Pasta Blanca

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When it feels like the world is falling apart (as it so often does lately), I tend to crave comforting things. Soft blankets, cats snuggling on my lap, cedar-scented candles, vases of flowering quince branches… and comfort food. Especially – you guessed it! – pasta.

Rigatoni pasta mixed with white bean sauce and topped with sliced avocado and black pepper, with a side of braised kale

I improvised this dish one winter night, dubbing it “pasta blanca” – and my kids immediately begged me to add it to the usual rotation. They always perk up whenever they see it on the meal plan and request it for birthday dinners. I’m even teaching them how to cook it now so that they’ll be able to add it to their own repertoires someday.

As a longtime vegan, I’ve had my fair share of “alfredo” sauce stand-ins. Many of them were little more than pureed white beans with a dash of lemon. While that technically gets the job done, the texture was always too starchy for my liking.

This recipe probably looks similar ingredient-wise to those vegan alfredo sauces of old, but it contains a few important differences:

  • The amount of olive oil is VERY generous. This is not a low-fat recipe. But the resulting silky-creamy sauce makes the dish more filling, so maybe you can eat less and still be satisfied? (Though tbh, it tastes so good that I can never stop myself from going back for seconds.)
  • Although it’s easy to make, it takes time. The first step involves infusing the olive oil with plenty of garlic and shallots. This makes for a sauce that tastes super-fancy, like something you’d get at an upscale restaurant.

The recipe that follows makes enough sauce for 1-1.5 lbs of pasta. Whenever I make this for my four-person pasta-loving family, I typically use the full amount of olive oil and make 1.5 lbs of pasta so that we can have leftovers the following day.

Photos of steps in the sauce-making process. Text reads, "Evolution of a sauce. Garlic and shallots infuse in olive oil, then simmer over low heat. White beans are added and lightly mashed." The last photo shows the completed sauce with the words "YUM SAUCE" and a smiling emoji with its tongue sticking out as if licking its lips after eating something delicious.

It’s easy to make this gluten-free by using GF noodles. You can also put your own spin on it by adding fresh herbs at the end, or adding dried herbs to the olive oil mixture while it infuses. For the ultimate comfort-fest, I recommend topping this with sliced avocado.

Pasta Blanca

This recipe marries a silky, creamy sauce with toothsome pasta for a dish that is pure comfort! Serve alongside a tossed salad or braised greens.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Resting Time2 hrs
Total Time3 hrs 10 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: gluten free, nut free, vegan, vegetarian
Servings: 8 large servings
Author: Alanna Peterson

Ingredients

Sauce

  • 6-8 TB olive oil, extra virgin
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 shallot (or 1/4 large onion)
  • Zest of 1 lemon, organic if possible
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 15-oz can white beans

Pasta

  • 1 – 1.5 lbs pasta, such as rigatoni or linguini, gluten-free if desired
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 TB balsamic vinegar

Instructions

Make the Sauce

  • Mince the garlic and slice the shallots. Place in a saucepan and cover with the olive oil. Add zest from 1 lemon and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Cover and let sit for a few hours at room temperature to infuse the oil with garlicky, shallotty deliciousness.
  • About an hour before you plan to serve the dish, turn the heat on very low. You want this to cook gently and slowly without burning the garlic. Stir every so often. The kitchen will begin to smell very good.
  • Once the garlic and shallots are cooked (after half an hour or so; feel free to adjust the heat if needed), drain the can of white beans, but don’t rinse them. Stir the beans into the garlic/shallot mixture and smash them gently into the sides of the pot. Stir vigorously to incorporate the smashed beans into the sauce.
  • Turn up the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally so that the sauce doesn’t stick to the bottom, for another half-hour-ish.
  • As the sauce cooks, it should develop a creamy, silky consistency, with a slight chunkiness from the beans that weren’t smashed all the way. (I prefer having a little textural variation, but if you want your beans to be invisible, just puree this sauce once it’s cooked.)

Make the Pasta

  • While the sauce is cooking, boil the pasta until it reaches al dente consistency.

Assemble

  • Once the pasta is cooked to your liking, drain the noodles, return them to the pot, and stir the sauce in. Add the lemon juice and balsamic vinegar. Taste for salt and tanginess, and add more salt, pepper, and/or lemon juice if desired.
  • Serve and enjoy!

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