Thursday, February 18, 2016

Vegan Pesto with Pasta, Tomatoes, and Spinach


Our vegan journey continues.  And, I have to say that I am really enjoying the ride.  I'll admit that I haven't gone completely vegan, and my boys are definitely not there.  However, we are all enjoying the benefits of healthier meals and snacks.  Watching my daughter go full-fledged vegan and not missing her beloved cheese and eggs has made me proud.  She has always been my pickiest eater, balking at all vegetables.  Now, she is picking healthy snacks, eating her vegetables, and finding new recipes for me to try.  She even made her own smoothie the other morning with ingredients like chia seeds, cumin, and dates.  It didn't go well.  She said it looked nothing like the picture, but she tried.  That's the point, right?



The best part for both of us is how great I feel.  Madison says she has more energy.  I don't feel so sluggish.  Both of us have clearer skin and feel lighter overall.  I just want this great feeling to continue.  And with that in mind, I am definitely enjoying coming up with new recipes.


I'm learning quite a bit about substitutions for our usual eggs and butter.  Some recipes haven't turned out so great and others have been amazing.  Trial and error. It's all about the journey.

One ingredient that I keep coming across in vegan recipes is the not-so-yummy-sounding nutritional yeast flakes. What the ...? Nutritional yeast flakes? What? You said that, right? I kept coming across it in vegan recipes over and over again.  Well, I had to get some just to see what the heck this stuff was.


I stared at the big container of these flakes for the past week and wondered what is so essential about these flakes.  And, where does one go these days to answer any and all questions? Google, of course. Where would I be without Google?

Nutritional yeast flakes are deactivated yeast that come either in the form of flakes or a powder.  Don't think of yeast in the commonly used way.  They aren't alive and won't grow when mixed with a liquid.  They have a nutty, creamy flavor and are used in place of cheese in many vegan recipes.  At least this is what my research found.  The real test would be the actual taste test.


New recipe inspiration:  my pasta girl has been missing pasta.  God love her, as my mom would say.  I'd say this is the one food that she misses most but hasn't yet found a dish that totally meets her satisfaction.


I happened to have a load of basil that was soon going to turn that shade of brown we basil-lovers know so well if I didn't find something to do with it.  I was sitting at my kitchen window on a wintry day, looking at the deceptively sunny skies, thinking of my basil and late summer days. Then it dawned on me that I should really make pesto.  Yet, pesto requires parmesan, right? Yes, it does.  How about some nutritional yeast flakes instead? Yeah, right.  Like anything compares to parmesan.  Well, there is no time like the present...let's give it the team try.  If it's not all it's cracked up to be, at least I'd know. Trial and error.


I got out the food processor.  I put the pine nuts in, dug a scoop of the flakes out of the container and added them in.  Next came the basil.  I pulsed, pulsed, pulsed.  Finally, I added in the oil through the shoot while the processor ran.  All done.  Now, the big taste test...wait for it...ohhhhsooooo good.  These flakes are genius! Parmesan? Who needs it? This pesto certainly didn't.



What followed was one of the fastest but tastiest dishes I've made in a while.  Perhaps it tasted so good because I was patting myself on the back for making a dish that took 15-20 minutes and that would please everyone.  First, I made elbow macaroni.  The choice of pasta in the recipe is strictly up to you. You can use any pasta you wish.


Then I cut up some san marzano tomatoes I had in the fridge.  Cherry tomatoes are similar so feel free to use them since they are typically more readily available.  I just happened to find san marzanos at Trader Joe's last week.


I added a little oil to a pan and sautĂ©ed the tomatoes for 2 minutes.  That's it.


Then, I added baby spinach on top and covered with a  lid for another two minutes.


In a large bowl, I poured in the macaroni and two scoops of pesto, stirring it all in.  Finally, I poured in the tomatoes and spinach with their juices and mixed.  The taste was fantastic.  The recipe was so easy to make and will definitely become a go-to vegan meal the whole family can enjoy. And, did enjoy!



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Vegan Pesto with Pasta, Tomatoes, and Spinach

A recipe for vegan pesto that won't have you missing the parmesan, this dish serves up late summer days when there is an abundance of basil to be used and tomatoes to be consumed.

Ingredients:

For the pesto:
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1 heaping Tablespoon nutritional yeast flakes
  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
For the pasta:



  • 16 ounces elbow macaroni


  • 8 ounces, chopped in half cherry tomatoes


  • 1 cup fresh baby spinach


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • Instructions

    For the pesto:
    1. In a food processor, add the pine nuts, yeast, basil, garlic, and salt. Pulse 3-5 times. Turn the processor on and slowly add in the olive oil through the shoot. As soon as it has been added in, stop to scoop down the sides. Turn it on again and let it run for at least 30 seconds and as long as a minute until all of the ingredients have combined. Set aside.


    For the pasta:
    2. In a stockpot, cook the elbow macaroni according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.


    3. In a saute pan, heat one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add your chopped tomatoes and saute for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat. Put the spinach on top and cover with a lid for 2 minutes until the spinach has slightly wilted.


    4. In a large bowl, add the pasta. Add half a cup of the pesto and stir. Add more as desired for taste. I find it better to start off with a little and add more as you feel is necessary for taste. You can save leftovers for later. Add the spinach and tomatoes with all of their juices. Stir to combine thoroughly. Add a few freshly chopped tomatoes and basil to garnish, if desired.
    Details
    Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 6 servings