Summer Spaghetti with Zucchini-Cashew "Alfredo" Sauce (gluten free, vegan, dairy free, soy free)

Every summer, we are left with more zucchini than we know how to eat, and we tire of it. We roast it, we saute it, we steam it. We shred it, slice it, and puree it. We use it like pasta, we add it to breads, we use it as filler in anything and everything. I've started using it in smoothies to get a nice creamy texture. It shows up everywhere.

I like pureeing raw zucchini, cooking the puree, and using it as a milk substitute in baked goods. Then not long ago, it dawned on me that this creamy zucchini "milk" could be used in place of milk in other things - like creamy soups, smoothies, or sauces. The idea for an alfredo-style cream sauce was born. I've been kicking around that concept for awhile, and finally had the chance to give it a shot last weekend when I was home visiting my family. The secret ingredient is soaked cashews, which add a rich flavor and velvety texture to our perennial garden favorite. Soaked and blended cashew cream does something magical when you cook it: it thickens, just like dairy does. Perfect for making thick sauces.

Creamy and rich, my zucchini-cashew "alfredo" sauce was the perfect finish to al dente brown rice spaghetti and an abundance of fresh farmer's market summer vegetables and garden herbs. The sauce had a great thick texture, creamy white color, and an awesome flavor, and was a breeze to make. It totally passed the test with my parents, who both went in for second helpings. My mom enjoyed it as is, but my dad, a true Wisconsite, added a bit of parmesan cheese to his bowl. What can I say, the man loves his cheese.
Besides loving my "alfredo" sauce, they were both really impressed with the Tinkyada brown rice spaghetti. So impressed, in fact, that I left them the rest of the package. I'm always trying to get them to eat less wheat, so I was happy to support future wheat-free meals! After they both noticed that they did not slip into a wheat pasta-induced food coma or suffered heavy cream sauce-induced digestive troubles after our lunch, I think wheat free meals will become a bit more frequent. As for me, I was thrilled and thought the whole meal was fabulous. This was the first "alfredo" style spaghetti I'd eaten in probably more than five years. I'd given up
cream sauces and pasta ages ago because they made me feel so dreadful. It was wonderful to eat creamy pasta and feel great, instead of wanting to go curl up and die somewhere! We all finished lunch satisfied and happy, and with just a little leftover.

I can't wait to try variations on the sauce (see below for my ideas). I think the sauce should freeze well, so make big batches with all that zucchini from your garden, and throw some in the freezer for another meal. The pasta-alfredo-vegetable formula has endless opportunity for variation - I can't wait to try other combinations! Boasting with fresh flavors and rich textures, this spaghetti alfredo is done right, done light, and done darn delicious. Even the leftovers were good - I ate them cold, on the road, driving back from Wisconsin to Minnesota. As I went into a gas station that had a McDonald's attached, and saw (and smelled) what everyone else was eating as road food along Hwy 29, I liked my spaghetti alfredo even more.

SUMMER SPAGHETTI WITH ZUCCHINI-CASHEW "ALFREDO" CREAM SAUCE (gluten free, vegan, dairy free, soy free)
serves 4

8 oz Tinkyada brown rice spaghetti (or other tolerated pasta)
2 cups "alfredo" sauce (recipe below)
1 small or 1/2 large sweet onion
1 bunch Swiss chard (or spinach, kale, or other greens)
1 fennel bulb
1 small zucchini
4 small carrots
1-2 T olive oil
handful fresh basil leaves
optional garnishes:
torn basil
toasted cashews, pine nuts, or almonds

Prepare alfredo sauce according to directions below.

Prepare vegetables. Thinly slice onion. Remove rib from chard, and slice on diagonal into 1/2" slices. Cut the leaves in half lengthwise, stack, roll, then thinly slice across the roll to julienne. Quarter the fennel bulb, then slice. Slice the carrots into 1/4" diagonal slices. Slice the zucchini into 1/4" half moons. Thinly slice basil leaves.

Cook spaghetti according to directions on packaging, then rinse well with cool water.While spaghetti is cooking, heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add onions, and saute a few minutes, then add chard ribs and carrots, and saute a few more minutes. Then add zucchini, and saute a few more minutes. When vegetables are nearly done, add chard leaves and a little water, cover, and steam until tender.

Add cooked pasta to saucepan with vegetables. Then add warm alfredo sauce and basil leaves, and stir to mix over low heat.  Transfer to serving bowl(s) and garnish as desired. Enjoy!
Possible variations:
  • Switch out your greens: use spinach, kale, or other greens in place of Swiss chard
  • Try using other combinations of vegetables: green, red, purple, or yellow peppers, eggplant, mushrooms, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, squash, pumpkin, shallots...
  • Garnish with chopped olives, capers
  • Season with other herbs, like dill, chives, or rosemary

ZUCCHINI-CASHEW "ALFREDO" CREAM SAUCE (gluten free, vegan, dairy free, soy free)
yield 2 cups

1 large zucchini, peeled and coarsely chopped (about 3 cups chopped)
1/2 c raw cashews, soaked 2 hours
1 tsp dehydrated garlic flakes or 1-2 whole peeled garlic cloves
1 c water
1 T South River garbanzo bean miso (or soy miso, if tolerated)
salt and pepper, to taste

Soak the cashews in fresh water for 2 hours. Drain and rinse, and place in blender.

Peel and chop the zucchini, and add to blender with garlic and 1 c of water. Puree until totally smooth and creamy.  Transfer to saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until cooked through and thickened.

Right before serving, take out about 1/2 c of the sauce and stir in miso paste until evenly mixed. Add miso sauce back to saucepan and stir until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and keep warm on lowest heat until ready to serve.
Possible sauce variations:
  • Serve over pasta, grains, vegetables, or beans, use in casseroles or pot pies in place of "cream of whatever" soup, or use as a fondue style dip
  • use broth or stock instead of water for richer flavor
  • Béchamel-style sauce: omit garlic and add a pinch of nutmeg (start with 1/4 tsp)
  • Rich and creamy red sauce: puree in roasted red peppers or marinated sun-dried tomatoes
  • Wine sauce: try using a bit of white wine instead of water when blending
  • Creamy green goddess sauce: puree in greens and herbs
  • Mushroom sauce: add sauteed mushrooms to sauce, pureeing half of them and adding the other half to the saucepan
  • Onion sauce: add caramelized onions to blender and puree
  • Herb sauce: add a variety of fresh herbs
  • Vegetable sauce: for a chunky vegetable cream sauce, add finely chopped cooked vegetables to saucepan and cook with sauce - broccoli would be delicious!
  • Here's a total change of pace: what about omitting the garlic, adding vanilla, cocoa/carob, and a little sweetener of choice? It would be like a thick chocolate sauce. You could even use hot coffee or a grain-coffee substitute instead of water for a mocha effect. I NEED TO TRY THIS!