Dairy Free Macaroni and Cheese

This dairy free macaroni and cheese is made by tossing pasta with an ultra creamy pumpkin, cashew and sage sauce, then baking it in the oven topped with tons of herb packed breadcrumbs! One of my favorite recipes for fall! 

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This recipe was originally shared January 2014. I've since updated the text and images. Hope you enjoy this blast from blogging past! 

Every since I can remember, macaroni and cheese has been one of my favorite foods. It combines my all time favorite food (cheese) with pasta, butter and breadcrumbs. What's not to like? 

The best macaroni and cheese award went to my grandma. I remember hers was always extra-cheesy and melty with tons of buttery breadcrumbs over the top. After she passed away a few years ago, I begged my mom for her recipe. That's when she broke it to me that my grandma just heated up Stouffer's and added some bread crumbs on top. You would think I'd be excited to find out that my grandma's mac and cheese was just a trip to Publix away, but it was like a little piece of my childhood was smashed. 

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When I first started this blog back in 2013, and really for the first part of my dietetics career, I was really big on teaching people how to make their favorite foods healthier. Love fried chicken? Just oven-fry it! Craving a cheesy burger? I'll teach you how to create a bomb veggie burger. In the mood for brownies? Just check pinterest for the 3,475 recipes for gluten-free/vegan/paleo/no added sugar brownies that taste *just* like the real thing...kinda....sorta. 

That's where this recipe for dairy free macaroni and cheese came from. An attempt to show y'all that "Look! Macaroni and cheese can be healthy and tasty!"

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And you know what, this recipe is really tasty, and wholesome too, so let's just enjoy it as that, not as a healthy swap for macaroni and cheese. Because when you want mac and cheese, you should probably eat mac and cheese....unless you're allergic to dairy...or don't eat cheese for ethical reasons...then I suppose this could be your swap for macaroni and cheese. Otherwise, make this recipe when you want a warm and cozy pasta bake in a creamy sauce packed with the flavors of fall! 

Sometimes I think that all these healthy swaps are actually a barrier to people eating more healthfully. Like, if you eat this dairy free macaroni and cheese expecting it to taste exactly like macaroni and cheese, you're probably not going to like it. But if you go into it expecting a super-creamy pumpkin sauce with crunchy breadcrumbs, you probably will. Let's stop thinking about things in terms of swaps and start to just enjoy them for what they are. 

(As a side note, I really wanted to change the name of this recipe to creamy pumpkin pasta bake but because it's a higher performing recipe for me, switching it up would mess with my google-juice, so I promise I'm not a total hypocrite!) 

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The secret ingredient that takes this to a new level are the soaked cashews blended with the pumpkin and other flavoring ingredients. It adds fat and protein to make the dish a bit more balanced, while adding a yummy mouthfeel to the sauce. I also added nutritional yeast, which is often used to add a cheesy flavor in vegan cooking. By itself I think it's kinda ick, but I love it blended into sauces or mixed into breading for foods (like my crispy oven baked tofu tacos, based on THE BEST veggie tacos I had out in California). 

Hope you love this recipe as much as I do! 


 Dairy Free Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cashews
  • 1 lb 100% whole grain penne
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided 
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 3 cups canned pumpkin (from two cans)
  • 3/4 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

Instructions

  1. Place cashews in a small bowl, cover with water, and soak at least 4 hours.
  2. Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small skillet on medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté about 5 minutes until lightly browned. Add garlic, sage and thyme, stir and cook about 60 seconds, then remove from heat. Place drained cashews, onion mixture, pumpkin, mustard, nutrition yeast in a blender and blend into a smooth puree. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin mixture with pasta until evenly coated. Pour evenly into a large baking dish coated lightly with oil.
  5. In a small bowl, combine the panko, Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a little salt. Sprinkle evenly over the macaroni.
  6. Place in the oven and bake 30-40 minutes until golden. 

More cozy fall recipes....

Pumpkin, Shiitake and Gruyere Pizza on a Cauliflower Crust 

Pumpkin, Shiitake and Gruyere Pizza on a Cauliflower Crust 

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Cranberry Salsa and Cranberry Blue Cheese Scones 

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Cranberry Salsa and Cranberry Blue Cheese Scones 

Pumpkin Chipotle Chili 

Pumpkin Chipotle Chili 

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