creamy, starting with 1/4 cup and adding more if needed.
  4. There is no step 4! Unless you happen to have baby greens like young arugula, spinach, kale, or chard at hand, in which case you can throw in a handful into the pot right now, and stir again.

Variations

  • In the unlikely event that there isn’t hummus already in your fridge, you can make something similar by throwing in the blender some cooked chickpeas (or white beans!), lemon juice, tahini (or a small handful of nuts), and garlic, plus a bit of the pasta’s cooking water.
  • You could also use any other kind of vegan spread you have at hand, like a cashew “cream cheese,” and follow the same procedure.

Instant vegan sauce idea #2: Pesto (and infinite green and non-green variations)

This instant vegan sauce idea requires a blender or food processor, but even a not-so-great one will do – as long as you don’t mind a chunky pesto.

  1. Bring a big pot of water to a boil.
  2. While the pasta water is heating up, add some or all of the following ingredients to your blender:
    • handfuls of young greens (baby arugula, spinach, kale… even carrot tops!) and/or herbs (parsley, cilantro, basil…) (up to 3-4 cups)
    • handful of nuts or seeds (1/4 to 3/4 cup) like walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, pine nuts, cashews, macadamia nuts… go for a mix of a few of those if you’d like, but don’t add more than about 3/4 cup
    • lemon juice (2-6 tablespoons) or even half of a peeled lemon (make sure there are no seeds)
    • garlic (fresh or garlic powder), a few cloves or 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
    • nutritional yeast, 2-4 tablespoons
  3. Pulse a few times to start integrating the ingredients.
  4. When the pasta water boils, cook your pasta for the suggested amount of time (see package). Just before draining, using a measuring cup with a handle or a ladle, remove about 2 cups of cooking water from the pot and set aside.
  5. Drain the pasta and return to the hot pot, but off the heat.
  6. Add 1 cup of the pasta cooking water to your blender, make sure the lid is on tight, and process for a few seconds to a minute, depending on the desired texture. Add water, two tablespoons at a time, as needed.
  7. Quickly transfer the blended pesto sauce from your blender to the pasta in the hot pot and stir to coat. Cover the pot.
  8. If desired, you can add a little more of the cooking water to your blender and process to “clean” the sides. Add to the pasta if you like saucy things.

Variations

  • Instead of young greens, you can use any cooked vegetable you have. Leftover roasted cauliflower, yam, beets, and squash, among others, make luscious sauces.
  • Carrots are a popular ingredient for a cheesy sauce.
  • If you don’t have cooked veggies left, you can quickly chop a couple of cups of raw vegetables and cook them in the boiling water, before cooking the pasta. Either steam them in a basket over your boiling water or throw them straight in and scoop them out with a slotted spoon after about 8 minutes. Follow the rest of the steps as described above and you’ll soon have a brightly-colored sauce to highlight your pasta.

Instant vegan sauce idea #3: Nutty Alfredo

To make a Nutty Alfredo sauce that rivals the decadence of its dairy counterparts, without advance soaking of the nuts, a high-power blender is essential. Because I love this vegan Alfredo sauce so much, it would on its own be worth the price of the Vitamix to me.

  1. Bring a big pot of water to a boil.
  2. While the pasta water is heating up, add some or all of the following ingredients to your blender:
    • handful of raw nuts or seeds (1/2 to 1 cup) like walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, pine nuts, cashews, macadamia nuts… go for a mix of a few of those if you’d like, but don’t add more than about 1 cup. Keep in mind that pumpkin and hemp seeds will give your sauce a green tinge.
    • garlic (fresh or garlic powder), a few cloves or 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
    • onion powder, about 1 teaspoon
    • miso paste (about 2 teaspoons) or some salt
    • fresh ground black pepper
    • perhaps 1/2 teaspoon paprika
    • optional nutritional yeast, 1 to 2 tablespoons
  3. When the water boils, cook your pasta for the suggested amount of time (see package). Just before draining, using a measuring cup with a handle or a ladle, remove about 2 cups of cooking water from the pot and set aside.
  4. Drain the pasta and return to the hot pot, but off the heat.
  5. Add 1 cup of the pasta cooking water to your blender, make sure the lid is on tight, and process for 30 seconds to a minute. Add water, two tablespoons at a time, as needed.
  6. Quickly transfer the vegan Alfredo sauce from your blender to the pasta in the hot pot and stir to coat. Cover the pot.
  7. If desired, you can add a little more of the cooking water to your blender and process to “clean” the sides. Add to the pasta if you like saucy things.

I love to enjoy this vegan Alfredo pasta with a few handfuls of baby arugula tossed in. I just throw it in at the same time as the sauce and it wilts in a flash. Any leftover baby greens (kale, spinach, mizuna…) will be fantastic here.

Top it up with the roasted veggies (if you got them) and Vegan Parm Nuts

I like to use tongs to twist the pasta into a nest and serve into shallow bowls, with the roasted vegetables on top. For a nice finishing touch, it’s great to have Vegan Parm Nuts, but really even just a sprinkling of actual nuts or nutritional yeast, or a few sprigs of fresh herbs, will do. Or nothing at all!

Make your vegan dinner more filling for your hungry T-rex

To me, a quick vegan pasta dish like this is pretty filling. But if you have to feed a hungry T-rex, construction worker, or growing teenager, you may want to consider adding thick slices of store-bought vegan sausage to your roasting pan along with the veggies. A whole-food option is to drain a can of chickpeas, quickly pat the peas dry, and toss with 2 teaspoons of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast on a baking sheet at the same time as the veggies and sprinkle on top of the dish.

Bon appétit!

 

 

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