Spicy Pumpkin & Spinach Macaroni (Vegan)

Your favorite classic, macaroni and cheese, is reinvented with a spicy (and vegan!) twist. Nutritional powerhouses spinach and pumpkin add an extra punch of health to this comfort food, perfect for weekdays and weekends alike.

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It's been almost a year since I first decided to try veganism, and almost a year since I first dabbled in the art of Dairy-Free Mac n' Cheese.

The night in question started out like any other (for me) - at El Centro (my home away from home), on a second date with a gentleman. This was a guy who I had been on a first date with at Pearl Dive, then drunkenly scheduled a 2nd date - ice skating (ICE SKATING? The handholding sport of America? Wtf was I thinking???), then cancelled said 2nd date by telling him that my cat had died and I was in a fragile emotional state (pupdate, haven't had a cat since the 6th grade, what is wrong with me).

However, when I was blackout in Florida with my friend Keegan in January, I went on a texting RAMPAGE one night, which included homewrecking one friend's relationship (one of my proudest accomplishments tbh) and scheduling a 2nd date with this guy and 3 others that I had similarly ghosted. GOOD JESSE. So, that's what led me to this night at El Centro, bored to tears as salty as the rim on my margarita by the utter lack of chemistry.

During our 2nd margarita, my date headed to the bathroom, and rather than my typical "reach for my phone and let my friends know how things are going" maneuver, I just stared blankly into the wall of tequila. The bartender approached me, smirking.
B - Girl, are you a gambler?
J - Who, me? No, I mean I play blackjack on work trips sometimes, but - 
B - Haha, I'm joking! I just mean you have a great poker face. You've hated this guy since minute 5 but you're here on drink #2.
J - I... I just want him to pay...
B - *pouring tequila shot* Well, here - this one's on me.

I really love people. I downed that shot, and when my date returned I told him that I had to go to make it to my dinner plans. HINT: guys, if a girl mentions dinner plans an hour into a date that had never come up before, they're fake. We hugged outside the restaurant and I stumbled tipsily into Trader Joe's (he watched; dinner plans be damned) and gathered the requisite ingredients I would need to attempt this dish. And wine. Always wine.

Have you ever roasted a butternut squash while v drunk? I don't recommend it.

Anyway, that dish never got photographed, so I thought it was about time I got around to sharing the recipe with you! And boy, am I glad I did. This is the perfect make-ahead work lunch, and I've been enjoying it every day this week while my coworkers look on with jealousy in their eyes. Please, please try this out ASAP!

Spicy Pumpkin & Spinach Macaroni

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To make this macaroni, you will need:
- 1 T olive oil
- 1/2 sweet onion
- 1 bag baby spinach
- 1 lb pasta of your choice
- 1/2 cup cashews, boiled 30 minutes or soaked overnight (I boiled because #neverplansahead)
- 1 cup pumpkin purée
- 1/4 cup almond milk
- 3 T nutritional yeast
- 1 t turmeric
- 1/2 t paprika
- Salt & pepper, to taste

First, we'll be cooking our pasta! I used a festive and fun vegetable pasta I found at Trader Joe's, but you do you. If you're feeling classic, you can go with traditional elbow macaroni! Feeling healthy? Whole wheat shells are calling your name. The world is your pasta bowl.

Bring a pot of water to a boil and add your dry pasta. Cook according to package directions (likely 7-9 minutes) until pasta is tender, then remove from heat, strain off the water and return the pasta to the pot.

While the pasta is cooking, combine your pumpkin puree, almond milk, nutritional yeast, boiled/soaked cashews, and spices in a food processor. Purée until smooth - this will be your "cheese" sauce. Set aside.

Heat a skillet over medium heat and add your olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add your onion and sauté for 3-4 minutes, until translucent. Add the spinach a handful at a time and sauteé until wilted.

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Now that all the components are ready, let's combine them! Mix together your sauce, pasta and spinach mixture until well combined, then serve it up. Feel free to add some veggie sausage for protein, and serve alongside roasted vegetables for a full meal.

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I feel like a broken record saying this, but - once again - comfort food you can feel great about :)

XOXO,
Jesse