Mac-Oh, Geez!

Recipe from Let Them Eat Vegan.

THIS is comfort food. A macaroni ‘n cheese type of casserole, this dish is made without tofu or cheese substitutes. The sauce is creamy, rich, and luscious and with a crunchy bread-crumb topping (like my mom used to make). Indeed, this is gooood comfort food.

3 – 3 ½ cups dry cut pasta (ex: macaroni, penne) (I use brown rice pasta) (about 10 oz) (see note)

Sauce:
3/4 cup raw cashews (see note for nut-free version)
1/2 cup raw brazil nuts
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 medium clove garlic
2 tsp arrowroot powder
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp onion powder
¼ tsp (rounded) dry mustard
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups unsweetened plain non-dairy milk (preferable unsweetened almond milk or plain soy milk)
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Breadcrumb Topping (optional):
¾ – 1 ¼ cups dry whole-grain breadcrumbs (see note)
½ – 1 tbsp olive oil
Couple pinches sea salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Get all ingredients ready to blend for sauce, then start cooking pasta. While pasta is cooking, blend all sauce ingredients in a blender or in a deep bowl with an immersion blender. Once pasta is almost tender, fully drain (don’t rinse). Mix noodles with sauce, and immediately pour into a lightly oiled 8 x 12” baking dish. (it will look like there is a lot of runny sauce – it will thicken up, trust the pasta!) Mix breadcrumb toppings in a small bowl, then sprinkle over top of casserole. Cover with foil and bake for 17-18 minutes. Then, remove foil cover and bake another 5-7 minutes or until topping is golden brown and crisped. Don’t overbake or sauce will get too thick. Remove from oven and place casserole on a hot plate (rather than on top of oven, since residual heat from oven will continue to thicken the sauce). Serve!

Note: This may not seem like a lot of pasta for this dish… but once it cooks and soaks up some of the sauce, this dish makes enough to happily serve 3-4. You can use another ½ cup of dry pasta, but I wouldn’t use any more than that – you’ll lose out on the sauce and instead will have a dry casserole.

Note: If you have leftovers (IF!), place in a heatproof dish. Drizzle in a touch of non-dairy milk to remoisten the mixture while baking. Cover and bake until heated through, then remove cover for a couple of minutes to crisp up the topping again.

Note: You can make your own breadcrumbs (and use up any heels of bread!) by processing slices in a food processor until fine. Use bread of choice – whole-grain, wheat-free, gluten-free, etc. If you want a really crunchy topping, use store-bought dry breadcrumbs. If you like lots of that bready kind of topping, use the full 1 1/4 cups, but if you like more of the saucy stuff (like me), use just 3/4 cup. Or, divvy the breadcrumbs over the top of the casserole to please family members – less on one side, more on the other!

Nut-Free version: When our baby was just a year, I wanted to do a nut-free version of this casserole that I could serve to the entire family. I decided to use tahini in place of the nuts, along with a few other changes. For that version, omit the nuts entirely and substitute ½ cup tahini sauce. Keep the lemon juice, garlic, increase arrowroot to 1 tbsp, keep onion powder, mustard, water and milk, and use 2-3 tbsp of olive oil. Also add 3 tbsp of nutritional yeast, ½ tsp agave nectar and ½ tsp (roughly chopped) fresh rosemary leaves.