Sometimes you just crave a big bowl of pasta! While I love a bowl of classic penne al’arrabiata from time to time, here are five ingredients I add to vegan pasta dishes to make them more filling and nutritious. If you are used to meat or cheese, these ingredients add nutrients as well texture and flavour. You can have fun, varied and delicious plant-based pasta dishes without any meat, dairy or eggs at all.
1. Add Beans and Lentils
Legumes are a cheap and sustainable source of protein. Pasta and beans (pasta e fagioli) is a typical Italian peasant dish. This is commonly eaten in Sardinia – one of the 5 “Blue Zones” identified by National Geographic researcher Dan Buettner – places in the world where people live longer and healthier than average. The beans add fibre, protein and complex carbs providing a slow and steady energy release. My recipe for Lentil Ragú is perhaps my favourite way of including legumes with spaghetti. It’s such a satisfying and umami-rich dish.
2. Use Nutritional Yeast
Missing parmesan? Blitz nutritional yeast with cashew nuts, salt and hemp seeds to top your pasta. “Nooch,” as it’s known, is a source of protein and B vitamins, especially when fortified. Nooch has a deliciously cheesy texture without the saturated fat and the nuts and seeds add healthy fats and texture. It’s great to make “cheesy” vegan sauces too such as alfredo.
3. Opt for Whole Grains
Whole wheat pasta varieties are widely available in the UK. The good news is that they generally have twice the amount of fibre as regular pasta and take 2-4 mins longer to cook. Whole grain pasta varieties retain more of the mineral content too – significantly more iron, folate and B vitamins. Check the packaging to ensure it’s “100% whole grain or wholewheat.” If you cannot consume gluten, choose legume based pastas or brown rice pasta. Check the label to ensure it’s certified gluten-free as some legume-based pastas in the market contain wheat flour.
4. Add in Dark Leafy Greens
Wilted greens are nutrition superstars that taste delicious with pasta. My favourites are spinach, kale and rapini. Make a pasta primavera or try vegan pesto and add in spinach, peas and broccoli.
5. Add in Smoked Tofu
Tofu is a protein and calcium rich addition. Smoked tofu is my favourite. It adds a meaty umaminess in pasta dishes without the cholesterol, cruelty, or saturated fat found in meat. Silken tofu can be used for creamy sauces and is a much healthier alternative to cheese or even processed vegan cheeses.
What is your favourite addition to plant-based pasta dishes?