All summer I’ve been making meals with lots of components, but don’t require much effort because nature is speaking for itself. I’ll serve tomatoes with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, salad with a simple vinaigrette, smoothies with creative toppings. The key to elevating these jewels of summer to a regal estate is in the sauces and combinations. And this non-cheese cheese sauce is superlative. I’ve been experimenting with dairy free cheeses and the results are incredible. Usually they involve a cashew or almond base or some sweet potatoes for heft, but one night I hadn’t soaked any nuts overnight and didn’t have any sweet potatoes on hand and thought, what if I narrowed it down to the basics and reduced? After a little research I saw that this could work. The result is an incredibly cheesy weeknight go-to that I’ve made repeatedly.
I wish nutritional yeast had a sexier name. It is part of what kept me away for a while. It’s the base of this sauce and I’m digging its versatility so much I think I may have convinced my mom to use it in her summer squash lasagna (recipe to come). Nutritional yeast is made from a single-celled organism, Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, which is grown on molasses and then harvested, washed, and dried with heat to kill or “deactivate” it. Because it’s inactive, it doesn’t froth or grow like baking yeast does so it has no leavening ability. It’s a good source of vitamin B12, folic acid, selenium, zinc, and protein. It’s low in fat, gluten-free (check specific brands for certification), and contains no added sugars or preservatives. The savory, umami taste of nutritional yeast comes from glutamaic acid, an amino acid that is formed during the drying process. It serves as the base for this along with almond milk and a touch of garlic and onion powders. Mix it all together in a pan and reduce over medium heat and you’ve got yourself a dairy free mac and cheese elevated by arugula, pea sprouts, olives and heirloom tomatoes. You can add what you wish to this or serve it as plain old comforting mac & cheese.
Have you all been watching the Olympics? It’s inspiring me to work harder and push my own boundaries. I told my brother I’d run a 10k with him this weekend until I do a little training for further distances. Now I just have to find the time to add some training to the schedule. Sleep is paramount. So is food and wine. Something’s gotta give. And so it all comes down to balance. Sometimes you have to throw your cards in the air and see where they fall and the ones you choose to pick up are probably where your biggest interests lie in the moment. Let’s see if I pick up the long distance running card. This is where quick meals like this come in. They free up some time and allow you to take note of the preciousness of summer while nourishing you for the next thing.
LENTIL PASTA MAC & CHEESE W/ OLIVES, SPROUTS AND HEIRLOOM TOMATOES (V+GF)
Sauce adapted from Oh She Glows
For the Cheese Sauce:
- 3/4 cup unsweetened, unflavored almond milk (or more as needed to thin out)
- 6 tbsp nutritional yeast (found in natural food section of most grocery stores or bulk food stores)
- 1 tbsp all purpose flour (or other flour or cornstarch)
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the Pasta:
- 2 cups lentil pasta (or pasta of your choice)
- 4 cups water
- Handful of olives
- Handful of pea sprouts chopped
- Handful of heirloom tomatoes, chopped
- Handful of cilantro
- Handful of arugula
For the Cheese Sauce:
In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour and milk until all clumps are gone.
Add milk & flour mixture and nutritional yeast to a pot over low to medium heat.
Add Dijon, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper to taste and whisk frequently until the sauce thickens up, for about 5 minutes. If it’s still too thin you can add more flour to achieve the thickness you desire. To reheat: reheat in the microwave or on the stove-top (add a splash of milk if it’s too thick) and whisk well. Store in an air-tight container for up to 5-7 days.
For the Pasta:
Cook according to instructions on box (about 15 minutes in boiling water) or if using fresh, cook for 5-7 minutes after water is boiling.
Mix all the ingredients together and serve warm. Enjoy!