Penne pasta and broccoli florets are tossed in a creamy cashew sauce with sun-dried tomatoes, basil and walnuts to make this luscious vegan dinner.
Back when I waited tables during college, I worked at a restaurant that just about always scheduled their servers for double shifts. That was pretty rough. At the end of ten or more hours on my feet, delivering food to (some pretty demanding) customers, I was exhausted. But at least I got a free lunch. They always let anyone that was working a double pick a pasta entree off the menu. My go-to order was a big plate of penne pasta in pink sauce with broccoli.
As tasty as that sounds, I can't even imagine eating such a thing these days. White flour, heavy cream, oh, and did I mention that it was big? These meals were enormous, but I justified it on the grounds that I'd need lots of energy to get through my shift.
Hey, at least there was broccoli involved.
Even though I wouldn't be down with something that heavy these days, I have to admit, it was tasty. So I decided to head to the kitchen and recreate a bit of that tastiness, but using more wholesome ingredients.
My creamy sun-dried tomato pesto pasta is actually better that my old penne with pink sauce. It takes all the best elements from that dish: tender pasta, tangy tomatoes, creamy sauce...and adds a few new elements for extra texture, flavor, and nutrition. Sun-dried tomatoes pack in extra flavor, so I used them in lieu of canned or fresh. And instead of just making a regular old sun-dried tomato sauce, I made it a pesto...sort of. The sauce starts with a creamy cashew base, and to that I added ingredients you might normally find in a sun-dried tomato pesto: basil, garlic, walnuts. I didn't add any oil though, as it wasn't needed. That's just one of the many beauties of using a creamy pesto sauce.
Of course when making over the recipe I had to keep the broccoli. Ever since making these soba noodles I'm all about cooking my veggies in the same pot as my pasta, so I kept things simple and did just that. Throw some broccoli in the pot when the pasta's almost done, then drain everything together, sauce it up, and enjoy!
Creamy Vegan Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Pasta
For the Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
- 1 cup raw cashews, soaked in water 4 to 8 hours
- 2 cups unflavored soy or almond milk
- 1 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes, not oil packed, divided
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 garlic cloves
- ½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
- ½ cup chopped walnuts
For the Penne Pasta
- 16 ounces dried penne pasta
- 1 large broccoli crown, broken into florets
- Fresh basil
- Crushed red pepper flakes
Make the creamy sun-dried tomato pesto by placing the cashews, milk, ½ cup of the sun-dried tomatoes, lemon juice, garlic and salt into the bowl of a food processor fitted with an S-blade. Blend until smooth. Add the basil, walnuts, and remaining sun-dried tomatoes. Pulse until they're finely chopped and mixed into the cashew mixture. Taste test and season with additional salt if desired.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta to the pot and cook for 6 minutes. Add the broccoli florets and cook 1 to 2 minutes more, until the pasta is tender and the broccoli is bright green and tender-crisp. Drain the pasta and broccoli into a colander.
Return the pasta and broccoli to the pot and add the creamy sun-dried tomato pesto. Toss to coat, adding more milk if needed.
Divide the pasta onto plates and top with additional basil and red-pepper flakes, if desired. Serve.