It may not be very dietitian-like of me to say this but some days (okay, most days) I just want to stick my head in a big bowl of pasta. My husband, on the other hand, he’d be absolutely thrilled with a big bowl of salad any night of the week.
I should probably be ashamed to admit that my husband is the real salad lover in the family but, over the years, I’ve learned the way to get my husband on board with having pasta for dinner is by balancing those bowls-o-carby-goodness with veggie-heavy sauces, as well as protein and healthy fats like those found in walnuts.
Exhibit A: Creamy Cauliflower Fettuccine with Walnuts and Caramelized Onions
If you’ve never had cauliflower cream sauce before, add it to your culinary bucket list. Lindsay from Pinch of Yum (one of my fave food blogs of all time) introduced me to it some time ago so thank you, Lindsay! For my take on her recipe, all you do is cook a head of cauliflower in a bit of broth, toss it into a food processor with a little sauteed garlic, stir in some milk (non-dairy for a vegan version) and BAM.
Now, drizzle this sauce over some piping hot fettuccini, caramelized onions, and a bunch of toasted walnuts and you got yourself one heck of a meal.
Toasted walnuts add so much flavor, texture and nutritional goodness to this creamy pasta, you won’t even notice it’s meatless. Walnuts are one of only a handful of foods high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA for short), an important omega-3 fatty acid that research has linked with a decreased risk of heart disease. We know that ALA can be converted into heart-healthy EPA and DHA, the two essential fatty acids that occur naturally in fatty fish, but a rece
nt study also suggests ALA may provide additional health benefits independent of those resulting from the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA. All the more reason to eat more walnuts!
In addition to providing essential omega-3 fatty acids, walnuts are a convenient source of protein and fiber, both of which keep you feeling fuller, longer–a great reason to add them to foods like pasta and salads.
The marriage of sweet, caramelized onions with creamy cauliflower sauce and meaty, toasted walnuts turns an average bowl of pasta into a deceivingly healthy and satisfying meatless main. This one is going to the top of my rotating list of favorites, for sure!
Time: 70 minutes
1 ½ pounds yellow onions (about 2 large), halved and sliced ¼” thick
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper, divided
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
6 large cloves garlic, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
1 ½ pounds cauliflower florets (about 6 cups from a ~2 ½ pound head)
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
½ teaspoon sea salt (plus additional for finishing)
1 cup milk (for a vegan dish, use any non-dairy milk like hemp or soy milk)
1 pound fettuccini or linguine
½ cup finely chopped walnuts
1-2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (read this before picking if you don’t want to lose your mind)
In a large skillet, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil and the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and a ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper. Stir well, reduce heat to medium-low and cook the onions slowly for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. You will know they are done when onions are medium to dark brown in color and super soft. Deglaze the pan with 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and cook onions for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. Onions can be prepared up to 2 days in advance.
While onions caramelize, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions. Rinse, drain, cover and set aside.
Meanwhile, prepare the cauliflower sauce. In a large pot over medium-low heat, saute garlic in remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil until garlic is soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Transfer to blender or food processor.
Using the same pot, bring broth to a boil, add the cauliflower and cook, covered, until cauliflower is fork tender, about 7-10 minutes.
Transfer cauliflower and broth to the blender or food processor. Add salt and remaining ½ teaspoon black pepper. Puree until sauce is very smooth, 1-2 minutes.
Return cauliflower sauce to pot, stir in milk and heat through.
When the sauce is hot, add caramelized onions, pasta, walnuts and fresh thyme and mix well. Serve immediately and finish with a generous sprinkle of flaky sea salt.
A special thanks to The California Walnut Commission for sponsoring this delicious recipe and to you readers for supporting our awesome sponsors.