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Food Main Course Pasta

A Tale of Two Pastas

My daughter’s favorite food is spaghetti. Plain spaghetti with out-of-the-jar sauce. Sometimes I go crazy and make my own sauce, or I add yummy stuff into the existing jar mix, then puree the whole thing so no one is any wiser for the improvement. But usually when I do that she says, “Something’s different about this.” (And that’s not necessarily a good comment.) She wanted spaghetti last night, but that didn’t happen, so for lunch today she got her spaghetti. She loved it. She gobbled it down and thanked me for making it for her. And when I took a picture she said, “You’re not going to blog about spaghetti are you? Everyone knows how to make that!” No, but I am going to tell them how I made pasta twice in one day.

First of all, I hardly ever make pasta. Anymore, the rare times I do prepare pasta it’s because my daughter is begging me for spaghetti – something familiar amidst the cacophony of new food dishes she’s forced to eat night after night. So when I found this recipe via Pinterest last week, it looked so pretty that I decided to veganize it for our table. I had already purchased the asparagus, and as it turned out, today was the day for that dish to come to life. Thus I found myself over-carbed in one day.

Penne With Roasted Asparagus & Balsamic Butter, Serves 4


  • 1 pound asparagus
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup + 2 T balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 pound penne
  • 1/4 pound Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Stick, chopped into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup Nutritional Yeast Blend
  • cherry tomatoes, halved, for garnish

This dish couldn’t be simpler to put together and if you’re looking for an alternative to spaghetti on a weeknight, this will take no more prep time than that. The original recipe suggests substituting broccoli or any other roasted vegetable with the asparagus, so depending on what’s in your fridge, this can be thrown together in as much time as it takes to boil your penne.

I love asparagus. A lot. I especially love roasted asparagus. This is easy. Preheat your oven to 400°. Snap or cut off the tough ends of the asparagus spears. Chop your spears into one-inch pieces and toss them onto a baking sheet with olive oil, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Place the tray into the oven for approximately ten minutes – the asparagus should just be tender, but no mushiness allowed. Remove and set to the side.

This is such an easy way to cook vegetables and they can easily go straight to your plate as a beautiful side dish when prepared this way. Consider this method for potatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, carrots, green beans, you get the idea. Just remember to check them for tenderness before removing them from the oven. Different vegetables will require different baking times.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch. . . put your penne on to boil and walk away. You’ll want to cook it until just done (approximately 10-13 minutes).

Excellent. Your asparagus is roasting and your pasta is cooking. Grab your bottle of balsamic vinegar and dump what you need into a small saucepan over medium-high heat. You’re going to cook down all but three tablespoons of the vinegar and you’re going to have to eyeball that. The entire house will smell of vinegar but this will merely heighten your Spidey-sense that egg dyeing is just around the corner. Once you’re down to three tablespoons, stir in the brown sugar and another 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Remove the entire pan from the heat.

I don’t eat cheese. It’s okay. My life is functioning just fine without it. Better, in fact. But if you want to use Parmesan cheese in this recipe, go for it. If you would rather make a substitute then you’ll need two ingredients from the grocery store:

  1. Nutritional Yeast
  2. Unhulled Sesame Seeds

Grind (coffee grinder, food processor) equal parts of these two ingredients and place it in an airtight container in your fridge. I always have it on-hand and use it whenever I need Parmesan in a recipe. Nutritional yeast melts so it makes a good cheese substitute, plus the combo is full of nutrients between B vitamins in the yeast and calcium in the sesame seeds. I find the mixture to have a mild nutty flavor.

Drain your pasta and dump it into a large bowl. Toss with the vegan butter, vinegar concoction, asparagus, nutritional yeast blend, and tomatoes. A note about the tomatoes. I thought the dish was tasty when I had everything together, but lacking something. I added the tomatoes to give it a little boost and together they’re perfect.

When I asked the two girls eating pasta for the second time today which of the two dishes they preferred, they claimed they liked them equally. So there you have it. Two pasta dishes, both simple and quick to prepare, provide you with a bit of variety on a weeknight when speed is your friend. Let me know what you think.

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