Vegan Pumpkin Recipes: Pumpkin & Cashew Pasta Bake

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With Halloween looming, it only seemed appropriate to spend a day of my half term experimenting with some pumpkin recipes. I created a savoury and sweet dish for a dinner and dessert pumpkin overload!

Now before I delve into the ingredient side of things, I must get a minor vent off my chest. Let me stress; this pasta bake was originally intended to be a cannelloni. I envisioned myself creating the creamy cashew and pumpkin filling and rolling up the lasagne sheets with the mixture oozing out of the tubes.

I made an early morning dash to my local Co-op supermarket to gather all of my ingredients together. However my determination to shop from memory rather than list writing inevitably meant that something was forgotten, in this case, the lasagne sheets. Not to worry, I thought to myself, I can just head back there later. Although when I did return, were there any dried lasagne sheets in the pasta section? No. After pestering an unsuspecting shop floor assistant, it was concluded that the only available lasagne sheets were in the fresh section and, alas, contained egg. Not exactly a vegan’s dream.

I headed on out of there to a nearby Tesco Express in pursuit of dried lasagne sheets. There, situated between the penne and the linguine, were my beloved lasagne sheets. In a state of pasta-fuelled euphoria, I practically skipped to the self-service till. Then…disaster struck. An overly lengthy queue left me with time to peruse the packet. And what dastardly word did I see glaring me in the face? Egg. Egg! Why oh why do these food manufacturers presume that all people want egg in their pasta?! Usually the pasta in the dried section is vegan. Most disappointing, Co-op and Tesco.

I returned to the pasta shelf disheartened and picked up the last available option; this bag of large shell pasta that I decided to stuff with my mixture instead.

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With the rant over, it was finally time to focus on the cooking side of things.
This recipe makes enough for 4-5 large portions and the cashew cream filling made a fabulous vegan alternative for ricotta.

INGREDIENTS
•80g cashew nuts, soaked for several hours
•Salt
•Black pepper
•Pinch of nutmeg
•1/4 cup of water
•2 tbsps olive oil
•18 tomatoes, halved
• 3 garlic cloves, crushed
•1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
• A small handful of torn basil leaves
•The flesh of three-quarters of a medium-sized pumpkin
•300g large shell pasta, blanched in hot water for 3-4 minutes
•30g grated vegan cheese (optional)

Method
1) To make the cashew cream, blend the soaked cashews with water, a pinch of salt, pepper and nutmeg until a smooth, cream-like paste is formed. Set aside.

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3) To make the tomato sauce, heat oil in a large pan and add the tomatoes and garlic, stirring gently for 7-10 minutes until the tomatoes start to release some of their juices. Add the balsamic vinegar and basil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Stand for 5 minutes before blending into a rich sauce. Set aside.

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4) Now heat the oven at 180c. Boil the pumpkin for 20 minutes until soft. Drain, leave to cool and the mash with a fork. Mix with the cashew cream and stuff the pasta shells with a spoonful of the mixture, placing in a large Pyrex dish.

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5) Pour the sauce over the stuffed shells and sprinkle over the vegan cheese if desired.

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6) After 15 minutes, remove the foil, add a few basil leaves and put the dish back in the oven for a further 15 minutes or until bubbling and golden. Leave to stand for a further 10-15 minutes before serving.

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I served a large portion of this hearty, autumnal dish with a watercress side salad. Enjoy!

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