My family is obsessed with this rich and creamy vegan pasta bake with tender pieces of melt-in-your-mouth spinach. I can't wait for you to try it!
The sauce for this vegan pasta bake recipe is based on my vegan macaroni and cheese. It's rich and creamy and packed with flavor. It's also totally nut-free. No cashews or other nuts needed!
Cooking the pasta and spinach
You can use any pasta you like in this recipe, and gluten-free pasta will also work well. Feel free to use what you have.
Start by cooking your pasta according to package directions in a saucepan.
You want your pasta to be perfectly al dente, so keep an eye on the pan during that last two or three minutes of cooking, tasting a piece of pasta every minute to check for doneness.
While the pasta cooks, place the spinach into your colander. There's no need to cook the spinach for this recipe separately. The boiling pasta water and hot pasta itself will cook the spinach right in the colander.
If you're using frozen spinach, you will need to rinse it to thaw it out some before you add the pasta to the colander. It can still be cold, but you don't want it totally frozen. That boiling water can do a lot of work, but it's not made of magic.
When the pasta is perfectly cooked, add it to the colander, and toss it gently with the spinach until fresh spinach is wilted or frozen spinach is warmed through.
Making the vegan cream sauce
Now, it's sauce time! In the same pan you used for the pasta, heat some olive oil, and saute diced onion and minced garlic.
When the onion is soft and translucent, add all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, white wheat flour or chickpea flour to your pan. Cook, stirring, for just a couple of minutes more.
Then, add soy or oat milk to the pan along with fresh or dried basil. Cook the milk on medium heat, stirring occasionally until the creamy basil sauce thickens enough to pass the "spoon test".
The spoon test is typically used to see if jams and jellies are ready, and it's very easy to do. Basically, it means that when you run a spoon through the sauce, you can see the bottom of the pan for a second before the sauce fills in the space the spoon left behind.
Now, turn off the heat, add a bag of vegan mozzarella shreds, and stir to melt the cheese.
Stir in the cooked vegan chicken (See below.) and the pasta-spinach mixture from the colander. Turn the heat back on, just to warm everything through.
Choosing and cooking your vegan chicken
How you cook your vegan chicken will depend on which one you choose. You want about a 10 ounce bag of vegan chicken strips, any brand you like. Chicken-style seitan will also work in this recipe.
To cook, prepare according to package directions while you cook the pasta and sauce. If there are microwave directions, I tend to go for those, but you can cook them on the stovetop, if you prefer.
I do not recommend breaded vegan chicken in this dish, unless you can't find unbreaded vegan chicken strips. Breaded will work fine, but the texture isn't quite what you'd use in a traditional chicken alfredo.
How to serve and store
I love this creamy vegan pasta bake, because it's a self-contained meal. Serve it on its own or with a side salad or soup, if you want to stretch it into more servings.
Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Reheat it in a microwave safe bowl on high for 60-90 seconds, depending on your microwave.
One-pot creamy vegan pasta bake
- 10 ounce bag of vegan chicken strips - cooked according to package directions
- 8 ounces uncooked pasta - (Gluten-free is fine.)
- 4 cups fresh spinach - or 2 cups of frozen spinach, thawed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup diced sweet onion
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour - See note.
- 2 cups unsweetened vegan milk - (Soy, oat, cashew, or almond all work well.)
- ¼ cup minced fresh basil - or 2 tablespoons dried
- salt and black pepper - (to taste)
- 2 cups vegan mozzarella shreds
- Preheat the oven to 350° F.
- Cook the vegan chicken and the pasta, separately, according to package directions, and place the spinach into the colander. When you strain the pasta, use a large spoon to toss it with the spinach in the colander to cook it through. When the vegan chicken is cooked, set it aside.
- Heat the olive oil in a saucepan on medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until you've got a thick paste. This takes about 3 minutes.
- Slowly add the vegan milk, whisking out any lumps as you go, then add the basil. Bump the heat up to medium, and simmer, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes. It's okay if the milk boils as long as you are stirring it often. When the milk has thickened enough to pass the "spoon test" (See note.), you're ready to move on.
- Remove the pan from the heat, and while the milk mixture is still hot, add the shredded vegan cheese, stirring to melt. Add the cooked pasta-spinach mixture and the cooked vegan chicken, stirring to get a nice, even mix. Taste, and season with salt and pepper, then use your spoon to smooth out the top of the casserole.
- Place the pan into the preheated oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, until the top browns slightly and the edges look nice and bubbly.
- About the flour: If you don't have or can't use all purpose flour, you can substitute the same amount of chickpea flour, whole wheat flour, or white wheat flour.
- What is the spoon test? To see if your cream sauce is thick enough, drag a wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan. If it takes a second or two for the sauce to fill in the space the spoon made, your sauce has passed the spoon test!
- About the vegan chicken strips: You can use any brand of vegan chicken strips that you like. Chicken style seitan will also work. Since cooking methods can vary by brand, I'm recommending that you cook according to the package directions.