Cheezy Penne with Mushrooms and Peas

It’s one thing to not eat meat anymore; it’s a whole other ballgame to give up cheesy sauces and spreads. For a while, I was bereft without dairy. But then I found it – the no-cheese cheese sauce of my dreams. It reminds me of the cheesy gooey pasta from days gone by.

Then I thought about a dish from Mia Francesca’s, a restaurant in Chicago, that had a rigatoni, sausage, and peas swimming in a creamy tomato sauce. Inspired, I put together this healthier version. Every time I make this sauce, I find a different way to use it: on steamed broccoli, vegan nachos, as a dip, with rice and beans.

After I made this the first time, I wrote in my recipe journal: “This is it. This is the light and the path and the way to creamy, saucy, cheesy goodness.”



Total time:

For cheese sauce 15 min. For the penne dish, 15 additional minutes

Sauce Ingredients

  • 2 large gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • ¼ onion (a wedge, peeled)
  • 1 large or two slender carrots, peeled and cut in three chunks
  • ½ cup raw cashews
  • 2 tablespoons miso
  • ½ cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 heaping teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 heaping teaspoon onion powder
  • Kosher salt and pepper, to taste

Sauce Directions

  • In a medium pot, boil water.
  • Place the potatoes, carrots, onion and cashews in the water.   
  • Boil until the vegetables are tender enough to be easily pierced with a fork (about 10 minutes  
  • Using a ladle, add the vegetables and nuts and some of the water to your Vitamix or a very high-speed blender (but get a Vitamix if you can swing it – nothing else compares). Continue to add more water until you have a sauce-like consistency.
  • Add the miso, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, and onion powder.
  • Keep whirring.
  • Add salt and pepper and additional veggie water as needed.

Dish Ingredients

  • 1 box (16 oz.) red lentil, quinoa, or brown rice penne
  • 2 cups vegetable broth, plus more for sautéing
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Sauce (recipe above)

Dish Directions

  • In a large pot, boil the pasta in salted water. Drain and return the pasta to the pot and set aside.
  • In a small pot, boil the vegetable broth. Add the peas and simmer until the peas are soft (just a few minutes). Save ¼ cup of the broth. Drain the peas and set aside.
  • Add the olive oil to a hot pan. Add the sliced mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Sautee until the mushrooms are nicely browned.
  • Add the garlic and a few splashes of broth. This prevents the garlic from burning without using an overly large amount of oil in the dish. *
  • Add the mushrooms and peas to pot with the cooked pasta. Add the cheese sauce to your liking. Mix well and simmer slightly over low heat to meld the flavors. Season with salt and pepper.

*Note: Olive oil is about 200 calories per tablespoon. It’s good for browning, but when you can, replace it with vegetable broth or even water. This is the key to low-fat cooking.  

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