Quick & “Cheesy” Dinner for A Busy Weeknight — No Boxed Mac & Cheese Required
As much as I dislike cheese, I can’t say no to a really good mac & cheese. But since becoming vegan, it’s been difficult to have that kind of meal readily available — I can’t just order in from a restaurant and find vegan mac. Yes, there are grocery store options but I’m talking about the gooey homemade mac & cheese you can really only get straight from the kitchen.
I love ordering takeout as much as the next person. Sometimes, I really don’t feel like cooking or it’s just been a busy day and the last thing I want to think about is making an entire meal. Frozen dinners are always an option, but I never feel satisfied, and I always feel guilty spending money at restaurants more than once a week. So when I was really craving mac & cheese, and whipped up this “cheesy” pasta dinner, I knew I cracked the code.
This wasn’t just one of the easiest and tastiest meals I’ve ever made. It was also filling, cheap to make, and pretty fun! Eating this dish made it feel like I did order in, but from the vegan version of The Cheesecake Factory — it felt fancy without the hefty bill.
Normally, when it comes to savory recipes, I’m pretty against making nut cheeses. It’s a cool thing, but sometimes, I can’t justify using my cashews or pecans or almonds to make a sauce. Those things are expensive!! My first crack at using nuts in a recipe was with my Mochatella post, and while that was bomb, I haven’t made it since because it’s so hard for me to part with my cashews. Anyways, this particular night that I really wanted some mac & cheese, I decided to just try to get over it this time and make a nut-based cheese sauce.
Whew! Glad I did because the cashew cheese sauce was full of flavor I wouldn’t have been able to achieve without the nuts. While I still won’t go overboard with nuts as a main ingredient, I definitely don’t mind it when it comes to cooking a quick dinner.
For this recipe, pasta was the way to go. It’s always quick, easy, and yummy. But instead of reaching for the spaghetti or farfalle, I chose orzo because of it’s tiny shape and ease to use. They cook super quickly, and you don’t have to use a colander to drain the water — all you need is a trusty slotted spoon and you’re good to go.
The overall combination of flavors and ingredients in this recipe has to put it in my top-5 favorite dinners. I love making pasta with sausage and broccoli — that flavor and texture combo is the perfect match, in my opinion. So that, with a yummy cheese sauce and some al dente orzo, is how this easy weeknight dinner came to be. And honestly, I wouldn’t mind eating this on the weekend, too! 😉
Weeknight “Orzo & Cheese” Recipe
Weeknight “Orzo & Cheese”
- ¾ cup unsalted cashews
- ¼ cup vegetable broth
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast
- ½ tsp each of salt, pepper, turmeric, & onion powder
- water as needed for desired consistency
- optional lemon juice
Orzo & Add-Ins
- ½ cup orzo
- 1 cup boiling water, salted
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- ½ broccoli crown chopped
- 1 vegan Italian sausage sliced
- ¼ onion sliced
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- ½ tsp each of rubbed sage, pepper, & paprika
- salt to taste
- optional chili flakes for topping
- In a blender or food processor, add the cashews and vegetable broth
- Pour in nutritional yeast and seasonings. Puree until smooth and thickened. Set aside
- Boil water in a saucepan. Add some salt and pour in the orzo. Stir the pasta occasionally to prevent sticking. Cook for 7-10 minutes or until al dente, and drain water
- In a pan, heat the olive oil. Add onion and garlic — cook until lightly browned and fragrant
- Add the chopped broccoli and seasonings
- Once the broccoli is slightly tender, add the sausage
- Take the cheese sauce and add it to the vegetables and sausage. Mix well and cook until the sauce is incorporated
- Add the cooked orzo to the pan and stir until well-combined
- Top with optional chili flakes, and enjoy!
- I like to leave my cheesy sauce a little chunkier to add more texture, but if you want a super smooth sauce, soak the cashews for about an hour beforehand (or overnight). Then when you blend, add a little bit of water to the broth and blend longer, stirring occasionally, to get a smoother sauce.
- This recipe is so versatile — you can use literally any vegetable you like! You also don’t have to include a vegan meat substitute. It tastes delicious with just veggies, too.
- Any other time, I’d add a bit of lemon juice to the sauce for that tang. But for this dinner, I wanted the nutritional yeast flavor to really shine. That savory bite was exactly what I was looking for, but adding some lemon juice never hurt (and will actually help get an even cheesier flavor!).