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Vegetarian Baked Penne Pasta Recipe With Tomatoes and Pecans

This vegetarian baked penne pasta recipe is nutritious and healthy, and packs a flavor that you will just love.

Nothing says comfort food quite like a plate of mac and cheese. The dish is rich and filling but loaded with items that are no-nos on a vegetarian or low calorie diet.

Never fear, though. With the substitutes in my recipe, you can enjoy the flavors of this satisfying dish without the ingredients that a traditional mac and cheese recipe usually asks for.

My other food swaps ensure that this dish is low in both fat and calories, so it works for those trying to lose weight, as well as vegetarians.

cheesy penne pasta

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Do you love mac and cheese but feel you can’t have it on a vegetarian diet? Think again! With the right food substitutes, you can have this comfort food any time you like. Get the recipe on The Gardening Cook. Click To Tweet

Making this cheesy baked vegetarian penne pasta

I am trying to eat less fat and refined carbohydrates for better health, so I needed to make some adjustments to  a normal cheesy pasta recipe.

My family and I are also having more meatless Mondays, so I had to use some substitutes to make the dish suitable for vegetarians.

Whole wheat penne pasta and pecans.

These are the changes from a traditional mac and cheese dish:

  • Swap out refined pasta for whole wheat penne pasta. You’ll enjoy a lot more fiber.
  • Use vanilla almond milk instead of cream to keep the dish low fat.
  • A reduced fat Cabot cheddar cheese also saves on fat and calories.
  • Veggie Parmesan cheese is used as a substitute for normal Parmesan cheese and tastes great.
  • Vegetable broth instead of chicken broth gives plenty of flavor but uses no animal products.
  • The topping for the baked penne pasta recipe uses Panko bread crumbs mixed with Earth Balance buttery spread to a lot of texture and crunch to the dish.
  • Pecans add more crunch and extra protein.

How does this vegetarian mac and cheese taste?

Each bite of this baked vegetarian penne pasta dish is cheesy and crunchy with a delightful flavor that screams comfort food.

The almond milk and hidden pecans add extra protein and give this recipe a delicious nutty taste and texture.

For those that love the creaminess of mac and cheese, the sauce in this recipe is rich and delicious.

All of these food substitutes ensure that each part of the original dish is included but the recipe is totally suitable for a vegetarian or low calorie diet.

Serve this vegetarian penne pasta recipe with roasted veggies for a healthy meal experience. For the meat eaters in your family, serve it as a side dish with any protein that they like. You will get rave reviews.

Pin this recipe for vegetarian penne pasta with tomatoes and pecans

Would you like a reminder of this cheesy penne pasta recipe?  Just pin this image to one of your cooking boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.

Whole wheat pasta recipe with words Baked Vegetarian cheesy penne pasta.

Have you done any mac and cheese recipe make overs that worked well for you? What did you use as substitutes?  Please leave your comments below.

Yield: 8

Vegetarian Baked Penne Pasta with Tomatoes and Pecans

Vegetarian Baked Penne Pasta with Tomatoes and Pecans

This vegetarian baked penne pasta is nutritious and healthy, and packs a flavor profile that you will just love.

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes


  • 10 small grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup of pecan halves.
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon of fresh thyme, plus sprigs for garnishing
  • Coarse salt and black pepper to taste
  • 3/4 cup of Panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons of Earth Balance Buttery Spread
  • 1 pound of Whole Wheat Penne Pasta
  • 2 cups of vegetable broth
  • 6 tablespoons of all purpose flour
  • Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of red pepper
  • 2 cups of vanilla almond Milk
  • 2 ounces of Cabot reduced fat cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup of Veggie Parmesan cheese, grated.


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Layer the grape tomatoes on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with 1/2 of the fresh thyme. Heat in the oven until the tomatoes have softened - about 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the earth balance spread and mix 1/2 of it with the Panko bread crumbs. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
  3. Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water for about 5 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop it from cooking. Set aside.
  4. Whisk 1/2 of the vegetable broth with the flour and let it sit.
  5. Combine the rest of the buttery spread with the nutmeg, red pepper, remaining thyme and salt.
  6. Add the almond milk and the rest of the vegetable stock. Whisk in the flour mixture.
  7. Cook over a medium heat until it boils. About 8 minutes or so, stirring frequently so that it does not burn.
  8. Add the cheese and cook, stirring until melted. Pour the mixture over the pasta and stir until is it combined.
  9. Layer the tomatoes and pecans in the bottom of a dish that has been spray with Pam or olive oil. Cover with the pasta and sauce. Top the dish with the Panko bread crumbs.
  10. Cook in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, until lightly browned.
  11. Serve immediately. Garnish with a slice of tomato, and pecan and thyme sprig.

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:

1/8th of the casserole

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 294Total Fat: 12gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 2mgSodium: 454mgCarbohydrates: 40gFiber: 4gSugar: 6gProtein: 9g

Nutritional information is approximate due to natural variation in ingredients and the cook-at-home nature of our meals.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission from the sale, but the price is the same for you. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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