Penne Pasta Bake + Spicy Broccoli

For about the last year and a half, Cody and I have both been dairy-free, for a variety of health reasons. The transition wasn’t too hard for me, especially with all of the great dairy substitutes that are out there now. Oatly oat milk, Forager yogurt, and coconut oil (as a swap for butter) were all pretty easy things for me to switch to. However, the one thing that is really lacking in the dairy-free industry, is a good cheese… They just don’t taste the same! My poor husband. That was a big one for him. For the last year (no, that is not an exaggeration), he has been asking me to make a good lasagna, or pasta bake, or something that tastes like the “Chicken spaghetti” he used to make. I’d been putting it off because, selfishly, I’m not a big pasta fan, and it seemed like a rather big endeavor for something I wouldn’t really enjoy myself.

WELL, the times have changed, and with my recent unemployment, I’ve got nothing but time! So, I set out to make him a good, pseudo-cheesey pasta dish. Thanks to Gena Hamshaw’s cookbook, Power Plates, I finally made one! I made quite a few changes to the recipe, which is why I’m sharing it here, but the inspiration definitely came from hers. I paired it with a broccoli recipe we’ve come to LOVE from the Kale Junkie.

Also: I LOVE the Power Plates cookbook. It’s completely vegan, which helps with the no-dairy thing a lot! BUT, meals without meat don’t really fly in my house … so whenever I make something of hers, I add some sort of meat as well.

Cook pasta and ground beef, separately, then drain both and combine.
In a pan, sauté veggies and add seasonings.
Combine all cooked ingredients and add “queso.”
Transfer to baking pan. We love our Le Cruset.
Sprinkle with a layer of dairy-free mozzarella and place in oven, uncovered.
Remove and enjoy HOT! Be a little careful with the broccoli, they’ve definitely got a kick to them.


Ingredients (Pasta) –

  • 1 box fusilli pasta
  • 12 oz ground beef (we use 93% lean, but use whatever you prefer)
  • Half an eggplant, diced
  • Half a zucchini, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • Half a white onion, diced
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1 can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes (they don’t need to be fire-roasted…we just like spice!)
  • 4 T tomato paste
  • 1 T avocado oil
  • 1 T basil and oregano, each (can be dried or fresh)
  • Freshly ground salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 bag mozzarella-style shredded cheese
  • Half jar of Siete Cashew Queso
    • As an alternative to this, you can make your own cashew queso. It’s pretty easy and equally yummy! We just happened to have this on hand.

Ingredients (Broccoli) –

  • 1 head of broccoli, separated into individual florets
  • 1 T avocado oil
  • 2 t red pepper chili flakes
  • 1 t freshly ground salt
  • 2 t freshly squeezed lemon juice

Directions (Pasta Bake) –

  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Cook pasta according to box directions
  • In a separate pan, cook beef to desired level
  • Once both pasta and beef are cooked, drain and combine in large pot
  • In a large frying pan, combine zucchini, eggplant, bell pepper, onion, avocado oil, and garlic. Cook over medium, stirring frequently.
  • Once adequately cooked (eggplant should be tender, about 5-7 minutes), add in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and herbs. Bring heat to simmer and continue stirring for about 2 minutes.
  • Add veggie mixture to large pot, plus cashew queso, and combine. Add salt and pepper as needed.
  • Transfer mixture to a baking pan and cover with shredded mozzarella
  • Place in oven for 30 minutes, until shreds are (somewhat) melted. They don’t melt the same as regular cheese, so don’t wait on that.
  • Remove from oven and serve while hot! Broccoli recipe is below and makes a great green side.

Directions (Broccoli) –

  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
  • Place broccoli florets in medium bowl and massage with avocado oil
  • Lay each piece down onto parchment paper and lightly sprinkle with lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and salt
  • Bake in oven at 350 for 8 minutes, then remove and flip each piece. Return to oven for 8 more minutes.
  • That’s it! This is a great, easy side packed with flavor. Do be careful with the chili flakes, though. They can be deceivingly hot!

Enjoy! 🙂

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