I never know where to begin these days with a blog post. I’m still digging out of the hole from taking time off, sacred time, to welcome Linnie into the family, which has left a lot of little piles everywhere, both the literal and figurative kind. (Thus, I’ve titled this stage of life: Little Piles Everywhere. If only it were snow.) Today I’m picking up a pile from April, when I found out my cookbook, The Minimalist Kitchen, had finally been reprinted after selling out a year prior (!!!). And then I’ll tell you about this Creamy Dairy-Free Butternut Pasta recipe, an adaptation from the book.
First, here’s the short story of how my book was on shelves for less than a year before selling out, which is something to typically celebrate, something I never thought I’d celebrate. (In fact, I was making a backup plan to wallpaper all the leftover pages of the book to a wall in our house.) But during that time, my publisher was acquired and later shuttered, leaving the prospect of a reprint flimsy at best. There were lots of emails and cross-eyed contract reading and trying to advocate for my book, while simultaneously waving a leftover triangle of white felt from a craft project with Hal and packing up my hard work and hopes. It was a difficult string of months that turned into a year.
Grey hairs were acquired and lots of other things happened, but let’s press fast-forward for everyone’s sake. Behold; a miracle. The books once published by my former publisher are now being managed by another company, which means The Minimalist Kitchen is back on shelves. I can’t tell you how happy I am to say that. This book has a little more life to live, and I hope it lives in your home, dog-eared and dirtied up.
How to Make Creamy Dairy-Free Butternut Pasta
Now about this Creamy Dairy-Free Butternut Pasta. It’s a riff off of the Butternut Pasta from page 98 of the book—a creamy, squashy pasta sauce finished off with heavy cream, an ingredient I like to use just a little of in a lot of recipes. It quickly thickens a sauce without weighing it down or needing an extra step, like a roux or a slurry, to come together. The natural sweetness also helps to neutralize and complement any acids, especially in tomato-based sauces. However, heavy cream doesn’t sit so nicely in all bodies, like Kev’s. So when Beth emailed asking for an easy substitution for heavy cream in several of the dinner recipes, I did a little experimenting.
Behold. A simple solution that sticks within the framework of The Minimalist Kitchen without requiring a special ingredient from the store. And best of all, it’s sitting in your pantry. Grab those cashews, the regular roasty, salted variety that you snack on or use to top the Takeout Cashew Chicken from page 111. This substitution is nearly, if not, indistinguishable. The natural sweetness of the cashews yields an oh-so-similar creamy lush texture after a quick whirl through the blender. No one at the table noticed.
Dairy-Free Substitute for Heavy Cream
In place of the heavy cream, steal another liquid from the recipe, adding the same amount of heavy cream called for + a little more than half of that amount of cashews. In a high-powered blender, blend on high until smooth, about 30 seconds. Then add to the recipe.
For example, the Butternut Pasta recipe calls for 1/4 cup of heavy cream. The recipe also calls for stock, so I’m going to use 1/4 cup of stock as my liquid + a little more than half of a 1/4 cup of cashews (so 2 heaping tablespoons), and blend it at the same time the sauce takes a final whirl through the blender in the original instructions.
This dairy-free substitution also works for the Quick Vodka Sauce on page 95. For the liquid on this one, grab some of that starchy pasta water or stock from the fridge. Blend as directed in the recipe. For the Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup recipe on page 151, grab some stock from the recipe and blend the cashews until smooth, then stir into the soup. (Note: since this is such a small amount, as you’re not blending an entire pot of soup, you may need to steal a little extra broth from the soup to allow the mixture to sit on top of the blender blades and blend smoothly.)
On this election day, may there be enough space at the table for heavy cream coated pasta and Creamy Dairy-Free Butternut Pasta too. And thank you for the fat that tempers the acids and the salt that makes everything taste better because gosh we need it. Amen.
This dairy-free recipe is an adaptation of the Butternut Pasta from my book The Minimalist Kitchen using cashews instead of heavy cream. For a quick weeknight prep, make the pureed butternut squash ahead of time. See notes for guidance.
Make the sauce. In a large saute pan over medium heat, add oil and onions once warm. Sauté for 4 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add in garlic and cook for 30 seconds more. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of the stock, butternut puree, sage, salt, pepper. Simmer on low for 10 minutes to develop flavor, stirring occasionally.
Cook the pasta. Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan filled 2/3 full with water to a boil. Liberally salt water before adding in noodles. Cook pasta according to package instructions until al dente. Drain.
Remove sage sprig from sauce, and pour contents into a high powered blender, adding the remaining 1/4 cup of the stock plus the cashews. Blend on high speed until creamy and smooth. Return sauce to pan over medium heat. Stir in parmesan (optional) and fold in cooked pasta. Cook for a minute more for the pasta to absorb the sauce.
To make the optional garnishes, in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, pan-fry the Italian sausage. If using a plant-based variety, add a glug or two of olive oil to crisp up. The natural fat in animal sausage needs no extra fat for crisping. At the end, toss in a couple sage sprigs, frying in the leftover oil or fat, about 1 minute on each side. Remove from pan. Add pasta to plates and top with crumbled sausage, sage, and a little crushed red pepper for heat.
Lately, I’ve been using the steaming method to puree squash for efficiency’s sake. Try the method.
*Did you know that aged hard cheeses are low in lactose, which can be hard for many to digest. While heavy cream may bother you, an aged cheese, like parmesan may not. In the aging process, the lactose decreases, much like gluten in sourdough or sugar in kombucha.
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