One of my favorite comfort foods is a dish I call “Pasta Roni” which is a play on the classic decades-old “beefaroni” dish made of macaroni, beef, and tomato sauce except that my version tastes better, is plant based, and more nutritious! Oil and dairy free, Pasta Roni is the dish everyone wants on a cold night when nothing but a tummy-warming bowl of pasta will do.
Inspired by Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s recipe for Lentil-A-Roni in Isa Does It, the Pasta Roni recipe showcases whole grain pasta, lentils, tomatoes, and greens for a delicious and nutritious meal. Isa uses raw cashews that have been soaked in water, drained and then blended with vegetable broth in a high-powered blender to make the sauce creamy but I am not a cream sauce person so I don’t use cashews. If your preference is for a creamy sauce, then by all means, soak 1/2 cup of raw (not roasted) cashews in water for a few hours and then blend away before adding to the sauce.
But first, a few words about other ingredients:
- Pasta matters. Whole grain pasta or pasta made from beans is infinitely more nutritious than white pasta. However, if you’re used to eating white pasta, whole grain or bean pasta probably won’t taste as palatable unless you use a pasta by Papa Vince (an Italian company) called Busiate Pasta made from Tumminia wheat (an ancient Siciian stoneground grain). A delicious but firm macaroni (al dente after 10 minutes), this pasta’s claim to fame is its ability to “trap your sauce like a magnet” but I think it’s best attributes are its flavor and texture. In other words, it behaves like a white pasta but has much more flavor and is both firm and chewy when cooked for 10 minutes. And, it’s low gluten, high fiber, sugar-free, non-GMO, and no pesticides attributes make Papa John’s Tumminia wheat pasta an easily digestible and highly nutritious addition to any dish. You can buy this pasta through Amazon (note: it’s about $12 a pound but worth it).
- Greens (i.e. kale, spinach) add a nutritional boost to this dish. Simply add 6-8 ounces of fresh chopped kale (leaves cut off of stem with stems discarded) or spinach to the finished pasta dish at the end. Gently stir and then cover the pot to allow the greens to wilt. That’s the only cooking the greens will require.
- Spice matters. This dish needs spices and I’ve found the best addition is a combination of spices to provide a savory edge. My go-to savory spice blend is an adaptation from Dr. Michael Gregor’s recipe for “Savory Spice Blend” in his How Not To Die Cookbook (note: he includes garlic powder in his blend; I do not but feel free to add garlic powder). This blend of 9 ingredients adds flavor to almost any vegetable or main course dish. Simply blend 4 T nutritional yeast, 2 T onion powder, 2 T dried parsley, 2 T dried basil, 4 t dried thyme, 4 t dry mustard powder, 4 t paprika (not smoked), and 1 t turmeric together in a food processor for about 15 seconds. Store in an airtight container and use as needed (note: this blend adds fantastic flavor to soups, too).
- Don’t overstir the pasta when mixing with the sauce. Papa John Busiate Pasta made with Tumminia wheat holds its shape well but if you overstir, the pasta may break. This dish is best served with pasta intact. So, be gentle.
- Consider adding a vegetable: My go-to green veggie is typically broccoli but you can add whatever vegetable you want (i.e. zucchini, squash, green beans, snap peas, peas, etc).
- 2 cups low sodium vegetable broth
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, mashed
- 1 cups dry lentils cooked in 4 cups of water
- 1 28-ounce pak or can of crushed or chopped tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons Savory Spice Blend
- S and P, to taste
- 500 grams (or about 1 pound) of whole grain pasta (I use Busiate Pasta by Papa Vince)
- 6-8 ounces fresh greens (kale or spinach work well)
- 1 bunch broccoli florets, steamed or 3-4 cups of your favorite vegetable
Add 1/2 cup of vegetable broth to a large sauté pan. Turn the heat on medium. Add the onion and cook for 3-4 minutes until the onion is tender. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the spice blend and gently stir to distribute. Add the cooked lentils, tomatoes, and 1-1/2 cups of vegetable broth and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat off. Add salt and pepper to taste. Gently stir. Taste again and add more salt and pepper if desired.
Cook the pasta, drain and return to the large pot. Toss the greens over the pasta. Add the broccoli florets. Gently pour the lentil/tomato sauce over the pasta and very gently stir so as to not break the pasta (and turn it to mush). Place the cover back on the pot and allow to sit for 3-4 minutes so the greens wilt thoroughly.
Serve (makes 6-8 servings).