Before we talk about this creamy vegan pasta with tomatoes and basil, we’ve got to start with the sauce. I’ve been making a version of the nut sauce in Amy Chaplin’s Whole Food Cooking Every Day cookbook nearly every week lately, and it’s totally upped my meal prep game. There are lots of variations using different nuts and herbs, but recently I made a few tweaks to her walnut sauce and was struck by how rich and creamy it was… without the use of any cream (or dairy) at all.
That night, I tossed some penne and roasted peppers in the sauce and loved the way it coated each noodle to give the pasta that satisfying taste that usually comes with an alfredo but in a completely healthy, nutrient-packed way. And so this creamy vegan pasta with tomatoes and basil was born, and not only is it incredibly delicious—it’s also simple enough to throw together in the time it takes your pasta water to boil. Especially if you’ve prepped your walnut sauce in advance (highly recommend.)
I used bucatini for this recipe—it’s hard to beat those slightly chewy long noodles with a satisfying-to-slurp hole in the middle. However, any long-strand noodle-like spaghetti or linguine works great too, and even a short noodle-like penne or rigatoni would be delicious, although a different take.
One thing to call out is that, in order to coax the silky creaminess out of your walnuts, you’ll need to soak them for a couple of hours (and up to overnight) in a jar of water—so don’t forget to plan. I prefer to soak walnuts before toasting them to use in any recipe anyway, so I typically throw them in water the minute I get them home from the grocery store, then pop the jar in the fridge until I’m ready to use them.
The creamy vegan sauce uses an unusual yet very cool method: you sauté onions and garlic until golden brown to get that caramelized flavor, then add a splash of water to deglaze the pan before transferring it all to a blender. The heat of the water helps the other ingredients (walnuts, lemon juice, and zest) incorporate into a smooth sauce that tastes so much more complex than the sum of its parts.
While your pasta is cooking, all that’s left to do is sauté an entire pint of cherry tomatoes in olive oil, just until they start to burst. Into the same pan goes the pasta, scoops of creamy vegan walnut sauce, and a little pasta water to bring it all together. The crowning glory? Showers of lemon zest, chopped basil, and red chili flakes for a just-right amount of heat.
Healthy swaps for this creamy vegan pasta with tomatoes
For this recipe, I used bucatini—one of my personal favorite pasta shapes thanks to its chewy al dente bite, along with the satisfying hole that runs through the center of each noodle, perfect for sopping up the sauce in every strand.
This recipe can easily be made gluten-free by swapping in a gluten-free pasta like Banza. Even though I’m not gluten-free, I frequently make their pasta that boasts 20 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber per serving, thanks to the fact that it’s made from chickpeas.
A few twists on this recipe
Like most of my pasta recipes, this one is super customizable—you can swap in other seasonal veggies for the tomatoes depending on what’s in season. Sautéed broccoli, peas, and asparagus would make an incredible green springtime pasta, and Brussels sprouts would be great in the wintertime—if you want to introduce some meat, a handful of crumbled bacon wouldn’t hurt, either.
For the creamy vegan sauce, feel free to experiment with other nuts. Almonds or cashews? Delicious—just make sure to soak them first, as with the walnuts. Or, you can throw in a handful of pine nuts, which are already tender and creamy enough to not need a pre-soak at all.
Try leveling up the flavor of the sauce with a squeeze of miso paste, which adds that umami that you might get from anchovy in a more classic Italian sauce.
How to double this recipe to feed a crowd
Most pasta recipes, this one included, are super simple to double for a crowd. Just double your pasta and tomatoes, and use a big pan when sautéeing the tomatoes so that you can fit in all that pasta with enough room to give it some generous tosses when you add the sauce. That’s really it! The sauce already makes extra, so you should have plenty of that as-is.
Want more healthy, delicious, and easy pasta recipes?
If you’ve been around here awhile, you know we’ve GOT you. Pasta lovers for life. Here are some of our other most-loved pasta recipes of all time:
- Rigatoni with Brussels Sprouts, Kale Pesto and Lemon
- Half-Baked Harvest’s Pesto Pasta Alla Vodka (okay maybe this one’s not healthy per se, but if you haven’t made it yet, you must.)
- Skillet Eggplant Lasagna
- Vegan Spaghetti and Meatballs
Scroll on for the recipe for this Creamy Vegan Pasta with Tomatoes and Basil, and don’t forget to rate and review, and tag us on Instagram if you make it!
dairy-free, vegan, vegetarian
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes
- 1 pound bucatini, spaghetti, or linguini
- for garnish: lemon zest, fresh basil, red chili flakes, flaky salt
Creamy Walnut Sauce:
- 1 cup walnuts, soaked in water for at least 2 hours and up to overnight
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, chopped
- pinch of kosher salt
- 1/3 cup water
- zest and juice of one lemon
- Put a big pot of salted pasta water on the stove and bring to a boil.
- Meanwhile, make the creamy vegan walnut sauce: In a medium skillet, warm a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, and salt, and sauté until softened and golden. Add water to the pan, and deglaze, using a wooden spoon to scrape the pan. Stir for a couple minutes.
- Transfer onion mixture to a blender, and add walnuts, lemon juice, and zest. Blend until smooth, adding more salt to taste. Set aside (or store in a jar in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.)
- Make the pasta! Add pasta to boiling water and cook according to package directions.
- Meanwhile, warm a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the cherry tomatoes, and cook, stirring frequently, until tomatoes just start to burst (about 3 minutes or so.) If the pasta isn't yet ready, turn off the heat so they don't overcook.
- When the pasta is cooked to al dente, use a slotted spoon to transfer noodles directly into the pan with tomatoes. Add a few big scoops of sauce, along with 1/4 cup of pasta cooking water. Use tongs to toss it very well until the sauce lightly coats each strand of pasta. This may take a little while--just keep tossing!
- Divide between bowls, making sure each bowl gets topped with some of the burst tomatoes. Top with more lemon zest, torn basil, red chili flakes, and a big pinch of flaky salt. Eat!
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How much water is used to soak the walnuts and is that water included in the sauce?
Hi Mike! Just soak them in enough water to cover, then drain and rinse before adding to the sauce.
Looks delicious. Do you think pecans would work for the sauce?
I haven’t tested it with pecans, but I do think it would work just fine. Give them a soak first. 🙂
Sounds delicious. Anxious to try. Wondering if you add the walnuts with the soaking water or drain the water off and just add the walnuts?
Great question — just the walnuts, I drain and rinse them first!
This looks delicious and I’m going to try it! Would you also mind telling me where you bought your cute top in this photo? Thank you!
Thank you! It’s from Estilo in Austin!
This looks so very yummy, but I am getting so fat with all the eating that I do and I don’t get out hardly at all. I am saying that I am fat and I must refrain from such a tantalizing dish. Thank you for sharing and Happy Easter.