Before we talk about this creamy vegan pasta with tomatoes and basil, we’ve got to start with the sauce. I’ve been making a version of the nut sauce in Amy Chaplin’s Whole Food Cooking Every Day cookbook nearly every week lately, and it’s totally upped my meal prep game. There are lots of variations using different nuts and herbs, but recently I made a few tweaks to her walnut sauce and was struck by how rich and creamy it was… without the use of any cream (or dairy) at all.
That night, I tossed some penne and roasted peppers in the sauce and loved the way it coated each noodle to give the pasta that satisfying taste that usually comes with an alfredo but in a completely healthy, nutrient-packed way. And so this creamy vegan pasta with tomatoes and basil was born, and not only is it incredibly delicious — it’s also simple enough to throw together in time it takes your pasta water to boil. Especially if you’ve prepped your walnut sauce in advance (highly recommend.)
I used bucatini for this recipe — it’s hard to beat those slightly chewy long noodles with a satisfying-to-slurp hole in the middle. However, any long-strand noodle-like spaghetti or linguine works great too, and even a short noodle-like penne or rigatoni would be delicious, although a different take.
One thing to call out is that, in order to coax the silky creaminess out of your walnuts, you’ll need to soak them for a couple of hours (and up to overnight) in a jar of water — so don’t forget to plan. I prefer to soak walnuts before toasting them to use in any recipe anyway, so I typically throw them in water the minute I get them home from the grocery store, then pop the jar in the fridge until I’m ready to use them.
The creamy vegan sauce uses an unusual yet very cool method: you sauté onions and garlic until golden brown to get that caramelized flavor, then add a splash of water to deglaze the pan before transferring it all to a blender. The heat of the water helps the other ingredients (walnuts, lemon juice, and zest) incorporate into a smooth sauce that tastes so much more complex than the sum of its parts.
While your pasta is cooking, all that’s left to do is sauté an entire pint of cherry tomatoes in olive oil, just until they start to burst. Into the same pan goes the pasta, scoops of creamy vegan walnut sauce, and a little pasta water to bring it all together. The crowning glory? Showers of lemon zest, chopped basil, and red chili flakes for a just-right amount of heat.
Healthy swaps for this creamy vegan pasta with tomatoes
For this recipe, I used bucatini — one of my personal favorite pasta shapes thanks to its chewy al dente bite, along with the satisfying hole that runs through the center of each noodle, perfect for sopping up the sauce in every strand.
This recipe can easily be made gluten-free by swapping in a gluten-free pasta like Banza. Even though I’m not gluten-free, I frequently make their pasta that boasts 20 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber per serving, thanks to the fact that it’s made from chickpeas.
A few twists on this recipe
Like most of my pasta recipes, this one is super customizable — you can swap in other seasonal veggies for the tomatoes depending on what’s in season. Sautéed broccoli, peas, and asparagus would make an incredible green springtime pasta, and Brussels sprouts would be great in the wintertime — if you want to introduce some meat, a handful of crumbled bacon wouldn’t hurt, either.
For the creamy vegan sauce, feel free to experiment with other nuts. Almonds or cashews? Delicious — just make sure to soak them first, as with the walnuts. Or, you can throw in a handful of pine nuts, which are already tender and creamy enough to not need a pre-soak at all.
Try leveling up the flavor of the sauce with a squeeze of miso paste, which adds that umami that you might get from anchovy in a more classic Italian sauce.
How to double this recipe to feed a crowd
Most pasta recipes, this one included, are super simple to double for a crowd. Just double your pasta and tomatoes, and use a big pan when sautéeing the tomatoes so that you can fit in all that pasta with enough room to give it some generous tosses when you add the sauce. That’s really it! The sauce already makes extra, so you should have plenty of that as-is.
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