Pasta is one of those ultimate comfort foods: It can take many forms, it doesn’t take too long to make, and you can stock your pantry with a variety of shapes and sizes so it never gets boring.
But just because it’s good for the soul doesn’t always mean our favorite pasta dishes are actually good for us. Enter these sauces, which provide updates to the classic favorite sauces we all know, with healthy swaps to make you feel as good as they taste. Pair them with a grain-free pasta for a wholesome (and filling) homemade meal.
1. Goji-Tomato Marinara
Where many traditional marinara recipes may call for an addition of sugar or other sweeteners to cut the natural acidity of the tomatoes, this recipe swaps in a superfood. Goji berries‘ natural sweetness makes them a perfect foil to canned plum tomatoes, and the rest of the recipe keeps things classic with basil, garlic, and oregano.
2. Nightshade-Free Marinara Sauce
If it’s not the sugar that has you shying away from marinara, maybe it’s the tomatoes. Some people can be sensitive to nightshades, a class of foods that tomatoes fall into. This recipe uses other ingredients—beets, carrots, and sweet potatoes—to give the sauce a marinara-esque feel without any tomatoes at all.
3. Paleo Bolognese
Bolognese is another classic Italian pasta sauce that many diets would frown upon. This paleo update offers a dairy-free way to enjoy the rich meat sauce (though the meat is optional if you’re cooking for a vegan or vegetarian diet plan). The secret? Pine nuts.
4. Tomato, Lentil & Eggplant Ragù
For those looking for a fully vegan and vegetarian option that still has the “meatiness” of a proper Bolognese, this eggplant and lentil version accounts for making up the flavors and some of the protein content of a traditional Bolognese. Beluga lentils are added last to ensure they retain some texture, and the addition of a bit of red wine adds some depth.
5. Greek Spaghetti With Meat Sauce
This Mediterranean-diet-friendly pasta dish leans on an Instant Pot for bringing out the most flavor from the ingredients—in particular the ground veal and herbs like bay leaves and cinnamon. When topped with Greek mizithra cheese, this dish may transport you to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
6. No-Guilt Broccoli Fettuccine Alfredo
Now come the creamy pastas. When you’re looking to go a step further than mac and cheese, a fettuccine Alfredo is the perfect thing. This dish can be adapted to be vegan, but even when you include the Parmesan, it still won’t be as heavy and dairy-based as a more traditional recipe. The secret ingredient? Hummus (yes, really).
7. Protein-Packed Creamy Kale Pasta With Turmeric “Parmesan”
A more general take on the “creamy pasta” genre, this dish swaps in white beans to lend that creamy texture—which imparts flavor and nutritional value to your sauce. But what really takes the cake is the topping, a homemade turmeric “Parmesan” that takes the plain nutritional yeast you may have used as a plant-based cheese swap in the past and upgrades it by blending it with cashews, salt, and turmeric for greater texture and flavor.
8. Pumpkin Maple-Glazed Penne With Roasted Fall Vegetables
Every fall restaurants and frozen aisles alike seem to crop up with a range of pasta dishes that dance toward sweetness thanks to flavors like roasted pumpkin and butternut squash. This dish takes the best of the fall season and turns it into a comforting creamy (but still vegan) dish. The sauce itself requires only five ingredients, and you can swap in whatever vegetables and pasta you have available.
9. Easy Pine Nut Pasta Sauce
Moving toward pesto, but not quite there yet, is this simple sauce made from pine nuts that lends even the simplest pasta dish a bit of depth and umami. Chef Amy Chaplin, who created the recipe, also says that while it’s the perfect sauce for a simple pasta dinner on its own, layering it with a tomato sauce makes the dish feel even more rounded. And with only four required ingredients, it’s a great dish to make when you’re low on supplies.
10. Zero-Waste Salad With Kale Stem Pesto
Speaking of cooking with few supplies, the opposite side of that coin is cooking without creating waste: using everything you have to make delicious food. This pesto recipe makes use of an ingredient you may otherwise be hard-pressed to find a use for: the fibrous kale stems. And while this full recipe uses it on salad, the vegan pesto would be great on pasta as well.
11. Vegan Pesto With mbg organic veggies+
And because there can never be enough pesto, we have to include this simple pesto recipe, featuring mbg organic veggies+. The inclusion of a greens powder in the pesto adds extra nutrients that the simple basil version lacks, and once again cashews and nutritional yeast pair up to fill in the space usually occupied by Parmesan cheese.
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