Growing up, I was all about rich foods and creamy sauces. I could never resist fettuccine Alfredo on a menu, and like many 80s-born kids, I was an expert on how to make boxed mac and cheese so the sauce was the perfect consistency—thin enough to feel slippery in your mouth, while also still clinging to the noodles. (If you followed the package directions, you’d end up with a soupy, diluted bowl of sadness.)
Although I now find powdered, fluorescent sauce packs—how to phrase this diplomatically—unappetizing, my love for a bowl of creamy pasta is as everlasting as my love for Richard Marx’s Right Here Waiting. That’s why I was thrilled to discover that blending nuts with water is not only nearly as fast as ripping open a sauce pack, it’s the perfect base for creamy, satisfying, comforting, delicious, and healthy pasta sauces.
I’ve been making a version of this a few times a month for many years now and we’re not getting sick of it. It’s perfect for when you have small children and you can’t bring yourself to spend more than 15 minutes in the kitchen or use more than one pot. It’s also elegant enough for company, along with a salad and some good bread and wine.
I never really make it the same way twice, mixing up the pasta, seasonings, nuts/seeds, and vegetables. It’s very versatile. But for the sake of giving you a launch pad, here’s a basic recipe.
1 lb pasta
1.5 cups cashews OR 1 cup cashews and 1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
Cook pasta according to package directions.
Combine nuts with 2 and 1/4 cups hot water in a blender and set aside to soak while the water boils and pasta cooks.
Add nutritional yeast, garlic, and salt, to blender and blend until very smooth—this might take from 2 to 5 minutes.
Pour sauce over pasta and combine.
Depending on the strength of the blender, you may need to soak the nuts for longer, up to a few hours. I’ve made this in AirBNBs before with bad blenders though, and it’s always been fine for me.
The sauce may seem to be on the thin side at first—that’s okay. Once you combine it with the pasta, it will soak in a bit and you’ll end up with just the right mouthfeel (if the sauce is too thick, the texture will end up sticky. Trust me, I’m a KD connoisseur).
I usually add either vegan sausage, pinto beans, or white beans, along with either sautéed or roasted veggies. The beans can be mixed right in with the pasta and sauce, or cooked in a pan along with the veg and mashed up a little with a fork. Other veggies that work well: spinach, kale, peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, onion, brussels sprouts, asparagus, green beans…). I also like to add in oregano, basil, smoked or sweet paprika, and sometimes fennel powder.
If you prefer a sauce that has more of a texture of melted cheese instead of a cream sauce, you can add a thickener (like arrowroot or cornstarch, a tbsp or two) and whisk in a pot on the stovetop until thickened. I do like it this way too, but I’m just too lazy to bother with the extra step and dirty pot.
When reheating leftovers, add a splash of water to loosen the sauce.