Don’t even get me started on how amazing this little “experiment” turned out & I am so excited to share it…
This oddly fantastic concoction was born out of inspiration from this recipe on How Sweet It Is. I follow a variety of blogs for a number of reasons, & I read this particular blog for it’s beautifully photographed food, not necessarily the food itself. But a few days a go a recipe caught my eye & got my creative juices flowing. I love pesto, I love mac & cheese (who doesn’t?), combining the two for a super super jazzed up version of comforting bliss? I’ll take it.
I’ve been craving mac & cheese, like, forever. I recently stumbled upon the frozen Candle Cafe Mac & Cheese on sale at Whole Foods, so I grabbed it, rushed home, waited rather impatiently as it heated up & was sadly & thoroughly disappointed. Ever since then I’ve had a hankering & wanted to do it homemade. I’ve only made one attempt at a homegrown version on vegan mac. It was ok. I needed better than mediocre, I needed mind blowing. I’ve collected nearly a dozen recipes from around the blog-o-sphere for vegan mac & cheese, & the one recipe that called to me the most was the non vegan recipe. Go figure. As my weeknights are busy, I don’t get to play as much in the kitchen, so I love to have one or two weekend cooking projects lined up so I can bust out my inner domestic goddess. This was my perfect, under the weather, stuck in the house challenge: get to work on how to make a vegan version.
The pesto part was easy…
I started with the recipe on HSII & left out the cheese, then made some intuitive adjustments from there. I was lucky to have a fresh bunch of local organic arugula from my recent CSA share. Here is my version, in a nutshell…
- 4 cups organic arugula
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup chopped raw almonds
- Juice of 1/2 a lemon
- 2 Tbsps. vegan parmesean
- sea salt to taste
- In a food processor, combine garlic, arugula, almonds, vegan parm & lemon juice. Pulse until combined. Stream in olive oil a tablespoon at a time until the pesto becomes smooth. Taste & add sea salt if needed.
The biggest challenge was deciding on a “cheese” sauce that would mimic the mild white cheddar part of the recipe. After looking at countless sauces from the most simple to the most complex, I finally settled on the Quick & Easy Vegan Alfredo from Angela at Oh She Glows.
(photo via Oh She Glows)
This sauce was everything I needed it to be – creamy, mild, yet flavorful. I was a bit worried as Angela said it dried out upon reheating, & my dish called for baking, but as this was an experiment, I kept an open mind.
For the pasta portion I used Quinoa Harvest shells…
While I am not trying to be gluten-free, I liked the idea of using something healthier than semolina. I’ve used this brand before & really like it as an alternative to whole wheat, which I usually buy. I’ve learned that I prefer this pasta cooked a bit longer than recommended. The package instructions advise not to over-cook, but I’ve found that even after 10 minutes it’s too chewy, so I let it go until 12. Even though I was baking this dish, I decided not to under-cook it.
Once all components were ready to go, it was time to put it all together. I added the sauce…
Mixed in the pesto…
Sprinkled on a mixture of paprika, panko bread crumbs & chopped fresh Italian parsley & then popped it in the oven. I sat with a wish, prayer, fingers crossed & a growling tummy for 30 minutes while it baked away & then pulled it out of the oven…
Hello crispy, bubbly, aromatic, & absolutely gorgeous vegan mac & cheese!
- 1 8oz box of uncooked pasta shells
- 1 heaping cup of vegan alfredo sauce
- ⅓ cup arugula pesto
- ⅓ cup panko bread crumbs
- 1 tbsp. chopped fresh Italian parsley
- Sprinkle of paprika
- Bring water to a boil & cook pasta according to directions.
- While pasta is cooking, make the vegan alfredo sauce.
- Add pasta to a baking dish & pour alfredo sauce over top. Stir to distribute sauce, then stir in pesto. Top with bread crumbs, parsley & paprika. Bake for 30-minutes, until top is golden & bubbly.
OMG! This turned out better than I ever thought possible. The baking process did dry it out a bit, but left it with a texture reminiscent of my favorite homemade (dairy based) mac & cheese my Mom used to make – & she made the best! This made me nostalgic & satisfied my mac & cheese craving with every bite. Mind blowing? Yes! The pesto is mild, but gave the pasta just an extra bit of “umph” that made the entire dish that much more special & satisfying. I loved it, friends loved it, I think even the Pug would love it. I would also like to attempt a creamier, non-baked version of this, just to see how that turns out! Perhaps next weekend…
Cheers to sweet, or savory in this case, success! Please make & enjoy!