Creamy White Bean Pesto Pasta

A delicious vegan pasta that features a creamy white bean pesto sauce. White beans make for a creamy sauce without dairy, and are a great source of added protein. Top with homemade brazil nut parmesan. A crowd pleaser! Vegan & Gluten Free. <jump to recipe>

We’ve had a lot of pesto the last few weeks. The sun and warm spring air have filled my head with a seemingly endless list of pesto combinations. Sorrel and lemon, spinach and feta, and now white bean and basil. I'm quickly learning that if there's anything that could stand up to the versatility of pasta, pesto is getting pretty darn close.

Anguel and I have a special attachment to pesto. In our relationship’s early days, Anguel was very eager to impress me with his … erm ‘cooking skills', which you can read more about here. We both quickly learned that simple, fool-proof recipes were the perfect choice for our dinners in – or at least the ones he was in charge of. And this Ina Garten Spinach & Pesto Salad quickly became one of our favorites. Thankfully, we've expanded from store-bought pestos and now prefer to make our own at home when we can. The freshness is so worth it!

Creamy White Bean Pesto Pasta // Natural Girl Modern World // Vegan & Gluten Free
Creamy White Bean Pesto Pasta // Natural Girl Modern World // Vegan & Gluten Free

Today's recipe packs in the delicious flavors of a pesto pasta, but with some serious health upgrades. Vegetarian pastas usually leave something to be desired. They're usually loaded with heaps of oil / cheese, and all too often lack a source of protein. So while they might be a delicious dish of carb-y goodness (cue nap time), they’re often lacking in the health department. I wanted to change that. Here, white beans form a creamy base for the sauce. One that's entirely dairy free – hip, hip hooray for a vegan pasta! And this creamy base couldn't be easier. I usually use a can of cannellini beans to save time, but you could definitely substitute canned for home-cooked beans. A quick dance party in the saucepan will infuse the beans with flavors of onion, garlic, and vegetable stock. And once the flavors have developed, a food processor or blender will turn your sauce into a creamy base.

The creamy white bean base is then combined with a flavorful pesto sauce. The pesto itself is more of a classic take – with basil, pine nuts and lemon juice – just without the cheese. I like to throw in an extra handful or two of spinach as well, because it's an easy way to get more greens into your life. And since the basil is much stronger in taste, the spinach is barely recognizable.

Creamy White Bean Pesto Pasta // Natural Girl Modern World // Vegan & Gluten Free
Creamy White Bean Pesto Pasta // Natural Girl Modern World // Vegan & Gluten Free

A sprinkling of extra mix-ins keeps this pasta fresh and bright. I prefer to use spinach and green peas, which work together beautifully – and because it reminds me of Ina's salad, which we love. They also don't require any additional prep, which suits us well on weeknights when were tight on time. You can feel free to add in whatever toppings you wish. And because it's sometimes hard to have pasta without the cheese, this is where the Brazil nut parmesan comes in. No, it's not actually cheese. But it does add the salty, cheesy elements that you get from a parmesan topping. Vegan style, of course. But it's not strictly for vegans - even our cheese loving friends adore it!

This recipe makes a rather large batch. It's perfect for us because we love serving this dish to friends – it's even a big hit with the green vegetable-avoidant types. Spinach in pesto is like childhood, I mean adulthood, trickery at its finest. If you want a smaller portion, I'd suggest storing half the sauce in the fridge and then cooking up fresh pasta the next day. Or, if you're all about efficiency, just make the full batch, and store the fully dressed pasta in the fridge. It makes a delicious and filling lunch or dinner the next day.

Creamy White Bean Pesto Pasta // Natural Girl Modern World // Vegan & Gluten Free
Creamy White Bean Pesto Pasta // Natural Girl Modern World // Vegan & Gluten Free

CREAMY WHITE BEAN PESTO PASTA

SERVES 6 (VEGAN, GLUTEN FREE)

Ingredients

White bean pesto sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil (e.g. grapeseed, coconut)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup vegetable stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 can cannellini beans (14 oz/425 g), rinsed well*
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 cups basil, packed
  • 1 cup spinach, packed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Other:

  • 1 cup spinach, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen green peas, rinsed
  • Rotini pasta (16 oz/454 g), gluten-free if desired
  • Salt + pepper, to taste
  • For garnish: Parsley, Brazil Nut Parmesan (recipe below)

Directions

  1. Toast pine nuts in a large saucepan over medium heat for ~5 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. Re-heat saucepan over medium-high heat. Warm oil, then add diced onion and cook until soft and translucent (approximately 5 minutes). Add minced garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Pour in vegetable stock. Add bay leaves and beans. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a rolling simmer. Cook covered for 15 minutes (or until you're ready to mix it into the pesto).
  3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot to boil for the pasta. Once boiling, add noodles and cook according to the manufacturer's directions. 
  4. While the pasta is cooking, add the roasted pine nuts, basil, spinach, olive oil, lemon juice and salt to a food processor. Pulse until it forms a rough pesto sauce.
  5. Remove the bay leaves from the onion and bean mixture in the saucepan. Then transfer to the pesto in the food processor. Carefully pulse until smooth.    
  6. Once the noodles are cooked, strain and return to the large pot. Pour the pasta sauce over the noodles and stir well to combined. Stir in chopped spinach and green peas. Gently heat over low until the peas are warmed through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with a generous amount of brazil nut parmesan and chopped parsley.

Notes:
-*Can be substituted with 1 1/2 cups of home-cooked beans.
-Be careful when pulsing the sauce in the food processor. Go slowly, and consider covering the top with a tea towel to prevent any from coming out. You might also be able to use a high-speed blender instead.
-If making both the pasta and brazil nut parmesan, you can combine the roasting step for the pine nuts and brazil nuts. Instead of toasting over the stove, preheat oven to 350°F. Add pine nuts to one baking sheet and brazil nuts to a second baking sheet. Remove pine nuts once golden brown (5-10 minutes). Brazil nuts will likely take an additional 2-3 minutes longer.

 

BRAZIL NUT PARMESAN

MAKES 1/4 CUP (VEGAN, GLUTEN FREE)

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup Brazil nuts (1.4oz/40g)
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Optional - 1/4 teaspoon nutritional yeast

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Add Brazil nuts to a baking sheet and roast for ~12 minutes, until the Brazil nuts are golden brown and fragrant. Remove from baking sheet and let cool.
  2. Using a small knife, scrape off any skin that remains on the Brazil nuts. It should flake off very easily once roasted.
  3. Add nuts, garlic powder, salt and nutritional yeast (if using) to a food processor. Process until the nuts are the size of grainy sand. Use as a topping wherever you might sprinkle parmesan cheese. Store extras sealed in the fridge.