I’ve never made baked ziti before, and can only remember having it maybe a couple times growing up. It definitely wasn’t a staple dish in my household, likely because of the cheese required (my mom is lactose intolerant/not a baby cow). This veganized version with crispy shaved brussels sprouts has me wanting to make it every single week — it was seriously that good.
When the awesome people at Banza sent me a box of pasta to participate in their May campaign to promote plant-based eating, they included a box of ziti, which had me perplexed. I guess I could have just cooked it and used it like penne, but I felt that it was time I stepped up to the plate and make some cheesy baked ziti!
I can honestly say that this is probably the most comforting dish I have ever made. It was also super rich, so I was definitely satisfied after a serving (or two!), and had plenty of leftovers for the next couple of days. What makes this super comforting is the way the homemade cashew cheese sauce mixed with the rich pasta sauce. And then of course how it mixed with the pasta, crispy brussels sprouts and vegan parmesan cheese. Did I mention the basil yet? That really helped too.
So basically, what makes this so delicious and comforting is everything. Every single thing.
I just can’t wait to whip this one up again. If you give it a try, please let me know how it went. It’s also pretty difficult to mess this one up. I provided plenty of details below, but in short, what you are doing is roasting the shaved sprouts then combining a bunch of stuff in a casserole dish, mixing it up and baking it.
This was made using a 10×7 inch casserole dish.
- 1 box of Banza ziti chickpea pasta
- 1 1/2 cups of raw cashews, soaked 4-6 hours (you can boil them for a few minutes instead of soaking, but I find they are creamier when soaked)
- 1 1/2 cups of shaved Brussels sprouts (I removed the stem part and thinly sliced them lengthwise)
- 1 tbsp avocado oil
- 24 oz jar of pasta sauce
- Juice from 1 large lemon
- 3/4 cup of water
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 1/8 tsp salt, or as much as you’d like to taste
- 1/4 cup vegan parmesan (I used Follow Your Heart brand)
- 2-3 tbsp freshly chopped basil
- Preheat oven to 400°F / 200°C.
- Toss shaved (thinly sliced) Brussels sprouts with avocado oil in a bowl using just enough oil to coat the sprouts. Spread sprouts on a sheet pan and place in the oven to roast for 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper if you’d like.
- While Brussels are roasting, make the cashew sauce. Drain and rinse the soaked cashews and add them to a high speed blender or food processor (I use a Vitamix). Add in lemon juice, water, garlic, nutritional yeast and salt. Blend until very creamy, scraping sides as you go.
- Once Brussels sprouts are done roasting, remove them from the oven and reduce oven temperature to 375°F / 190°C.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the ziti per the directions on the box. (I cooked mine slightly shorter than usual since this whole dish will go in the oven and cook further in there.) Drain the pasta (do not rinse).
- Assemble the casserole:
- Add a layer of pasta sauce to the bottom of the casserole dish.
- Add in half of the cooked pasta.
- Add more sauce over the first layer of pasta and stir to make sure the ziti is coated.
- Add a few heaping spoonfuls of cashew cheese all over the ziti.
- Add half the Brussels sprouts in a thin later across the top. Try to choose the ones that are more blackened to go in this layer.
- Add half of the vegan parmesan by sprinkling it evenly across the top.
- Add the rest of the pasta, pasta sauce and few more spoonfuls of the cashew cheese on top of this. You will likely have a good bit of cashew cheese leftover unless you went absolutely crazy with it (which I recommend if you have the space).
- At this stage, I started to pack down everything in the casserole dish with a spoon.
- Add the rest of the Brussels sprouts across the top along with the basil and the rest of the vegan parmesan.
- Bake at 375°F / 190°C for 20-25 minutes. Remove and allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.
I’m not going to lie, half the fun of this sauce is making a purple pasta dish! Now, I did punch up the color slightly for the photo and added some beetroot powder as mentioned below, but in person it still came out to a lovely shade of purple, almost more towards lavender. I think it will depend on how vibrant the cauliflower is.
Just warning you upfront: This recipe will yield extra sauce that you can store and re-use for more freshly-cooked pasta the next few days. You could also eat the sauce as a soup or use it over warm potatoes. If you want to use all of the sauce at once, cut the recipe in half or make double the amount of pasta. I do the recipe this way because then I can use the entire cauliflower head at once, plus it’s hard to mix up less than this amount in my blender.
- 1 head purple cauliflower (about 1 lb. chopped)*
- 1 1/2 cups of vegetable broth**
- 1/2 cup raw cashews
- 2 heaping tbsp. nutritional yeast
- 2-3 garlic cloves
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 1/8 tsp. beetroot powder***
- 1 8 oz. box of pasta (I use Banza chickpea pasta)
- Heat vegetable broth in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add cauliflower and cashews. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes on medium-low heat, or until the cauliflower is tender. Add more vegetable broth if needed.
- Once cauliflower is tender, move the contents to a blender and allow to cool.
- Meanwhile, bring water to a boil and cook pasta according to directions. Drain and set aside, reserving about 1 cup of pasta water for later to use for thinning the pasta sauce.
- Puree the cauliflower and cashew mix in the blender. Add garlic, lemon, nutritional yeast, salt and pepper. The sauce will likely be a shade of lavender, depending on the cauliflower you use. To punch up the color, I like to add the beetroot powder, or you could even add a small piece of an actual cooked beetroot.
- To finish, simply toss your pasta with the pureed sauce. I used about half of the sauce for my one 8 oz. box of pasta and put the rest of the sauce in the fridge to use in the next couple of days (which made preparing dinner so fast!).
- I like to top my pasta with freshly-ground black pepper and some greens. In the photo I added some arugula.
*You can substitute regular white cauliflower or any other yellow or green variety.
**You could also use unsweetened plant-based milk, which might lead to a more purple pasta, but veggie broth provides better flavor.
*** Beetroot powder is optional for added color, or if you have purple corn powder or purple sweet potato powder, those would be even better for enhancing the color.
I don’t know about you, but I feel like the best meals happen in my kitchen when I’m just sort of winging it. I wasn’t planning to make anything more than a typical quick meal, or even something to post on Instagram, but this turned out so good that I had to share it. I have been in the habit lately of writing down what I’m putting into the food I’m preparing just in case it turns out good, and this is one of those lucky cases!
Now, I know if you are new to cooking, and especially plant-based cooking, you are probably thinking that making a raw cashew-based pasta sauce sounds a bit intimidating. I totally get you, but I promise that once you try it, you’ll be amazed at how easy it is. It just takes a little preparation. Having been vegan for seven years now, I’m in the habit of having a stocked fridge and pantry that makes it so easy to whip up meals like this. Raw cashews are something I almost always have on hand. They are so versatile and can be used to make the best sauces (sweet or savory), as well as some pretty awesome raw desserts.
This recipe will definitely serve 3-4 people, but you can also save the leftover sauce, or save it all for pasta leftovers the next day.
- Cashew Sauce:
- 1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked for 4-6 hours (or overnight)
- 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
- Juice from 1/2 a lemon
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp mustard powder
- salt & pepper to taste
- Sautéed Cherry Tomatoes:
- 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, washed and cut in half lengthwise (You can use more or less if you prefer)
- 3 tbsp vegetable broth for sauteing, or 1 tbsp avocado oil if you prefer to use oil
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (really gives this dish a nice kick)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 12 oz. pasta of choice, or one box of pasta (I used a gluten-free brown rice pasta)
- Chopped parsley, to garnish
- Cover cashews in filtered water and set in the fridge for 4-6 hours, or overnight.
- Drain cashews and add to high-speed blender or food processor. You will need a high-quality blender or food processor to get the sauce very creamy. I have tested using my Vitamix vs. using my Ninja processor, and the results weren’t even comparable (not to say I wouldn’t eat the Ninja results, just not very creamy).
- Add remaining cashew sauce ingredients and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides throughout. I blended mine in my Vitamix for about 3-5 minutes total, including scraping time, until it was super creamy.
- Cook pasta as directed and set aside.
- Heat a pan over medium heat and add vegetable broth or avocado oil. Add garlic and crushed red pepper and cook for 1 minute, taking care not to burn the garlic.
- Add tomatoes to the pan and cook for a few minutes until the tomatoes are soft. Remove from heat once tomatoes are soft and fragrant.
- Cover the pasta with the cashew sauce, and add the stewed tomatoes on top. Since my pasta was still warm, I didn’t need to heat up the cashew sauce, but if your pasta has been sitting, you might want to microwave the sauce for about 30 seconds. If you have leftover sauce, you can store it in the fridge for a few days. It makes a great dip for chips or homemade sweet potato fries.
- Stir it all up if you desire.