Simple ingredients with big time flavors combine to give you a creamy, luscious pasta sauce with the classic Italian taste you love and the creaminess you miss from before your dairy-free days. No nuts, no coconuts, and no funny business, but still easy as can be with amazing results.
One of the things I missed the most when I gave up dairy was a good, luxurious, comforting cream sauce for my pasta. There are plenty of recipes out there that use blended cashews or other nuts, or even coconut cream. I don’t like spending the bajillions of dollars on cashews, and I don’t really like coconut a whole lot, so that’s a no from me, dawg.
There is an amazing recipe by Oh She Glows for Cauli-power Alfredo which I’ve made and is tremendously delicious, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to give it a go. It’s work though, including a food processor/blender and I am lazy – so I’ve only made it once despite how delicious it is.
What I Needed
So what was I looking for, exactly? An easy creamy pasta sauce that doesn’t take a whole lot of time, doesn’t need blenders or food processors, doesn’t use nuts, and did I mention I want it to be creamy?
Easy. Creamy. Quick. Delicious.
What It Ain’t
This isn’t an alfredo sauce or comparable. I’ve got one of those on the way, but this is a tomato-based cream sauce (my favorite before I gave up dairy). So if you’re looking for a white cream sauce, check out the one I linked above or stay tuned for mine coming out soon.
Let’s Get Down to Business
Ingredients You Need
Tomatoes: For super duper ease I used canned tomatoes. Whole tomatoes are going to be the best quality, but diced tomatoes ain’t too bad themselves. I go for diced because I like them. You definitely can use fresh tomatoes – and big, juicy vine tomatoes are going to be your besties for this recipe. Just measure out about 30oz (850g), chop them up, and give them a few minutes in your hot pan before moving on to the rest of the recipe.
Onions: I like to use sweet onions, but plain white or even yellow onions will work fine here. I buy pre-chopped onions from my store because I have arthritis and laziness.
Garlic: Again, I buy pre-minced. It works fine for me and tastes enough like garlic to make me happy. (See “onions” above for why I go this route). Feel free to use fresh, or substitute with granulated garlic if that’s your jam. Use a half a teaspoon if you use dry, though. Or more. I’m not about to tell anyone to curb their garlic usage! (I actually use way more than I put in the recipe, but I’ve been accused by a lot of people of using too much garlic and I didn’t want to offend any palates out there)
Oil: In the spirit of this being Italian food, I use extra virgin olive oil. This one is my most favorite – it’s actually Tunisian. Yeah, I know, Tunisia isn’t in Italy. But most “Italian” olive oils aren’t even usually olive oil anymore, and this one is and it’s absolutely delicious. Can’t do olive oil? Use whatever neutral oil floats your boat – or just sub with your favorite vegan butter!
Basil: Basil is 1000000% my most favorite herb of all time, and if you can get it fresh it’s amazeballs. Italian basil, of course. Thai basil might be a bit too spicy for this application, but you can give it a shot if you’re feeling adventurous! If you can’t find fresh, feel free to use dried. Just follow the notes in the recipe card below. Can’t do basil? Try it out with oregano and thyme instead. Throw in a little rosemary and sage and your tastebuds will be very happy. 🙂
The Special Ingredient: as I was sitting around thinking about how I could make a creamy vegan tomato basil sauce without cream, as I often do, I scanned through my mental list of things that could possibly make it creamy as I noted above. Nuts, but expensive (and allergenic). Cauliflower, which is delicious but tedious and requires horsepower. Coconut, but blech. I could use my easy cheese sauce, but that wouldn’t give it exactly the creamy, luxurious mouthfeel I was wanting. Then.. it hit me.
Carbonara is a creamy Italian pasta sauce that has absolutely zero cream in it. Its creaminess is achieved with eggs. They’re stirred in at the end to form a glossy, creamy, divinely delicious sauce with zero dairy. So what can we use instead of eggs to make a vegan version? What else but aquafa–
For once I’m not using aquafaba!! I’m using something that uses it though! Mayonnaise. It’s a creamy emulsion of oil and vinegar traditionally made with eggs, but vegan mayo gives us the perfect creaminess we are needing in our sauce without the use of eggs, dairy, nuts, coconuts, or magic – well at least not much of it, anyway.
One of the best tips I have included in this recipe is to microwave the garlic and onion with your olive oil. This is a nifty trick I learned from Alton Brown in his book I’m Just Here for the Food 2.0. It softens the onion and mellows the garlic perfectly to cut out a good chunk of time from your stove-top cooking. Just be aware that your microwave will smell like onions and garlic for a while.
You can use your hands to smush up the tomatoes in the traditional rustic Italian manner, but again – arthritis. I use a potato masher for a good, texturous, chunky sauce. If you don’t like your sauce to be chunky, you can totally use a blender or food processor.. Or just use tomato sauce and save yourself some dishes?
Save that pasta water! It’s important because the starches in the water bring the oils and waters together for a creamy emulsion in your sauce. Check out this awesome video for a demonstration.
As far as how much of your vegan mayo to add – it’s up to you! I recommend starting with two tablespoons, and see if you like that level of creaminess. If you want it creamier? Add two more tablespoons. Rinse and repeat.
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Do the Thing
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- 2 tbsp minced onion
- 2 tbsp olive oil (or other neutral oil)
- 2 14.5oz cans of diced or whole tomatoes
- handful of fresh basil, divided
- salt, to taste
- pepper, to taste
- 12oz pasta, prepared according to package instructions MINUS four minutes
- 1/4 c reserved pasta water
- 4-8 tbsp vegan mayonnaise (depending on how creamy you want the sauce to be)
- Put your water and salt to boil for your pasta
- Heat a large saucepan or skillet over medium high heat
- Stir together your onion, garlic, and olive oil in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for one minute on high
- While your onion mix is in the microwave, empty your tomatoes into your hot pan and stir, letting some of the liquid evaporate off
- Add your onion mix into the tomatoes and stir well
- Add your uncooked pasta to the boiling water and stir well. Set a timer for the time it takes it to cook MINUS four minutes
- Tear half of your basil into small pieces and stir into the tomatoes
- Use a potato masher or fork to smash your tomatoes into smaller pieces, and let the mixture cook down until thickened to your liking (I let it go for about four to five minutes at medium-high heat)
- Drain your pasta and add to your tomato mixture along with 1/4c of the pasta water
- Stir well and lower the heat to medium-low, allowing the mixture to thicken more for five to six minutes until the pasta is al dente
- Tear the remaining basil into small pieces and add to the pasta
- Remove from heat and stir in the mayonnaise for a magically cream-less creamy tomato basil sauce!
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Garnish with fresh basil and vegan parmesan, and enjoy immediately with some yummy carbs
If you don't have fresh basil, you may substitute 4 tsp of dried. Add it all together at the first addition rather than dividing in half
If you're soy-free, try Sir Kensington's vegan mayo! We love Hellman's, but it does contain soy.
We use gluten-free pasta and Barilla's is our favourite!