When the pan-Caribbean restaurant Kokomo opened in Brooklyn in the summer of 2020, diners were initially surprised to find a flatbread pizza topped with creamy pasta on the menu. But this wasn’t just any pasta. It was Rasta pasta, an Italy-meets-Jamaica dish of noodles topped with seasoned vegetables.
Credit for the dish goes to chef Lorraine Washington, who first placed ackee on tomato sauce alongside some fettuccini at her restaurant in Negril, Jamaica, back in 1985. She made it for some construction workers and one of them, noting that the dish represented Rasta colors, gave the dish its name. (As writer Natelegé Whaley also pointed out for Eater, the dish has no relation to Rastafarian culture.)
The dish has spread through the diaspora since Washington first put it on her menu, making its way to kitchens well outside of Jamaica, including Kokomo’s. It’s now prepared there by the restaurant’s new executive chef, Haiti-born Mitchel Bonhomme, who re-named it as Koko’s island pasta.
For Bonhomme’s interpretation, which you can find in full below, he didn’t want to make just another Rasta pasta. “We wanted to give people more vegan options, especially among such a diverse community here in Brooklyn,” he explains. “So I made a light but still creamy vegan version with boiled cashews.” To enhance the flavor of the cashew-based sauce, he added roasted garlic, Scotch bonnet peppers, and scallions. The result? “You get a creamy, vegan cashew sauce that’s full of flavor, punch, and spice,” Bonhomme says.
Koko’s Island Pasta Recipe
For the pasta sauce:
1 cup raw cashews
1 Scotch bonnet pepper (you can halve or omit it, depending on the spice level of the jerk seasoning and your taste for heat)
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 scallions, roots and ends trimmed, and cut in half where the green and white parts meet
Olive oil, for drizzling
¾ cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tablespoon jerk dry seasoning (Grace Jamaican brand is recommended)
Salt to taste
For the pasta:
12 ounces uncooked pasta (pappardelle is recommended)
High-heat oil, such as canola, for sauteing
1 red or orange bell pepper, sliced into slivers (or half of each, if you’d like to be colorful)
½ pound shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps thickly sliced
½ pound peeled shrimp (omit if you’re making this a vegan dish)
Grated parmesan for serving (optional)
First, Make the pasta sauce:
Step 1: Bring a medium-sized saucepan of salted water to boil, then add the raw cashews and boil them for about 15 minutes until they’re tender, then turn off the heat and set aside.
Step 2: While the cashews are cooking, preheat the oven to 425 degrees and place the Scotch bonnet pepper (if using), garlic, and scallions on a baking pan. Drizzle them with olive oil and toss them until coated. Place the pan in the oven and cook, turning once, until the vegetables are lightly browned, about 10 minutes total. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Step 3: Drain the cashews and place them in a blender along with the roasted vegetables, almond milk, jerk seasoning, and salt to taste. Process until a smooth puree has formed, then taste and adjust the seasoning. This will be spread over pasta, so you want it to be strongly flavored. Set aside. You can make the sauce a few days in advance; just store it in the refrigerator in a sealed container.
Make the pasta:
Step 1: If you’ve made the sauce in advance, warm it to room temperature.
Step 2: Cook the pasta according to package directions. Reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta and set it aside.
Step 3: Heat a large skillet over a medium-high heat. Add a splash of oil, enough to coat the surface. Add the bell peppers and shiitakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, 5-10 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl.
Step 4: If you’re using the shrimp, add another splash of oil to the pan (no need to clean it first), and add the shrimp. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp are cooked through, 2-3 minutes on each side. Add the shrimp to the bowl with the vegetables, sprinkle with salt, and toss.
Step 5: Transfer the cooked pasta to a large bowl with the sauce and toss well to combine. Add additional pasta water if needed to thin the sauce so that it spreads and gently clings to the pasta. Add the sauteed vegetables and shrimp, mix to coat, then serve with parmesan if desired.