If you’re after pure unadulterated comfort food then look no further than a vegan pasta bake in the form of these sweet potato stuffed pasta shells. Filled with an incredibly easy sweet potato mixture that mimics all the greatness of a regular mac and cheese, this is a dish I return to so frequently it’s become something of a personal classic.
I like to retain a little texture by avoiding mashing the sweet potatoes to oblivion – and, perhaps more importantly, ensuring the shells are cooked al dente so as not to turn to mush in the oven. Err on the side of caution and drain the pasta several minutes before the cooking time recommended on the packet for a perfect piping hot pasta bake with the ultimate plant-based twist.
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks, trimmed, cleaned and finely chopped
500g sweet potatoes, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
750ml boiling water
1 vegetable stock cube
150ml soy, oat or coconut cream
juice of ½ lemon
300g conchiglioni (large pasta shells)
1 heaped tablespoon nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan-style cheese
sea salt flakes and black pepper
1 heaped tablespoon chopped chives
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 200C (180C fan), Gas Mark 6.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large shallow frying pan over a low heat. Add the leek, season and sweat for 2–3 minutes, or until it begins to soften. Add the sweet potato slices, season and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1-2 minutes, then pour over the boiling water. Add the stock cube and stir to dissolve, then bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, or until the sweet potato is soft.
3. Mash the sweet potato in the pan with a fork or potato masher to form a thick, creamy sauce (it should still have some texture to it, so don’t worry if it’s not completely smooth). Leave to simmer for a further 10–15 minutes, until slightly thickened and reduced, stirring in the soy cream and squeezing over the lemon juice in the last few minutes of cooking. Season to taste, cover with a lid and remove from the heat.
4. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil, add the pasta shells and cook for 12–15 minutes until not quite al dente, or for just slightly under the recommended cooking time. Drain and leave to cool slightly.
5. Cover the bottom of a baking dish with a layer of the sweet potato sauce. Carefully stuff the pasta shells with the remaining sauce and arrange neatly in the dish, then sprinkle over the nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan and bake for 15–20 minutes until bubbling and golden.
6. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly before serving, scattering over some finely chopped chives and a good glug of extra virgin olive oil to finish.
Recipe from Cook Share Eat Vegan: Delicious plant-based recipes for Everyone by Áine Carlin, published by Mitchell Beazley, RRP £20