Sometimes all you are after at the end of a long day is a quick and comforting meal so I thought I would share one of my go to pastas with you. It never stays the same as it’s flexible and I have a tendency to tinker (I guess that’s why I ended up doing THIS for a living), but the gist of it is the same – vegan broccoli pasta in a simple creamy sauce with soy-based chick’n.
I like to use small pasta shapes like orecchiette or conchiglie for this, alongside at least one green vegetable – tenderstem broccoli in this instance and some kind of meat substitute to add another texture and make it more satisfying. While I tend to follow wholefood plant based diet (beans, nuts, fruit and veg) and I’m not big on commercially available meat substitutes, I do make an exception for a couple of products we particularly enjoy. They add variety to our meals and are close enough to what we enjoyed eating as omnivores that we don’t feel like we are missing out at all.
After you have not had meat for a long time (9 years in our case), you don’t really remember what it tasted like exactly so a close approximation of the texture and flavour you used to enjoy is good enough. And just to be clear – as I do know that some people cannot wrap their heads around the fact that some vegans seek foods imitating meat, dairy or eggs – many vegans, myself including, don’t go vegan because they dislike meat, they go vegan because they don’t want to be the cause of animal suffering.
MORE ABOUT THE INGREDIENTS
PASTA: I made this dish with all kinds of pasta but small shapes like orecchiette or conchiglie are my favourites. I often use wholewheat pasta instead of plain for added satiety and nutrition.
BROCCOLI: I love broccoli, especially tenderstem broccoli (known as broccolini in some parts of the world) and we eat it several times a week in pastas, stir-fries, simple veggie bowls. Tenderstem broccoli is a cross between regular broccoli and Chinese broccoli and as the name suggests it takes much less time to cook. You can use regular broccoli divided into small florets too, of course. The key is not to overcook them be vigilant. You want them cooked but still retaining a little bit of crunch (texture), not turning into mash in your mouth.
VEGAN CHICK’N: I like using soy-based vegan chick’n in this dish. My favourite brand so far is What the Cluck by The Vegetarian Butcher although I like to go an extra mile and coat it my chick’n seasoning after frying. If chicken substitutes are not your thing or you simply haven’t found one you like, use firm smoked tofu instead. I explain how below. I also sometimes make this dish with vegan bacon (like in this recipe except it needs baking for 5-10 minutes longer)
VEGAN CREAM: There are a lot of good vegan creams on the market, based on oats, soy and almond – to name just a few. I used Oatly single cream. If shop-bought cream isn’t available, create your own by blitzing 130 g / 1 cup of raw cashews (or hulled sunflower seeds for nut-free option) with 180 ml (¾ cup) of water and use that instead.
GARLIC: Finely diced garlic pan-fried gently in olive oil is what infuses the sauce with a lot of flavour. Take your time with this step and keep the flame low as you don’t want the garlic to brown – it will make your dish taste bitter.
LEMON: Most creamy pastas, cream dishes in general, cry out for a splash of acid to cut through the richness. I like to add a good squeeze of lemon juice to the sauce and some lemon zest too to reinforce fresh lemony flavour.
CHICK’N SPICE: While some chicken substitutes come seasoned and you could use them straight from a packet, I like to add my own seasoning. This simple spice mix, comes together in seconds and I adds a lot of flavour in my opinion – it also makes for tasty pan-grits (Duncan’s favourite bit). Below is a visual to show you what you’ll need at a glance.
Pan-fry your chick’n until golden brown and crispy first, then turn the heat off and toss it around in my spice mix to infuse it with more flavour.
I like to use small pasta shapes for this dish, like orecchiette and tenderstem broccoli. To save on washing up, I cook broccoli in the same water I cook pasta. You could cook them both at the same time by adding broccoli to cooking pasta for the last few minutes of cooking time, but I prefer to first cook the broccoli and then pasta in the same cooking water. This gives me more control over the doneness of each element as overcooked broccoli or pasta is something I want to avoid.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What can I use instead of chicken substitute?
If you don’t get on with chicken substitutes, you can use firm tofu instead. I recommend smoked tofu! I press it, marinate in 20 ml / 4 tsp of soy sauce (or tamari for GF option), coat in cornstarch and pan-fry as per the recipe, coating it with my spice mix at the very end.
What can I use instead of vegan cream?
Create plant-based cream at home by blitzing 130 g / 1 cup of raw cashews (or hulled sunflower seeds for nut-free option) with 180 ml (¾ cup) of water and use that instead. Be sure to soak your cashews in boiling water for at least 20 minutes before blending – soaking helps to soften them and produces better texture. If you want to keep it budget friendly or nut-free, use hulled sunflower seeds in exactly the same way.
- 160 g / 5.6 oz vegan chick’n (I like What the Cluck) or firm tofu
- 2 tsp nutritional yeast
- ½ tsp sweet smoked paprika
- heaped ¼ tsp dried oregano
- heaped ¼ tsp rubbed sage
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- 1/8 tsp fine salt and pepper
- 10 ml / 2 tsp olive oil
- 150 g / 5.29 oz tenderstem (or regular) broccoli
- 200 g / 7 oz orecchiette pasta (or conchiglie/shells)
- 20 ml / 4 tsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 3 garlic cloves, finely diced
- a couple sprigs of thyme, leaves picked
- 120 ml / ½ cup vegan cream (I used Oatly*)
- zest ½ small lemon + 15 ml / 1 tbsp juice
- salt and pepper, to taste
- toasted breadcrumbs, to finish (optional)
- fine chilli flakes, to finish (optional)
- Create ‘chick’n’ seasoning by combining nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, garlic powder, salt, pepper and dried sage and oregano (crushed with your fingers) in a small bowl. Set aside.
- While your pasta is cooking, heat up a heavy bottom pan (I use a cast iron skillet). Once hot, add oil making sure the entire pan is covered – start off with 10 ml (2 tsp) and add more if need.
- Add vegan chick’n (or marinated tofu, see NOTES) and coat it in the warm oil. Once coated in oil, leave it for a few minutes on a low-medium heat so that it has a chance to brown nicely. Stir from time to time until browed on all sides.
- Once browned, switch the heat off. Sprinkle with ‘chick’n’ seasoning and stir immediately to coat.
- Prep tenderstem broccoli by dividing it into bite-size pieces and cutting thicker stems in half lengthwise. If using regular broccoli, cut into small, same size, florets.
- Boil a medium pot of salted water. Add prepped broccoli and allow it to simmer until just cooked but still retaining a bit of a bite (tenderstem broccoli took 2 minutes). Use a wire strainer to fish cooked broccoli out, rinse under cold tap and set aside. Bring the water to the boil again.
- Cook pasta in the broccoli water until just al dente. Reserve ¼ cup (60 ml) of pasta cooking water just before you drain it.
- While the pasta is cooking, heat up olive oil in a large frying pan. Add diced garlic and sautee on low heat until softened and fragrant, stirring frequently.
- Once garlic is ready, stir in vegan cream, thyme leaves, nutritional yeast, lemon zest, lemon juice and a small splash (2 tbsp to start with) of pasta cooking water if needed. Season and allow the sauce to bubble for a few seconds.
- Toss cooked pasta and broccoli in the creamy sauce, allow to heat up for a few seconds before diving between bowls. Top with vegan chick’n, pan-grits and some toasted breadcrumbs and fine chilli flakes if using.
*VEGAN CREAM – there are a lot of good vegan creams on the market, based on oats, soy and almond – to name just a few. I used Oatly single cream. If shop-bought cream isn’t available, create your own by blitzing 130 g / 1 cup of raw cashews (or hulled sunflower seeds for nut-free option) with 180 ml (¾ cup) of water and use that instead.