Sun-Dried Tomato Cashew Cream Pasta (Vegan)

04/04/24

(Updated 05/18/24)

What unsuspecting nut can you use to make a creamy pasta sauce? Cashews! This vegan-friendly cashew cream pasta features bold Mediterranean flavours, like sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and herbs. It's a weeknight-friendly dish (just make sure to soak the cashews ahead!) that doesn't compromise on flavour.

A bowl of creamy sun-dried tomato pasta

There’s just something about a saucy pasta that hits right.

Alfredo, carbonara…to me, they’re hedonism in bowl. While dairy cream and cheese are the obvious OG’s to impart creaminess, what happens if you’re plant-based, dairy-free or just down for a good time in a parallel universe? Enter cashew nuts.

Cashews do magical things when soaked and blended, transforming into a gloriously creamy sauce, that’s mild enough to let other flavours take the spotlight. In this dish’s case, the very Mediterranean-combo that is sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, onion and basil.

As a Registered Nutritionist, there’s a special place in my heart for plant-forward dishes, especially when they have good plant diversity—like this recipe, which features vegetables, fruit (tomatoes), grains, nuts, herbs and even spices!

Ingredients for a cashew cream sun-dried tomato pasta sauce

The Ingredient Lineup

  • Cashew nuts. Skip the roasted or salted. You want raw nuts here as they lend a creamier texture and milder taste.
  • Sliced sun-dried tomatoes in oil. I like buying pre-sliced tomatoes (cuts down on kitchen admin🤙).
  • Aromatics. Brown onion and garlic, aka classic flavour builders.
  • Herbs. Dried oregano and fresh basil for Mediterranean vibes.
  • Chili flakes. For a subtle smidge of heat (promise it won’t be spicy!).
  • Vegetable stock. Helps thin the sauce, while adding an additional layer of flavour. You can use homemade, fresh store-bought or make it yourself from dried (i.e. cube or powder).
  • Penne pasta. My pasta pick for this dish. As you toss it altogether, the little hollow tube-shapes fill with sauce *swoon*.
  • Baby spinach. To boost the veggie ratio, creating a more balanced meal.

You’ll also need the basics: oil to sauté, tomato paste to deepen the flavours, and salt and pepper to season it all to perfection.

Let’s Cook Together: Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta

Soften cashews (reserving 2 Tbsp as a garnish) in boiling water ahead of cooking.
Sliced onions and chopped garlic on a chopping board.
Peel and slice onion. Peel garlic and roughly chop. Discard the skins.
Onions, garlic and tomato paste sautéed in a fry-pan.
Sauté onions for 5 mins. Add garlic and sauté for another 5, adding tomato paste, oregano and chili for the final 2 mins.
Onions and garlic in vegetable stock.
Add veg stock to frypan. Bring to boil. Once it starts bubbling, remove from heat and leave to slightly cool.
Cooked pasta in a colander
Add dry pasta to boil. Cook until tender, reserving ½ cup of pasta water (keep aside). Drain pasta.
Blended sun-dried tomato and cashew pasta sauce.
Add stock, sun-dried tomatoes (reserving 50g to toss through at end) and drained cashews to a blender. Blitz until smooth.
Cashew cream pasta ready to be mixed together.
Add all the ingredients to the pan, except the reserved cashews.
Mix together until the spinach wilts. When serving, garnish with the cashews.

Tips & Tricks

Giving this vegan pasta sauce a whirl? Here are my tried-and-tested tips:

  • Soften the nuts. An absolute must for the cashews to blend smooth and creamy. With my high-powered blender, I can get away with just an hour before, replacing the boiled water a few times to speed it up. Otherwise, 4 or so hours does the trick.
  • Save a splash of pasta water. As pasta cooks it releases starch into boiling water – and this is magical stuff. When tossed together with the pasta and sauce, it acts as a natural binder, helping create a smoother textured sauce.
  • Want to boost the protein? While this dish offers a smidge shy of 20g protein per serve, you can oomph it further by swapping standard pasta for a pulse pasta (aka pasta made with legumes). Otherwise, toss through a can of white beans – total Mediterranean vibes.

Fun fact: foods aren’t often made up of one macronutrient (aka carbs, protein or fat). So, while this dish may not feature many foods known as rich sources of protein, it’s more a sum of its parts. For instance, the plain pasta, cashews, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach (the latter quite small) will each contribute some protein, adding up close to 20g💪.

Two bowls of creamy sun-dried tomato pasta

Plate Up

Adorn a bowlful with finely sliced basil and a sprinkling of chopped cashews, and serve immediately *chef’s kiss*.

While leftovers can be stored in the fridge, if there’s one thing to learn about cashew-based pastas it they don’t like to sit around waiting to be eaten. They develop a funky texture (clumpy sauce) when refrigerated or sitting for long periods. Still tastes good, but not its prime.

While this might not bother you, there’s an easy fix if so: only cook as much pasta as you intend to eat, and adjust how much sauce you add, storing any remaining sauce in the fridge. Reheat the sauce when ready to eat, and mix into freshly cooked pasta.

Thanks for reading! Are you after another vegan-friendly pasta dinner recipe? Try this lemony spinach and pea pesto pasta🍋.

Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Cashew Cream Pasta

Serving Size: 4
Rating:
A bowl of creamy sun-dried tomato pasta

Ingredients:  

  • 1 cup raw cashew nuts
  • 1 Tbsp oil, olive or or from sun-dried tomato jar
  • 1 brown onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • Pinch of chili flakes (approx. ⅛ tsp)
  • 150 g sun-dried tomato sliced in oil, from a jar and drained
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 340 g pene pasta, dry weight
  • 4 tightly packed cups baby spinach (approx. 120g)
  • ½ cup fresh basil leaves
  • Salt and peper, to taste

Method:

Ahead of cooking – Soften the cashews

  • Add cashews into a heat-proof bowl. Remove 2 Tbsp worth and keep aside to garnish the pasta with later.
  • Cover the remaining nuts with boiling water and leave to soak for 4 hours (or 1 hour if you have a high-speed blender). Replace boiling water once or twice as the water cools.

Preparing the pasta

  • Peel and slice onions. Peel and roughly chop garlic.
  • Add oil to a large deep fry-pan (one you could comfortable add four serves of cooked pasta too). Heat to a medium.
  • Once the fry-pan is hot, add the sliced onions and sauté for 5 minutes.
  • Add garlic to the fry-pan at the 5 minute mark, turn the heat to a medium-low and sauté for another 5 minutes. In the last 2 minutes, mix in the tomato paste, dried oregano and chili flakes.
  • Add the vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Remove from heat and let cool down (enough for your blender to safety handle the liquid).
  • Cook pasta, as per packet instructions.
  • Add the stock, drained cashews and sun-dried tomatoes (reserving 50g to toss through the pasta) to a food processor. Blend on the highest speed into a creamy sauce.
  • Drain pasta, reserving ½ cup pasta water.
  • Add spinach to the bottom of the frypan. Top with pasta, sliced basil and sliced remaining sun-dried tomatoes.
  • Toss until the spinach has softened, using a splash of pasta water to make it extra creamy.

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If you enjoyed this dish, please consider giving it a star rating when you post a comment. Star ratings help others discover my recipes online (and your reviews make my day! 🙂 ). Happy cooking and baking. Danijela x

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