When the weather turns colder, I crave warming bowls of food that feel comforting and cozy. And out of all the comfort foods out there, nothing hits the spot quite like a full bowl of pasta smothered in a creamy sauce. Pasta wins for its ability to satisfy both savory and sweet appetites, and it achieves greater versatility and deliciousness when you factor in the endless pasta-bilities for noodle-type, sauce, and toppings. Plus, it’s quick, affordable, and feeds the whole crew.
So the real question is, why aren’t we making pasta every night? Well pre-quarantine me would have deemed pasta a “treat” food, unsuitable for every night of every week. These days, however, I’m turning to comfort food more often than not with zero regrets. As a result, I’ve been tinkering away in the kitchen to concoct healthier versions of some of my favorite, classic indulgences.
This creamy butternut squash pasta might be my favorite healthy comfort food this winter—it’s creamy, rich, and downright delicious.
This butternut squash pasta recipe is inspired by my favorite pasta that I used to order at our neighborhood Italian joint. It was pretty much grown-up mac ‘n cheese, with a decadently cheesy sauce over soft, angel hair noodles. This version is a healthier take and earns bonus points for being both gluten and dairy-free. Basically, it’s healthy enough to eat as often as you’d like without feeling weighed down from your pasta bender.
I chose Banza brand angel hair chickpea noodles as the base because out of all the grain-free pasta I’ve tried, this one wins in terms of texture and nutrition. These noodles are loaded with protein and fiber from chickpeas and make me feel full without having to load the dish up with meat. I’ve also tried this dish with their penne noodles, and it was equally satisfying. So it’s safe to say that whatever type of noodle you have on hand should work great for this recipe.
When I embarked on a mission to uncover the perfect dairy-free pasta sauce, I immediately turned to cashews. They have the ability to make anything creamy and rich without overpowering the flavor. When combined with roasted butternut squash and dairy-free creamer, you get a delicious rich base that is smooth and buttery.
The “cheesiness” of the sauce is enhanced by the nutritional yeast and chickpea miso, which bring it to the next level. The garlic adds an extra punch, and the vegetable broth helps it all blend all into a smooth, velvety mixture that is perfectly primed for coating the pasta. Make sure to save about a cup of pasta water before draining your pasta. This helps to help coat the noodles when you beginning stirring in the sauce.
So now let’s talk about the unsung heroes of pasta: the edible accessories we call toppings. As with every good pasta dish, you want the noodles to be soft and bendy, balanced by a good crunch delivered by the toppings. While I’m all about garnishes, I do think it’s possible to go overboard and take away from the actual dish. In this recipe, we’ve got a combination of crispy bacon bits, fried sage leaves, shaved vegan parmesan, and red pepper flakes to round it all out.
This recipe makes a little bit of extra sauce that is great to store in the fridge as a go-to melted cheese substitute. It’s a little bit sweeter but goes great with tacos, nachos, and more. The pasta is best served immediately and enjoyed warm. I hope you enjoy this dish as much as we did, and please share any comfort foods you’re loving right now in the comments!