I think I am in love. Truly, madly, deeply in love. Or at least as much in love as one can be with a pasta.
I had been wanting to make a cauliflower sauce for my pasta — isn’t it all the rage? — but I’ll admit that as much as I love cauliflower, I am not a fan of the boiled-cauliflower smell. No matter how much everyone in the food blog world is raving about it, and no matter how much healthier it is than other vegan cheese-sauce substitutes like cashew, I couldn’t stomach the idea of a sauce that reeked from here to cruciferous eternity.
Then I had a brilliant idea: I would bake the sauce in a gratin and the baking would pretty much take care of the smell. I was on a roll. I needed some protein in my recipe, so I would throw some chickpeas into the mix. And some chewy, earthy, meaty cremini mushrooms to complement the silky-smooth sauce.
In went a bunch of ingredients to make the sauce as cheesy as possible without actually using cheese or any cheese substitute, and trust me, this is a cheesy vegan sauce if you ever had one. And the gratin is creamy inside and crunchy on top and rich without being heavy or fatty, and full of flavor. You might catch yourself daydreaming about it. I did.
I used a wonderful, gluten-free brown rice pasta for this gratin, but use regular pasta if you’d rather– it won’t make any difference. This recipe makes a ton of food– enough to serve a crowd– so you will need a big baking dish for it, or do as I did and throw it into a large cast-iron skillet. It makes for very pretty presentation too.
- 1 16-oz package of pasta (I used penne, but any small pasta would work here, including macaroni or bow ties)
- 4 cups of cauliflower florets
- 2 cups of cooked chickpeas
- 1 tbsp white miso (optional)
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast
- 1 medium onion
- 6 large cloves of garlic
- 2 tsp dry sage, crumbled
- ½ cup almond milk
- ½ tsp turmeric (optional, but adds a nice color)
- 3 cups crimini mushrooms, sliced
- 2 tsp olive oil and more for spraying
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- Salt to taste
- Parsley for garnishing
- Bring a large, salted pot of water to boil. Add the cauliflower florets and let them cook about 7 to 10 minutes or until they are fork-tender.
- Remove the florets to a blender.
- Cook the pasta in the same water until al dente.
- Heat 1 tsp of olive oil and add the onions, turmeric and garlic. Add some salt and saute, until the onions become translucent. Add to the blender along with the chickpeas, almond milk, miso, nutritional yeast, pepper, and salt to taste. Add 1 cup of water.
- Blend until you have a very smooth sauce, adding more water if necessary. This is best done in the large jar of a Vitamix or you might want to do it in two batches because this makes quite a lot of sauce. You are going to need it all.
- In the same pan you sauteed the onions and garlic, add the remaining teaspoon of olive oil and saute the mushrooms and sage with some salt and pepper until the mushrooms become soft, about three to four minutes. Add the pasta and the sauce and mix everything well.
- Spray a 15 X 10 inch baking dish or a 12-inch cast iron skillet with some oil, coating evenly.
- Pour the pasta into the dish or skillet and spread evenly.
- Spray the top with some oil.
- Bake the gratin in a preheated 375-degree oven for 30 minutes. Finish off under the broiler for five more minutes until the top is nicely browned.
- Garnish with parsley and serve hot.