Almond Penne Pasta

As I’ve mentioned before, the Food Network (and the Cooking Channel) tend to be defaults when I’m flipping channels.  I prefer the cooking shows instead of the challenge shows*.  Giada De Laurentiis’ show is one that I usually stop and watch part of, because her dishes can usually be adapted to fit a vegetarian recipe.  One day she was putting together a penne in almond sauce dish with chicken and sweet peas.  It looked easy and delicious.  All I needed to do was leave out the chicken (which only made the dish easier) to make it vegetarian.

This dish is similar to an Alfredo or Bechamel sauce, but without all the butter and therefore a little healthier.  You could easily swap the sweet peas for another green, such as broccoli, asparagus or even a leafy green like kale or chard, depending on the season and availability.  Just make sure you cook the green first.

Almond Penne Pasta

adapted from Giada De Laurentiis 
1 lb penne pasta
2 cups slivered or sliced almonds
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves smashed garlic (or grated)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup cooked sweet peas (defrosted if frozen)
3/4 cup heavy cream**
1 lemon, zested
1 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 tablespoon basil leaves, chiffonade
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta al dente according to package directions.

In a blender (or large bowl for a hand blender), add the almonds, vegetable broth, olive oil and smashed garlic cloves.  Blend together until well mixed.  In a medium sauce pan melt 1 tablespoon of butter.  Once melted, sprinkle in the flour and mix until a roux (paste) forms.  Slowly pour the blended liquid into the sauce pan while whisking.  Bring the sauce to a simmer for 3-4 minutes until it thickens.  Add the heavy cream, lemon zest, sweet peas and 1 cup of the Parmesan cheese.  Whisk to combine and simmer for 3-4 more minutes to reheat the peas and incorporate the cream and cheese.  Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper).

In a large serving dish (or the pot the penne was cooked in, drained), add the cooked penne and pour on the almond sauce.  Stir the pasta and sauce together, so the penne is coated.  Add the remaining Parmesan cheese and the basil.  Stir to coat the penne.  Serve warm and enjoy.

*Chopped is the exception to the rule.  I find it fascinating to watch accomplished chefs scramble to make a delicious and complex dish out of the weirdest ingredients.  Entrees:  chocolate peddles, trout, wasabi and jicama; 30 minutes go!  Are you kidding me?  Yet these talented chefs create amazing dishes and I really wish I could try.

**I tried it with skim milk and it really doesn’t work very well in this dish.  I would advise cutting back the cheese instead, though I already reduced it by 1/2 a cup.


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