This simple pasta dinner is definitely a bright spot on a dark and chilly evening. I love how light and fresh it tastes, while still providing that need for comfort food in the dead of winter. The broccoli and lemons are roasted together in the oven with a couple of leeks, which is a flavor combination that I absolutely adore in raw salads but when everything is roasted together it takes things to a whole new level. If you’ve never roasted lemons before, get ready for the intoxicating aromas coming out of your kitchen. It’s a fragrance I can totally get used to!
Roasting lemons is definitely a new thing for me and now that this door has opened a world of possibilities are at my fingertips. I was inspired to make this pasta after reading a recipe in the New York Times for pasta with fried lemons and chili flakes. I loved the idea of frying the lemons but when it came down to making this I thought it would be easier to roast the lemons with the other vegetables for one less step. I’m all about cutting corners in the kitchen! Roasting lemons lightly caramelizes them, making their trademark tartness a little more mellow–and yes, you can eat the whole thing, rind and all. They’d make a great addition to any vegetable side dish and even as a topping for pizza.
I was originally going to top this pasta with a little shredded parmesan cheese. However, when it came time to sprinkle some onto the finished dish I realized we were fresh out. The horror! Instead of freaking out I took a deep breath and turned to my favorite vegan alternative: almond “parmesan” cheese. I’ve enjoyed almond “parm” on a lot of dishes I order at vegan restaurants and it tastes surprisingly similar to the real deal. The texture is definitely different–it’s a little grainier since it’s made from nuts–but I like the added cheesy crunch that this version provides. I’ve been making big batches of “cheese” on a regular basis so I can keep a mason jar on hand that I can easily sprinkle on salads, eggs or in this case, pasta. It’s simple to prepare and only requires 4 ingredients. Almonds, nutritional yeast, garlic powder and salt. A few whizzes in your food processor and voila, almond parm! I used this recipe from Minimalist Baker as a guide and adjusted to my personal preference, but if you happen to have grated parm in the fridge, feel free to use that instead.
The bright flavor of lemon makes this easy weeknight pasta dinner impossible to resist.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 medium head broccoli, cut into uniform florets (about 4 cups)
- 2 medium leeks, trimmed and sliced into 1/4 inch rounds (white and light green parts only)
- 2 lemons, cut into thin rounds and seeds removed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 10 ounces whole wheat penne pasta (or pasta of choice), cooked al dente
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 cup raw almonds
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Toss the broccoli, leeks and lemons together with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper and place on a prepared baking sheet. Roast in the oven until lightly browned and tender, about 25 minutes, tossing halfway through the cooking time. If the leeks are browning too quickly, remove them earlier.
- While the vegetables are roasting, prepare the almond parmesan. Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor and process until the "cheese" is similar in texture to grated parmesan. Taste and add more nutritional yeast, salt or garlic powder if needed.
- In a large bowl, toss the vegetables with the pasta and drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Stir in the crushed red pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide onto plates and serve with the almond parmesan.
Leftover almond parmesan can be refrigerated in an airtight container for several weeks. If you're not a fan of strong lemon flavors, discard the lemon rounds before serving--they'll still infuse the dish with a subtle flavor.