With the warmer weather catching up to us and the snow finally melted (fingers crossed that it won’t return anytime soon!), I’ve been craving fresh seasonal ingredients like nobody’s business. Unlike a lot of you non-Albertans who don’t grasp the concept of snow in May, I’m totally basking in our early summer weather. It’s like spring is the overlooked middle child who was forgotten at the mall, we jumped straight from winter to summer with spring never to be seen. It’s really misleading when an early summer shows up on your doorstep, it’s like “hey! Let’s go to the farmers markets and eat fresh strawberries and find those shorts that are probably fitting a little more snuggly then last summer!” and I’m all “Yeah!” but then I realize that the farmers markets haven’t opened yet, those strawberries are from Mexico and those shorts are gonna need pliers to zip them up. So misleading.
One thing I have noticed is an increase in fresh basil popping up all over the place; whether it’s local or in season is beyond me, my only concern is that it’s here! No longer do I have to buy those little tiny, overpriced plastic packs! Yes, I know I should probably grow my own, and I do! Honest. But there’s only so much picking that plant can handle before it dies a slow death on my dining room table.
I know I’ve already professed my love for fresh basil, but don’t expect that to end anytime soon, we’ve got a good 3 to 4 solid months of good basil buying and I’ve only just begun! I just can’t get enough of that vibrant green colour with its delicate sweet and peppery flavor.
I’ve already played around with some pesto in tofu scramble and ventured into the sweet territory with my lemon basil pancakes, so this time I was in the mood for something a little different. Something a little more hearty and filling. Something that wasn’t breakfast related.
One thing I knew, was that I didn’t want it to be too fussy, something in casserole form was key. Once I decided on a casserole, I knew that I wanted it to be creamy, like ooey gooey mac n cheese, but minus the ooey gooey cheese….so basically just creamy pasta with other stuff….ok so pretty much nothing like mac n cheese 😉 I’ve been looking for an excuse to make pesto again since the last time I made it, it just packs so much flavor! I whipped up another batch, which can always be made days before you plan on using it I might add. Then along with some pasta, I added some veggies, creamy sauce and pesto, tossed it all together, then topped it with some bread crumbs.
I don’t mean to toot my own horn but this is some rich, hearty and creamy deliciousness up in here! The breadcrumbs add a badass crunch to every bite, followed by a tender tasty bite of pasta. Now if your all worried about your poor boney vegan-ass fainting due to lack of protein (ha ha, silly omnivores), well I’ve got you covered! With a sauce made of beans and nuts, along with a few more beans thrown in for good measure, this casserole packs a protein punch. Now go bask in all things basil 🙂
PESTO PASTA CASSEROLE
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts
- 3 tablespoons cashews, walnuts or almonds
- 2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 package (8 ounces) penne pasta
- 1 cup cashews, soaked for 1 or more hours
- 1 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
- 1/4 cup vegetable broth or more milk
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons white wine or vegetable broth
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 19-oz can (2 1/2 cups) white kidney beans
- 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
- 1/2 cup roasted red pepper, chopped
- 1 1/2 cups fresh baby spinach, chopped
- 1/2 cup grated vegan mozza cheese
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Additional salt and pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a food processor or blender, combine the garlic, nuts, salt, pepper and basil and pulse until finely chopped. With the food processor running, add the oil, water, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar. Blend until smooth. Place pesto in a covered bowl or container in the fridge until needed, rinse out blender or food processor for later use.
- Cook pasta until al dente. Rinse with cold water and drain, set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a blender or food processor, combine the cashews, milk, broth, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, wine and 1 cup of white beans. Blend until smooth.
- In a large bowl, combine the remaining beans, tomatoes, red pepper, spinach, milk mixture, pasta and pesto; toss to coat.
- Transfer to an oiled 8×8 inch baking dish. Smooth top and sprinkle with cheese, than evenly sprinkle the breadcrumbs and salt and pepper; drizzle with olive oil. Bake the casserole for 40 to 45 minutes or until bubbly.
- Let cool for 10 to 20 minutes before serving.