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:

30 minutes


For Sauce:

  • 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
  • 2 teaspoons of Diamond brand kosher salt. 
  • Healthy grinding of black pepper

For Dish:

  • 1 box (16 oz.) red lentil, quinoa, or brown rice penne
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
  • 2 teaspoons of Diamond brand kosher salt. 
  • Healthy grinding of black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Sauce (recipe above)


Prepare The Sauce:

  • Place the potatoes, carrots, onion and cashews in a pot. Add water to cover and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce to rolling simmer, partially covered, and cook until all the veg are tender enough to be easily pierced with a fork (about 15 minutes).
  • Using a ladle, put all the veg and nuts (along with some of the water) into your Vitamix whir it up, adding 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 water as needed.

Prepare The Dish:

  • In a small pot, boil the peas in the vegetable broth, until the peas are soft (just a few minutes). Drain but save the broth.  
  • In a large pot, boil the pasta in salted water, until al dente. Drain and return the pasta to the pot and set aside.
  • Saute the sliced mushrooms in the olive oil until nicely browned. Season with salt and pepper.  
  • Add the garlic to the mushroom, along with 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, garlic and peas to the pot with the cooked pasta. Add as much cheese sauce as you like (I use almost all of it). Stir to mix over low heat to meld the flavors. Season again with salt and pepper if needed. 

Pillar Tips

  • 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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