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This garlicky vegan rigatoni is extra creamy, thanks to a can of beans

Joe Yonan

THE WASHINGTON POST – I made wraps for my husband and foster son the other day: whole wheat tortillas I rolled around baby spinach, warm hummus with chickpeas and cherry tomatoes, plus some leftover cooked ground turkey for them and a little cauliflower salad for me.

The 13-year-old ate his quickly, then asked me to make him another one – a common occurrence in our household. I noticed that he had a little spinach and tomato still on his plate, so I asked him to finish it before I made him seconds. “I can’t eat that,” he said. “It tastes disgusting.”

“But you just ate it inside your wrap!” I countered.

“It was covered up with other things,” he said.

The exchange made me think of Jessica Seinfeld. She made her name – as a cookbook author, anyhow – as the writer behind Deceptively Delicious, whose point was to sneak vegetables onto your kids’ plates by, say, pureeing cauliflower into mac and cheese. The book generated no small amount of controversy by advocating an idea that some critics pilloried: How can you teach children to love vegetables if they don’t know the vegetables are there?

Ever since we started parenting this teenager who would rather down a pile of chicken wings or a bowl of noodles than anything that resembles a leaf, I’m more sympathetic to her point than I was before. If you can serve your family something that tastes good and that happens to be good for them, do you need to call attention to the vegetables? Maybe not, at least not at first. Baby steps, right?

Seinfeld’s latest book, Vegan, at Times, is built on the idea that eating more plant-based meals can improve your and your family’s health, and in it she displays some of the same savvy about the kinds of foods that will appeal to the eaters and to the busy cook trying to feed them. There’s chocolate banana bread, which she calls “the first vegan item in our house that was unanimously approved,” then writes, “Full disclosure: they did not, still do not, know it is vegan.” And there’s a taco salad that uses a spiced lentil-walnut mixture she names, simply, ‘Meat’, quotation marks included.

I was most drawn to a recipe that combines two of my favorite things: pasta and (surprise, surprise) beans. In Seinfeld’s hands, the latter becomes a creamy sauce for the former, especially once you employ a generous amount of pasta cooking water to help turn it silky. She uses cannellini beans, amping up their flavor with garlic and red pepper flakes and topping the dish with toasted pine nuts and grated lemon zest for a little brightness.

It’s the sort of thing you can turn around in a half-hour, boiling the pasta, mashing canned (or your own precooked) beans by hand, and tossing it all together. If you think it would help you sell the dish to an otherwise-skeptical teenager (or spouse), feel free to call it Creamy Rigatoni, and leave out the words “cannellini bean”. I won’t judge.

Creamy Cannellini Bean Rigatoni. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

CREAMY CANNELLINI BEAN RIGATONI

25 minutes
Four to six servings, makes 10 cups

Storage Notes: Refrigerate for up to five days. When reheating, add water as needed to achieve a saucy consistency.

INGREDIENTS

– 1/2 teaspoon fine salt, plus more for the pasta water and to taste

– One pound short pasta, such as rigatoni

– 1/4 cup raw unsalted pine nuts (may substitute with slivered almonds)

– Three tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

– Two cloves garlic, pressed or finely grated

– 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

– One can no-salt-added cannellini beans, drained and rinsed, or one and 1/2 cups cooked cannellini beans

– 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for serving

– Two tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional)

– 12 fresh basil leaves, for serving

– Finely grated zest of one lemon, for serving

DIRECTIONS

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add enough salt so it tastes like the sea. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions. Right before you drain the pasta, reserve two cups of the pasta water.

While the pasta cooks, in a small dry skillet over medium heat, toast the pine nuts, tossing often, until golden brown, three to five minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer the nuts to a small heatproof bowl.

Once you drain the pasta, wipe the pot dry and return it to medium heat. Add the oil, garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant but not browned, about 30 seconds. Add the beans, the 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the black pepper, and stir to coat in the oil.

Add one cup of the reserved pasta water. Using a potato masher or the back of a fork, crush the beans until mostly mashed. Add the pasta and stir well to coat with the beans. Sprinkle in the nutritional yeast, if using, and stir again to combine. If the pasta mixture is a little stiff, stir in some or all of the remaining pasta water to loosen. Taste, and season with more salt, if desired, and remove from the heat.

Divide the pasta among bowls, and top with the basil leaves, pine nuts and a little more oil. Sprinkle with the lemon zest and black pepper, and serve.

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