Vegan and gluten-free Creamy Chili Sauce with Zucchini, Spinach and Pasta. Incredibly creamy and rich, but oil-free! Just whole food ingredients. So much flavor from Italian dried herbs and chili powder and tomato sauce.
2 cups dry elbow pasta (I used GF brown rice pasta. You can use spiral or other short pasta, but wouldn't recommend long noodles)
1 cup (240g) low-sodium veggie broth or water, more as needed (I used broth for more flavor)
1 loosely filled cup (130g) finely chopped onion
2 small (365g) zucchini, sliced into half moons 1/4 inch thick
1 cup (240g) homemade cashew milk (SEE NOTE below. DO NOT sub with store-bought cashew, it will NOT thicken like my version and will RUIN the dish)
3/4 cup (180g) tomato sauce
1 tablespoon dried Italian spice blend (with no salt or red pepper added)
1/2-1 tablespoon chili powder (make sure it has NO added salt & is the regular American kind)
4 large handfuls (100g) fresh spinach
1 teaspoon salt (notice in directions you are adding salt at different times)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
optional: 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
NOTE 1: I highly recommend making this with my homemade cashew milk. I make my own cashew milk by adding 1 cup raw cashews to 3 cups filtered water and blend in a Vitamix until completely smooth. That's it, NO need to drain. Store extra in fridge and I use it for baking and for oatmeal. Cashew milk is absolutely going to give the BEST creamy results, so I wouldn't recommend subbing UNLESS allergic to nuts. Otherwise use canned FULL-FAT coconut milk (well shaken) or if you want to use soy then mix it first with 2 Tbsp brown rice flour (see directions), the results will be less creamy/rich, but will work.
NOTE 2: Regarding the chili powder, 1/2 tablespoon will give it a very mild level of heat and chili flavor, whereas 1 tablespoon will give it a noticeable level of heat, which both my hubby and I thought was perfect. But it may be too much for sensitive people and for kids. My daughter thought it was a tad too spicy, so if you are unsure, start with 1/2 tablespoon.
Make sure your veggies are chopped/prepared at the beginning, as the sauce comes together pretty quickly.
Begin by bringing a large pot of water to boil for your pasta. Adding a lid will make it boil faster. Make sure to salt your water well so the pasta is well seasoned.
Add the onion and broth to a large sauce pan over medium heat. Once it begins to simmer, cook 5 mins and then add the zucchini and just 1/4 teaspoon of salt at this time. Stir well and add cover. Turn the heat down to medium-low. It's important to cover the zucchini so it cooks through well. Let it all cook about 8 minutes until the zucchini is nice and tender (no longer crunchy), but not mushy. Check it a couple of times to stir it and make sure there is enough broth, if necessary to keep the zucchini cooking, add a little bit more. You basically want most of the liquid gone though before the next step.
Once the zucchini is tender, temporarily remove the pan from the heat and add the 1 cup cashew milk (or coconut milk), tomato sauce, Italian spices, chili powder (start out with 1/2 T), 3/4 teaspoon salt, pepper and liquid smoke (if using). Stir well and add the spinach. Return back to the heat over medium heat. The spinach will look like a ton but will decrease significantly. Stand over the stove stirring the spinach around until it wilts down and is cooked and the sauce thickens just a bit. You don't want to overcook the sauce, you want it fairly creamy/saucy but it should be creamy thick, not watery.
Taste the sauce and add more salt or chili powder if desired for more spicy. I used the full 1 tablespoon chili powder and loved the perfect kick of heat and chili flavor. Remove from heat.
The pasta should be done. Drain and scoop in desired amount of pasta into the sauce, leaving plenty of sauce to enjoy. Devour! How much you end up with will depend on how much pasta you add, but this makes a good amount of sauce.
A couple of readers have stated that their sauce has turned out watery. Please read the recipe carefully. Make sure to measure accurately, which is why I give weight in grams. I make this weekly and it always, always turns out creamy. I have noted very clearly that I used my homemade cashew milk for the recipe. As you can see in the video as I’m cooking each step, exactly how it turns out. If you do NOT use the homemade cashew milk, yours will NOT turn out as creamy. Store-bought cashew milk is loaded with fillers, not actual cashews like homemade, therefore it will NOT THICKEN the same as mine. If you absolutely cannot do the homemade cashew milk, then use full-fat coconut milk.