Comfort Me with Cheezy Sauce: Vegan Mac and Cheese Casserole
[Perfect, homey, rustic comfort food. . . I feel better already.]
I’ve decided I want to be a computer programmer in my next life. No, scratch that: I want to be a computer programmer in THIS life. In fact, think I’ll take advantage of the free tuition for employees at the college where I work and just study programming right away. Why? Because if I knew how to program a computer, then events like being hacked–and having my entire blog disappear for several hours as it did this morning–might be less traumatic.
For those of you who tried to visit DDD this morning, I apologize if all you saw was a “sign up for WordPress!” form (that’s all I saw, too). Oh, and that long, rambling post I wrote a few days ago, the ACD update that reviewed the last four years on the diet? Vanished. And all your wonderful comments in response to that post? Gone. Buh-bye.
[Nacho Supreme will return!]
I will do my best to recreate the post over the next few days (silly me–discarded my original draft) and will repost the Nacho Supreme recipe for those of you who are interested. But frankly, today, after the initial punch-to-the-belly reaction from seeing the blank blog page, and then spending over an hour on the phone with the incredibly sweet and helpful Bluehost techie guy (Matt, if I ever leave the HH, I think I want to marry you), well, I decided what I needed instead this evening was some classic comfort food.
It’s actually out of character for me to find anything that isn’t sweet (or chocolate-based) comforting, but this mac and cheese felt like just the ticket. Growing up, I never ate much macaroni and cheese, not only because it was a rarity in our house (my mother made it perhaps four times that I can remember), but because once I tasted the conventional kind, I decided I really didn’t like it much. True, my mom was much more a baker than a good cook; and true, and her version of mac ‘n cheese was more like “mush ‘n charred”; so it probably wasn’t a fair assessment. (However, I did love Kraft Dinner in those days–aka Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, for all you Americans–but then again, in those days, I’d eat anything that offered dayglo orange or was made of chemicals. SweeTarts, anyone?). Even when I subsequently ordered the dish in a restaurant, I always found it somehow cloying, as if my throat dried up when I ate it. Needless to say, I tended to avoid it, even decades after leaving my parent’s house.
And then, I discovered vegan mac and cheese. Eureka! My first foray into the creamy, dreamy pasta dish was via Susan Voisin’s Easy Macaroni and Cheeze. I couldn’t believe how lush, how velvety, how flavorful and delicious this sauce-over-pasta dish was. Not only that–it was quick and easy to make, nothing like my mum’s dried up, crusty, mouth-puckering casserole. My love of vegan mac and cheese was fully cemented (no relation to the cheese in my mum’s recipe) when I cooked up Dreena’s Mac Oh Geez last year. What a revelation! A baked macaroni and cheese that remained creamy, rich, and flavorful even after fully cooked.
I used elements of both those dishes in my own casserole. Besides offering true comfort in a thick, pillowy sauce with elbow macaroni (the quintessential “comfort pasta,” in my opinion), this dish is the epitome of lazy cooking: blend your sauce ingredients, dump them into a casserole dish with the uncooked pasta, and bake, unattended, until done.
One caveat: this dish is not pretty. (Then again, neither is Julia Roberts, but look how much all of North America loves her). While the pasta bakes, it absorbs most of the liquid in the sauce, leaving a buttery, luxurious cheesy coating that envelops the pasta in a velvety cloak. The flavor is exceedingly mild, just the way I want my mac and cheese, but if you like yours sharper, you can increase the mustard and onion in the dish.
The HH was not as ecstatic about this as I was. “This doesn’t taste like cheese,” he frowned. True, HH; but to me, that’s not the point. The sauce is evocative of mac and cheese, and its creaminess, plus the hint of sweetness in the sauce both fulfil my requirements for a perfectly comforting dinner. Just the thing when your morning started off with a little trauma.
This is my contribution to this week’s Wellness Weekend.
Easy, Comforting Mac N Cheese Casserole
This is the kind of dish you can throw in the oven and then forget about until it’s time to dig in. Then, you’ll find perfectly cooked pasta, coated throughout in a cushy, cheesy, creamy sauce. Add-ins are optional; I prefer my pasta unadorned, except for the luxurious blanket of sauce.
2 cups (480 ml) elbow pasta (I used gluten-free rice pasta)
2 cups (480 ml) vegetable broth or stock
2 cups (480 ml) unsweetened plain soy, almond or almond-coconut milk
1 cup (240 ml) raw cashews
1/2 cup (120 ml) raw hemp seeds
1/2 cup (120 ml) sweet potato purée (I make my own from baked sweet potatoes; canned is fine)
1/2 yellow onion, cut in chunks
1 Tbsp (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1 Tbsp (15 ml) fresh lemon juice
1 large clove garlic
1 tsp (5 ml) dijon mustard
1/4 tsp (1 ml) paprika
1 tsp (5 ml) light miso
1 Tbsp (15 ml) arrowroot powder
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) fine sea salt, or to your taste
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Spray a large (8 cup/2 L) casserole dish or 9 x 11 inch ( cm) pan with nonstick spray, or lightly grease with oil. Toss the dry pasta into the dish and set aside.
In a powerful blender, blend remaining ingredients until smooth. Pour over pasta in dish and poke down any elbows that have floated to the top so that all the pasta is submerged.
Cover the casserole and bake 40 minutes. Remove from oven and stir the pasta. Return to the oven and bake another 30 minutes, then check for doneness. The casserole is ready when the pasta is soft and most of the liquid is absorbed, leaving a thick, creamy sauce throughout. If the pasta isn’t quite ready, remove the cover at this point and return to the oven to bake another 15-20 minutes before checking again. If desired, sprinkle with additional paprika.
Bake until ready, then allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving. May be topped with toasted breadcrumbs in the final 15 minutes of baking, if you like (I prefer mine plain). Makes 6-8 servings. May be frozen. To reheat, defrost first, then sprinkle with a little extra broth or milk and heat, covered, in a 350F (180C) oven for 20-25 minutes, until heated through.
Suitable for: ACD Stage 3 and beyond, sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, egg free, soy-free, vegan.
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Last Year at this Time: Fava Bean Balls with Cranberry-Tomato Chutney (gluten free; ACD All Stages)
© Ricki Heller, Diet, Dessert and Dogs