There was a time when pasta was my Achilles heel. During my university days, I trained competitively in fitness and showcased my physique and athleticism at least once a year. The dieting was extremely restrictive for several months leading up to a competition, and as the days went by, I dreamed more and more of a big, deep dish of creamy pasta. Some days, the lure of pasta overshadowed the desire to compete and threatened my then wavering dedication. After months of ignoring pasta's mumblings, I would compete (sometimes winning), then it was game on! The new challenge then became trying to reel in my indulgences for several weeks thereafter.
It was fun while it lasted, and overall I am proud of my accomplishments. Pride aside, I see how damaging and unbalanced that lifestyle was to me. I feel better now than I ever have; much of the credit being due to having switched to a plant-based diet and living with more purpose other than winning and "looking ripped".
Back then, had I known how to make creamy pasta sauce from white beans, I could have avoided so many "pasta hangovers". This is the stuff nutritious pasta dreams are made of. Cannellini bean sauces could rival the creamiest pastas out there, in my humble opinion. Granted, I haven't had milk-based sauces for quite a number of years; however, my days of lusting for a pre-competition pasta dish serve as a good reminder of how delicious they can be. Not only is this pasta super creamy, it's very high in fiber and complete protein. Best of all, the sauce is high in phytonutrients and intact vitamins and minerals (folate, beta carotene, vitamin C, iron, potassium and calcium to name a few). Almond 'parmesan' adds a gentle crunch to this dish, but it was the decision to include crispy beet chips that put this recipe on the blog. Beet chips bring a lovely pop of colourful flavour and texture to this vibrant green pasta. I use any whole grain dried pasta I have on hand (rice of wheat based), however, if you want this recipe to be gluten free, use brown rice pasta.
I hope you love this nutritious pasta indulgence as much as I do.
CREAMY SPINACH CANNELLINI PASTA w/ CRISPY BEETS & ALMOND 'PARMESAN'
For the Pasta & Sauce
- 280 g about 2 cups dried brown rice or whole grain pasta
- 2 cups cooked cannellini beans canned or from dry
- 1 cup fresh spinach tightly packed
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- ¾ cup vegetable stock
- ¼ cup full fat coconut milk
- sea salt & pepper to taste
- ½ cup raw almonds unsalted
- ½ cup raw cashews unsalted
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast
- heaping ½ tsp sea salt
- 1 large beet thinly sliced on a mandolin (washed and unpeeled)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- pinch of ground cumin
- sea salt & pepper
- Fresh chopped parsley or pea shoots for additional garnish
Make the Almond Parmesan:
Combine the almonds, cashews, nutritional yeast and salt in a high powered blender or food processor. Pulse just until fine grounds form (don't over process or you'll end up with nut butter). Store in a reusable container fitted with a lid and place in the fridge until ready to use.
Make the pasta sauce:
To a food processor, add the cannellini beans, spinach, olive oil, nutritional yeast, garlic, lemon juice, vegetable stock and coconut milk. Process until the mixture is smooth and even. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Cook the Pasta & make the Beet Chips:
In a large pot, cook the pasta as per the package directions. While the pasta is cooking, make the beet chips.
In a medium fry pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Carefully add the thinly sliced beets in a single layer, season with sea salt, pepper and a light dusting of cumin. Fry three minutes a side or just until crispy. Remove from the pan and place on a plate lined with paper towel to absorb any excess olive oil.
The pasta should be cooked to al dente now; strain and place back in the cooking pot.
Pour the pasta sauce over the cooked noodles and stir until evenly distributed. The heat of the cooked noodles should warm the pasta sauce, or simply stir the coated pasta over medium-low until heated through. Plate and top with 1-2 tbsp of almond 'parmesan', several beet chips, and chopped parsley/pea shoots (if desired).
this recipe makes enough almond 'Parmesan' to last you quite a while. If you've made any of my other recipes, you may still have some on hand. Keep any leftover 'Parmesan' in an airtight container in the fridge.