When the weather turns colder, I crave warming bowls of food that feel comforting and cozy. And out of all the comfort foods out there, nothing hits the spot quite like a full bowl of pasta smothered in a creamy sauce. Pasta wins for its ability to satisfy both savory and sweet appetites, and it achieves greater versatility and deliciousness when you factor in the endless pasta-bilities for noodle-type, sauce, and toppings. Plus, it’s quick, affordable, and feeds the whole crew.
So the real question is, why aren’t we making pasta every night? Well pre-quarantine me would have deemed pasta a “treat” food, unsuitable for every night of every week. These days, however, I’m turning to comfort food more often than not with zero regrets. As a result, I’ve been tinkering away in the kitchen to concoct healthier versions of some of my favorite, classic indulgences.
This creamy butternut squash pasta might be my favorite healthy comfort food this winter—it’s creamy, rich, and downright delicious.
This butternut squash pasta recipe is inspired by my favorite pasta that I used to order at our neighborhood Italian joint. It was pretty much grown-up mac ‘n cheese, with a decadently cheesy sauce over soft, angel hair noodles. This version is a healthier take and earns bonus points for being both gluten and dairy-free. Basically, it’s healthy enough to eat as often as you’d like without feeling weighed down from your pasta bender.
I chose Banza brand angel hair chickpea noodles as the base because out of all the grain-free pasta I’ve tried, this one wins in terms of texture and nutrition. These noodles are loaded with protein and fiber from chickpeas and make me feel full without having to load the dish up with meat. I’ve also tried this dish with their penne noodles, and it was equally satisfying. So it’s safe to say that whatever type of noodle you have on hand should work great for this recipe.
When I embarked on a mission to uncover the perfect dairy-free pasta sauce, I immediately turned to cashews. They have the ability to make anything creamy and rich without overpowering the flavor. When combined with roasted butternut squash and dairy-free creamer, you get a delicious rich base that is smooth and buttery.
The “cheesiness” of the sauce is enhanced by the nutritional yeast and chickpea miso, which bring it to the next level. The garlic adds an extra punch, and the vegetable broth helps it all blend all into a smooth, velvety mixture that is perfectly primed for coating the pasta. Make sure to save about a cup of pasta water before draining your pasta. This helps to help coat the noodles when you beginning stirring in the sauce.
So now let’s talk about the unsung heroes of pasta: the edible accessories we call toppings. As with every good pasta dish, you want the noodles to be soft and bendy, balanced by a good crunch delivered by the toppings. While I’m all about garnishes, I do think it’s possible to go overboard and take away from the actual dish. In this recipe, we’ve got a combination of crispy bacon bits, fried sage leaves, shaved vegan parmesan, and red pepper flakes to round it all out.
This recipe makes a little bit of extra sauce that is great to store in the fridge as a go-to melted cheese substitute. It’s a little bit sweeter but goes great with tacos, nachos, and more. The pasta is best served immediately and enjoyed warm. I hope you enjoy this dish as much as we did, and please share any comfort foods you’re loving right now in the comments!
12 ounces chickpea pasta (I used Banza)
8 oz bacon
2 tbs olive oil
2 heaping cups butternut squash, cubed
1/2 cup raw cashews
3 garlic cloves
1/3 cup vegetable broth
1/4 cup Nut Pods dairy-free creamer (unflavored)
2 Tbs chickpea miso
1 Tbs nutritional yeast
handful of fresh sage leaves
ground black pepper
optional toppings: red pepper flakes or vegan parmesan (I used Violife)
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut the butternut squash into cubes and drizzle with 1 tbs olive oil. Sprinkle with salt & pepper and transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Roast for 35 minutes or until golden-brown.
- Meanwhile, add bacon strips to a foil-lined baking sheet and bake in the oven at 425 degrees until crispy (about 15 minutes). Transfer to a paper towel and set aside.
- Add 2 cups of cooked squash, 1/2 cup cashews, garlic cloves, vegetable broth, creamer, chickpea miso, nutritional yeast, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper to a blender. Add additional vegetable broth as needed and blend until creamy. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Add pasta of choice to boiling water and cook according to package instructions. While the pasta is cooking, transfer your bacon strips to a bowl and break them up into small pieces using your fist. Once the pasta is cooked, drain the pasta in a colander but leave behind 1 cup of pasta water in the pot.
- Return the pasta to the pot with the pasta water and gradually pour in the sauce to coat the pasta (you will likely have some leftover). Once the pasta is creamy and completely coated with sauce, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to taste.
- Heat oil in a small pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the sage leaves and fry until crispy, transfer to a plate with paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Once cooled, scoop the pasta into bowls and top with the fried sage leaves and bacon bits.
- Option to top with shaved vegan parmesan and red pepper flakes & serve warm!