Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ultra-Creamy Sweet Potato Pasta Bake

Growing up, we didn't eat pasta very much, and I'm really not sure why. It could be that my mom hates garlic (or at least garlic breath), and my dad is against onions, which tend to be prominent flavors in the pasta world. Mom would make spaghetti every once in a while by adding a scant amount of a package of Lawry's spaghetti seasoning (dated from 1974) to a pot full of tomato sauce and then ladeling it over noodles cooked into plump worms. You have to understand, my mother just loves soggy food. An al dente noodle would have been a violation of the Wonder bread truism that carbs can be wadded up into a squishy ball. I sure loved that spaghetti, but I showed signs at a young age that my tastes were leaning in another direction, as I always requested to crunch on some raw noodles while Mom was boiling the rest.

As an older child I swooned when I first ate a creation called "lasagna" at a friend's house. I was hooked, and from that time forward, I would beg my mom to buy me any type of Italian frozen pasta dinner, as I had no notion that I could make such dishes myself from scratch, and I knew Mom was not so inclined. After I would eat the so-called "frozen entrees," she would crinkle up her nose and smile ruefully at my garlic-enhanced aroma. Thanks, Mom, for still letting me indulge despite the stink! There is no guaranteeing that your kids are going to have the same tastes as you, which sure is tricky for the mom, as I am learning...

Fortunately, in the case of pasta, my kids are equally exuberant. And, lucky for them, I have learned that I can cook it up it oh-so-yummy without the help of any blue box of mac and cheese! This pasta dish I concocted last week is rich and cheesy, based on a pizza I used to make with bottled alfredo sauce and roasted sweet potatoes and onions on top. Perhaps I was pushing my luck with the kale "parmesan" sprinkles, but everyone ate with gusto.

For roasted sweet potatoes and onions:
2 medium-large sweet potatoes, cut into 1/4 in. dice (about 1.5 lb.)
1 small sweet onion, diced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tsp. dried sage
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

For sauce:
2 c. plain don-dairy milk (I used oat milk)
1 tbsp. nutritional yeast
1 tsp. salt
1 c. grated Daiya vegan mozzarella
1/4 c. white flour
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 roasted sweet potato-onion mixture
1 c. cooked broccoli florets

For pasta:
1/2 lb pasta (I used whole wheat medium shells)
Additional 1-2 cups of broccoli florets

For kale "parmesan" sprinkles:
1 bunch kale
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
2 Tbsp. shelled pumpkin seeds

1. Preheat oven to 400 and oil a 9x13 or equally large baking pan. Combine diced sweet potatoes, onions, olive oil, salt, thyme, rosemary, sage, and pepper in the dish until the veggies are equally coated. Cover with foil and cook in the preheated oven for 45-60 minutes, until the veggies are very tender when pierced with a fork.
2. While the sweet potatoes are roasting. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Tear the leaves from the stalks of the kale, wash them thoroughly, and pat them dry. In a large bowl, toss the kale leaves with the tablespoon of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Lay out in a single layer on the baking sheet and place in the oven with the sweet potatoes. Bake for 10 minutes, and then check on the leaves; you want them crispy. If they are still looking a bit soggy, put them back in the oven for a few minutes until they are just turning slightly brown. Be careful, as you don't want to burn them. Once the leaves are crisp, let them cool a few minutes, and then whiz them in a food processor with the nutritional yeast and pumpkin seeds until finely ground. Stick the mixture back in the oven for 5-8 minutes to crisp everything up again.

3. Once you've taken care of the kale, boil a large pot of water and cook and drain the pasta according to the package directions. Steam your broccoli florets until tender in the microwave or in a steam basket on the stove-top.
4. When the sweet potatoes are done, add all of the sauce ingredients to the blender and puree until smooth. Oil a 9x13in baking dish, and add the cooked pasta, remaining sweet-potatoes, onions, and broccoli. Pour the sauce over all and stir to evenly coat. Then sprinkle with the kale parmesan.
5. Bake in the 400 oven for 15-20 minutes until heated through.

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