Pasta

Still Smokin’: Pasta Carbonara

Pasta Carbonara

This is a follow-up to my post on Smoked Shitake Mushrooms. The flavor of the smoked shitakes are so intense that a little goes a long way, so I’m still trying to come up with some recipes to use them up. I like to use cashew cream as a base for creamy pasta sauces and the smoked shitakes made me think of Pasta Carbonara. For this recipe I made a creamy sauce with raw cashews, tahini, lemon juice, garlic and a few smoked shitakes. (If you don’t want to smoke the shitakes, you can use liquid smoke.) I had about a half pound of cooked rigatoni pasta in the fridge that I “re-boiled” for 1 minute then added a cup of peas. I reserved some of the pasta water to thin out the sauce if needed. I stirred a few spoonfuls of the sauce into the pasta and peas. You can use as much or as little of the sauce as you like and add a few extra slivered smoked shitakes if you want a more smoky taste and some “meaty” texture. This dish came out creamy, smoky and oh, so yummy. It’s rich tasting, yet won’t weigh you down. This makes a nice meal to serve for a special occasion or you can make the sauce ahead of time and enjoy a decadent meal any night of the week. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Smoky Creamy Cashew Sauce

½ cup raw cashews, soaked and drained
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons tahini
1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 garlic clove
A few slices of smoked shitake mushrooms
water

Process all ingredients in blender, adding more water to achieve desired consistency.

Use on potatoes, broccoli or other vegetables. Thin out and toss with cooked pasta.

08 Jul 2017

Pastabilities: Mushroom Walnut Bolognese

Mushroom-Walnut Bolognese

Anything is possible with a bag of pasta and your imagination. I picked up a bag of these beautiful Pappardelle noodles imported from Italy last week. Surprisingly, they were on sale for a dollar a bag. You know I just can’t pass up a bargain (I’m feeling sorry that I didn’t buy about 10 bags) or the chance to enjoy an extraordinary pasta meal. A traditional Bolognese sauce starts off with a “battato”, which is a mixture of carrots, celery, onions and garlic. Ground beef, pork and a cured meat like prosciutto are added, then simmered with milk, wine and beef broth. The sauce is finished off with heavy cream. It is delicate, aromatic and luscious. I played around with a mushroom-based version of Bolognese sauce a few weeks ago and served it with rotini pasta. I made a battato with onions, carrots, celery and ground fennel, then added in minced mushrooms and coarsely ground walnuts. For the simmering ingredients I used white wine, soy milk, tomato paste and a hearty vegetable broth. At this point, I reserved half of the mixture to freeze and added half of the cashew cream to the pot. (Warning: the sauce may not look too appetizing on its own, but when tossed with the pasta it’s quite pleasing.) The dish was flavorful, but the rotini wasn’t quite the “experience” I was after. So when I came home with this bag of Pappardelle, I remembered that I still had half of the Bolognese sauce in the freezer. I defrosted the sauce, stirred in some fresh cashew cream at the end and tossed it with the Pappardelle. Delicioso! This dish is a tasty alternative to pasta with marinara sauce for Sunday dinner yet fancy enough for a special occasion. If you can’t find pappardelle I recommend using a wide, flat pasta like fettucine or tagiatelle. I bet it would also be nice layered and baked with non-dairy ricotta and lasagna noodles. The possibilities for a plant-based lifestyle are limitless.  Just open up a bag of pasta and you can open up a whole world of pastabilities. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Mushroom Walnut Bolognese

Makes enough sauce for 1 to 1-1/2 pounds of pasta

½ cup raw cashews, soaked in water for 4 hours or overnight

1 small onion
1 small carrot
1 small celery stalk
½ teaspoon ground fennel

12 oz. mushrooms (white button or cremini)
1 cup walnuts

1 can of tomato paste
2 cups dark vegetable broth (either homemade or Better Than Bouillon “No Beef” base)
½ cup dry white wine
¼ cup non-dairy milk (soy)
1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
Dash of liquid smoke (optional)
Parsley, black pepper and salt, to taste (you can use truffle salt instead of table salt)

Drain cashews and place in high powered blender container with enough water to just about cover the nuts. Process on high until super smooth. Set aside.

Place onions, carrots and celery in bowl of food processor and pulse until minced. Heat a medium saucepot over medium heat. Add the vegetables and cook until softened, but not browned (about 10 minutes). Add ground fennel and cook another minute.

Process mushrooms in food processor until minced. Stir into vegetables in pot and continue to cook, uncovered. Process walnuts in food processor until coarsely ground. Add to pot. Add tomato paste, broth, wine, soy milk, parsley, pepper and salt. Reduce heat, cover and let simmer until the walnuts soften and the sauce is very thick. (You may need to use a heat diffuser to prevent the sauce from cooking too fast.) Add the cashew cream and stir to combine. Toss with cooked pasta. You can remove the sauce from the stove at this point and re-heat it later, adding the cream at the last minute of cooking. You can also freeze the sauce before adding the cashew cream.

 

19 Dec 2016

Mangia! Grilled Eggplant Giambotta with Pignoli Parmesan

Eggplant Giambotta

Eggplant Giambotta

Giambotta is an Italian vegetable stew. My mother and grandmother used to make it with potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, onions and anything else they had on hand. I got the idea for my Grilled Eggplant Giambotta from a spicy hot Indian dish called Baingan Bhartha, which is made with grilled eggplant, tomatoes and a host of aromatics and served over rice. Italian spices are much more mellow than those used in Indian food so I often wondered if I could make this dish using Italian seasonings and still have the same level of spice that the Indian version has. I grilled the eggplants on the barbeque grill, then made a chunky sauce with plum tomatoes, onions and garlic. I seasoned it with ground fennel, crushed red pepper and a combination of dried thyme, oregano and marjoram and let it all cook down to a thick and saucy stew. Since we eat so much rice, I opted to serve the Giambotta on a bed of orzo and topped it off with a sprinkling of Pignoli Parmesan. You can skip the orzo and enjoy it with a few slices (or an entire loaf) of Italian bread. This Eggplant Giambotta is so full of goodness that you can “mangiare a proprio piacimento”, which means “eat to your heart’s content”. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Eggplant Giambotta with Pignoli Parmesan

8 plum tomatoes (or 1 can Italian plum tomatoes)
1 large eggplant (about 2 pounds)
1 large onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground in spice grinder
1 to 2 tablespoons dried oregano
1-1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

cooked pasta, such as orzo

Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Using a knife, score an “x” into the blossom end of the tomatoes. Place tomatoes in water long enough for skin to soften and peel away from the flesh of the tomatoes. Place in a colander and when cool enough to handle, remove skins. Place tomatoes in food processor and process until chunky.

Slice eggplants crosswise into 1” thick slices. Preheat outdoor grill on medium heat. (It’s not necessary to coat the grates with oil, but you may do so if you like.) Place eggplants on grill and cook until grill marks appear on both sides. Remove to cutting board and cut slices into quarters or sixths. Set aside.

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until they start to brown, adding water 2 tablespoons at a time to prevent sticking. Add garlic and ground fennel and cook another minute. Add remaining ingredients and cook tomatoes until start to thicken. Add eggplants and continue to cook until desired tenderness (about 10 minutes). Sprinkle top with Pignoli Parmesan. Remove from heat and serve over rice or pasta. Top with Pignoli Parmesan.

Pignoli Parmesan

¾ cup pignoli nuts
6 tablespoons nutritional yeast
½ teaspoon lactic acid or lemon juice

Place all ingredients in mini-chopper and process until grainy. Be careful not to over process into a butter.

15 Jul 2016

Hot List: Presto! Pesto!

Pesto & Hummus Sandwich

Pesto & Hummus Sandwich

As I was reading my previous post for Pasta Primavera I realized that I never posted a recipe for pesto. After all, the pesto possibilities are numerous and a little goes a long way when it comes to adding flavor to your favorite recipes. You can use it in hummus, on sandwiches, in Italian bean dishes, on pizza, tossed with pasta or stirred into sauces and soups. So, why haven’t I shared a recipe with you? Probably because pesto is one of those recipes that doesn’t have to be a recipe and I usually just “wing it”. Well, I’m offering up the following recipe more as a method of making pesto that allows you to adjust it to suit your palate. Traditional pesto contains basil, garlic, pignoli nuts, parmesan and olive oil. I’ve taken out the cheese and oil and added sun-dried tomatoes. If you’re not having a problem with sodium, then mix in a little miso paste for a salty-cheesy nuance. If you’re using it for pasta you might add some vegetable broth or olive oil to coax it onto the pasta. If you’re following an oil-free diet, try mixing it with a small amount of cashew cream. Just place the ingredients in a small food processor and you’re done. Presto! Pesto! Make some pesto and make it a Vegi-curious day.

Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

3 cloves of garlic
¼ cup oil-free sun-dried tomatoes
¼ cup pignoli or walnuts
1 teaspoon miso paste (see note)
3 oz. fresh basil

In food process, pulse garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, pignoli and miso paste until very fine. Add basil and process basil is minced and mixed into tomato-nut mixture. Pesto can be frozen for several months.

Note: you can add a few tablespoons of olive oil if desired. If you don’t have miso paste, you can add salt to taste.

30 Jun 2016

Every Day is Princess Pasta Day: Pasta Primavera

Pasta Primavera

Pasta Primavera

Who remembers the Prince spaghetti commercial that declared Wednesday as Prince spaghetti day? If you watched TV during the 1960’s you probably saw it. Some years later they changed their slogan to “every day is Prince spaghetti day.” (I wonder if this was to protect their products against the anti-carb movement that was made fashionable by the Atkins diet.) In our home we always had pasta on Sunday. That was when pasta was called macaroni or spaghetti and the sauce options were either tomato or clam sauce. Boy, how things have changed. I googled “whole food plant based pasta recipes” and came up with 1,910,000 results. That’s good news because I could eat pasta every day for lunch and dinner. I don’t have the patience to read through all of those recipes, so I decided to come up with another one of my own. I was in the mood for something creamy, not too heavy and with plenty of vegetables. Luckily I had everything I needed to make Pasta Primavera:  fresh peas, zucchini, yellow squash, carrots and scallions from our local CSA; raw cashews for cashew cream and gemelli pasta in the pantry; and homemade pesto in the freezer. I wanted to get the right size and shape on the vegetables to make it easy to get a little bit of everything on the fork. To do this, I used a ribbon grater for the carrots and squash. The vegetables were sauteed, then simmered in a light vegetable broth and finished off with cashew cream and a few spoons of pesto. I had enough primavera for about one pound of pasta and only two of us for dinner, so I spooned just enough sauce over the pasta in individual bowls and saved the extra sauce and pasta separately. If you have a big crowd, just go crazy and mix it all up in a big, pretty pasta bowl. If every pasta dish was as tasty and nourishing as this Pasta Primavera I would say with certainty that every day is Princess Pasta Day. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Pasta Primavera

1 bunch of scallions, thinly sliced
1 small zucchini
1 small yellow squash
1 large carrot
1 cup peas (if using fresh peas, blanch before using)

1-1/2 to 2 cups vegetable broth (or Better Than Bouillon No Chicken base)
¾ cup thick cashew cream
2 tablespoons pesto (or more to taste)

1 lb. cut pasta (ziti, penne, gemelli)

Bring a large pot of water to boil. If using fresh peas, add them to boiling water and blanch for about 2 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside. Reduce to simmer while preparing vegetables.

Grate zucchini, yellow squash and carrot using a ribbon grater or cut into matchsticks. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and saute scallions until they start to soften and brown slightly, adding broth 2 tablespoons at a time to prevent sticking. Add zucchini, squash and carrots and continue to cook until fork tender. Add peas and stir.

Return water to a boil, add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain. Add 1-1/2 cups of broth, cashew cream and pesto to vegetables and heat just until it starts to bubble. (Add more broth or cashew cream to achieve desired consistency.) Add pasta to skillet and mix until coated. You can also portion out the pasta into individual servings and spoon the vegetables over top. Store any left over pasta and sauce separately.

30 Jun 2016

It’s a Great Day for Spinach: Pasta with Spinach, Tomatoes & Pignoli

Pasta, Spinach & Tomatoes

Pasta, Spinach & Tomatoes

I bought a bag of spinach at my favorite Amish farm stand about a week ago. The thing about me and spinach is that while I know it’s really good for me, I’m so used to cooking it in a lot of oil that it’s hard to swallow of late. Well, that bag of spinach was facing its eleventh hour and just before Bruce was about to place it in the steamer I decided to salvage a recipe for pasta with spinach and cherry tomatoes that was laden with olive oil and parmesan cheese. The process was like a three-act play. I sauteed garlic in vegetable broth, wilted the spinach and removed it from the skillet. I then sauteed garlic in vegetable broth, caramelized the tomatoes and ground fennel and returned the spinach to the skillet. Finally, the pasta was added to the skillet and cooked just enough to soak up some of the saucy flavors of the spinach and tomatoes. Bruce commented that “this is a great way to eat spinach”, so why not make it a great day to eat spinach? Bravo! There you have it. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Pasta with Spinach & Tomatoes

Makes 2 to 3 servings

8 oz. cut pasta such as farfalle or penne (whole grain if possible)

4 large garlic cloves, minced and divided in half
8 oz. fresh spinach
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground into powder
1-1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
Light vegetable broth

2 tablespoons pignoli nuts

Bring a large pot of water to boil, then lower to simmer until ready to cook pasta.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add one half of the garlic and 2 tablespoons of broth and saute until garlic is lightly browned. Add spinach and continue cooking until wilted. Remove to plate. Add remaining garlic and 2 tablespoons of broth and saute until garlic is lightly browned. Add ground fennel and stir, then add tomatoes. Cook until tomatoes become soft and start to caramelize, adding more broth to prevent sticking. Return spinach to skillet and remove from heat. Cook pasta until just below the “al dente” state, reserving some of the cooking water. When pasta is cooked, add to spinach and tomatoes and cook for another minute or two, adding more broth or reserved pasta water. Sprinkle pignoli nuts over top of pasta.

16 Jun 2016

Learning to Cook: Cauliflower & Macaroni in an Instant Pot

Cauliflower & Macaroni

Cauliflower & Macaroni

One of my grandmother’s favorite meals, especially during Lent, was Cauliflower and Macaroni. It was prepared the same way that she made broccoli and cavatelli. It was pretty amazing how she was able to prepare a variety of meals using the same basic approach. This was how I learned to cook. While I was testing out my Broccoli & Orecchiette recipe for the Instant Pot, I was already thinking about how I could apply what I was learning that afternoon to other recipes. And then I remembered that head of cauliflower in the fridge. Since cauliflower takes a bit longer to cook than broccoli, I had to think about floret size and cooking time as it relates to the pasta. I discovered that the sweet spot for al dente pasta in the pressure cooker is six minutes on low pressure, so everything else is based on that. My first go at the cauliflower & macaroni included large florets and a four-grain penne. The cauliflower was too hard, which didn’t allow it to absorb the garlic flavor and the four-grain pasta created a gummy coating on everything. (If you’re really big on gluten-free pasta and don’t mind the slight gumminess, then go for it.) For my next attempt, I cut the cauliflower into florets small enough to fit inside a coffee measuring scoop (remember size matters) and used a mezze rigatoni made from semolina. This was just the right combination. The cauliflower was tender and infused with a nice garlicky taste and the rigatoni was al dente. I sprinkled a portion with black truffle salt for a bit of “umami”, which can be translated from Japanese as a “pleasant savory taste”.  I also tried a portion with some black salt which simulates the flavor of hard-cooked eggs. These days I use black salt when adapting recipes that are traditionally made with eggs. Just a sprinkling on top of this dish reminded me of a pie that was made with bucatini pasta, eggs and ricotta and served on Easter Sunday, but that’s another story. Tomorrow happens to be a Friday during Lent; but even if you don’t observe Lenten traditions, it’s a good day for cauliflower and macaroni. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Cauliflower Floret

Cauliflower Floret

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cauliflower & Macaroni with Truffle Salt for the Instant Pot

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil (optional)
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • ¼ lb. mezze rigatoni pasta (or any cut pasta)
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ teaspoon truffle salt (you can substitute sea or black salt)*
  • 12 oz. cauliflower, broken into pieces that would fit inside a coffee measuring scoop
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Set instant pot to saute and heat oil if using. Add garlic and saute until lightly browned. Add in red pepper and stir for 30 seconds. Turn off saute setting. Add pasta, water and bouillon if using, then place cauliflower on top. Place cover on instant pot and set to low pressure and cook for 6 minutes. Use quick release to bring pressure down and when safe remove cover. Remove contents to a serving bowl immediately to prevent further cooking. If there is extra water in bottom, you can set the pot to saute to evaporate the excess liquid.

*Note: You can leave the salt out of the recipe while cooking and let everyone salt when served.

 

 

 

 

10 Mar 2016

Instant Gratification: Broccoli & Orecchiette in an Instant Pot

Broccoli & Orecchiette

Broccoli & Orecchiette

I’ve had an Instant Pot for a few weeks and have been experimenting with making pasta in it. The tricky thing about making pasta is getting it al dente (in Italian, that means “to the tooth”). The time-honored way of cooking pasta is to use several quarts of water for just a pound of pasta. This allows some of the starch to cook out of the pasta and keeps it from getting sticky. Have you noticed how the water gets cloudier the longer you cook the pasta? Many recipes instruct you to under-cook the pasta by 25% of the required time, reserving some of the cooking water, adding both to the saucepot and cooking with the sauce for the remaining time. This technique allows the pasta to absorb the sauce and for the sauce to stick onto the surface ensuring full-blown flavor in every mouthful. I’ve done it this way many times and it’s a great technique.

So I pondered the idea of cooking pasta right along with other ingredients in an Instant Pot (which goes against this code we Italians have about cooking pasta) and was happy to take on this culinary challenge. What would happen to all that excess pasta starch? Would it come out gummy? And how do you judge the right amount of water? Would it come out too dry or too watery? Would the sauce stick or separate from the pasta? It’s a lot to consider, so I figured I might as well test the waters.

I’ve always enjoyed broccoli and cavatelli which is typically made with a lot of garlic and even more olive oil. I’ve made VFF (virtually fat free) versions on the stove top, but they’ve usually been too dry and bland. Since an Instant Pot forces the flavors into foods, I figured this would be a good recipe to try. For my first attempt I browned garlic, fennel and crushed red pepper on the saute setting, then layered, in this order, small florets of broccoli, orecchiette then enough water (about 3 cups) to cover everything. (I was afraid to try frozen pasta, hence the use of orecchiette instead of cavatelli.) After six minutes on low pressure, the pasta was al dente with a nice garlicky taste, but there was too much leftover liquid and the broccoli was mushy. I drained the excess liquid and had this for lunch. For my second attempt, I put the orecchiette in after browning the garlic and added just enough water (about 1 cup) to cover the pasta. I then placed the broccoli on top so that it would just steam instead of stew in the liquid. The pasta came out al dente; with just enough liquid left so that the pasta was juicy; and the broccoli was garlicky, but not mushy. Warning: my next statement may sound a bit risque, but please read on. Sometimes in cooking, size matters. When a recipe calls for an ingredient like broccoli or cauliflower florets, it might be a good idea for the instructions to be more exact. For my first attempt at this recipe, I cut the broccoli into small florets. I believe that contributed to the mushy outcome. For the second attempt, I broke the broccoli into very large florets (you’ll see in the recipe that I used the description “bigger than a coffee scoop”) and it came out just right. If you’ve ever made a zucchini bread and the recipe called for a “large zucchini”, you know what I’m talking about. Sometimes it can make a big difference in the final outcome if you’re left wondering exactly how “large” something is. Looking ahead, I will be mindful to include weights and measurements in my recipes whenever it makes a difference.

I’ll sum it up with two words. Pasta. Perfection. There’s not much else to say, until next time. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Broccoli - Size Matters

Broccoli – Size Matters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broccoli & Orecchiette for the Instant Pot

Makes 2 servings

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil (optional)
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ¼ lb. orecchiette pasta
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ teaspoon Better Than Bouillon No Chicken base (optional)
  • 12 oz. broccoli, broken into pieces about the size of a coffee measuring scoop
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Set instant pot to saute and heat oil if using. Add garlic and saute until lightly browned. Add in fennel seeds and red pepper and stir for 30 seconds. Turn off saute setting. Add pasta, water and bouillon if using, then place broccoli on top. Place cover on instant pot and set to low pressure and cook for 6 minutes. Use quick release to bring pressure down and when safe remove cover. Remove contents to a serving bowl immediately to prevent further cooking. If there is extra water in bottom, you can set the pot to saute to evaporate the excess liquid.

01 Mar 2016

Pick Your Pasta: Macaroni with Creamy Mushroom-Leek Sauce

Pasta with Creamy Mushroom-Leek Sauce

Pasta with Creamy Mushroom-Leek Sauce

Sunday dinner in my family always meant “macaroni”, typically served with a gravy made from meatballs, sausage and bracciole. For as long as I can remember, we always called it “macaroni” not matter what size, shape or form it came in. With the advent of food TV and the evolution of gourmet dining, chefs were referring to my “macaroni” as pasta. So, what’s in a name? I don’t know, but maybe “pasta” sounds more sophisticated than “macaroni’. I checked Wikipedia and found out that “macaroni” is a cut, tubular-shaped pasta. Different in form from noodles and other flat pastas, “macaroni” is made from the same ingredients and should taste the same. So what’s the difference? For me, it comes down to the sauce, tradition and some pragmatism. I like to use certain types of pasta because, by design, their shape allows the sauce to get caught up in their nooks and crannies. For a creamy vodka sauce, something like penne or rigatoni works well. (I like this recipe from the Humane Society.) Our family tradition for Christmas Eve was a pasta dish called fra’ diavlo (spaghetti with a red sauce made with shellfish.) I pay homage to that tradition with my Linguini with Shitake Mushroom Sauce and will always use a flat pasta for this dish.  Flat pasta like fettucine or linguine is a good choice for a thick marinara or an Alfredo-type sauce since the sauce is able to coat the long strands of pasta. However, a pasta dish that calls for vegetables like leeks, mushrooms, zucchini or eggplant is better suited for a cut pasta because it’s easier to get the different ingredients onto your fork and neatly into your mouth. A recipe like Macaroni & Peas definitely needs a small, cut pasta (and a spoon). And yet, it all comes down to personal taste; you just might prefer the appearance or mouth-feel of one type of pasta over the other.  A few notes about this recipe. Depending on how saucy you want to like your pasta this recipe will cover from 8 to 12 ounces of pasta. For an alcohol-free version, replace the wine with more broth. If you don’t have leeks, you can substitute yellow onions. Call it what you like, this is one delicious and nutritious dish. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Macaroni Creamy Cashew Mushroom Leek Sauce

3 to 4 servings

  • ½ cup cashew cream (see recipe below)
  • 1 lb. mushrooms, sliced (I used white and cremini, but you could use exotic mushrooms as well)
  • 3 leeks
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ½ tsp Better Than Boullion No Chicken Base dissolved in 1 cup water
  •  8 – 12 oz. pasta, cooked according to directions

Thinly slice leeks, rinse thoroughly and drain. Saute in deep skillet or saucepan until soft, adding water a tablespoon at a time to prevent sticking. Remove and place in bowl. Add mushrooms to pan and sauté until lightly browned, adding a little bit of water or oil to prevent sticking. Return leeks to pan, add thyme and sauté 2 minutes longer. Add wine and continue cooking until evaporated. Add broth and cashew cream and simmer until thickened. Toss with pasta.

Cashew Cream

Makes about 2¼ cups

  1. Rinse 2 cups whole raw cashews (not pieces, which are often dry) very well under cold water.
  2. Put the cashews in a bowl and add cold water to cover them. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
  3. Drain the cashews and rinse under cold water.
  4. Place nuts in a blender with enough fresh cold water to barely cover them. Blend on high for several minutes until very smooth. (If you’re not using a professional high-speed blender such as a Vita-Mix or Blend Tec, which creates an ultra-smooth cream, strain the cashew cream through a fine-mesh sieve.)

 

02 Feb 2016

Fix This: Shells Stuffed with Tofu-Cashew Ricotta, Spinach & Shitakes

Shells with Tofu-Cashew Ricotta, Spinach & Shitakes

Shells with Tofu-Cashew Ricotta, Spinach & Shitakes

“There are no mistakes in the kitchen; only new recipes to be discovered.” These may not be words to live by, but they sure are words to cook by. I heard this saying several years ago and I don’t recall who said them. I’ve always kept them in the back of my mind and they’ve been a motivating message for me as I explore the world of plant-based cooking. Well I had to rely on these words today as I experimented with a tofu-based ricotta cheese recipe that I found in a vegan cookbook. As an Italian from Brooklyn I had access to some of the best cheese stores in the country so it’s hard to sell me on non-dairy cheese. I wanted to use the ricotta straight up on toast. Well, it was pretty awful. What was I going to do with a pound of tofu “something”? “Fix this, Rose” echoed in my head. Instead of tossing what I already had I relied on my tried and true Tofu-Cashew Ricotta recipe to save the day. Wishfully, I added some raw cashews (didn’t even soak them) to the food processor, but sadly the cheese was still not tasty enough to eat as is. I decided to save it to make Stuffed Shells with Spinach–Tofu-Cashew Ricotta and placed it in the fridge overnight.

Day Two: As luck would have it, I only had a half bag of frozen spinach. (Really, I saved a half bag of spinach. Who does that?) Then I remembered a bag of shitake mushrooms hiding at the back of the fridge and decided to add them to the filling. I sauteed them with garlic and added the thawed and squeezed spinach, minced it in a food processor until coarse and folded it into the ricotta. (My tip for squeezing the liquid from spinach is to defrost it in the bag, then poke holes in the bag and squeeze. A tip for filling the shells is to use a pastry bag fitted with a large decorating tip.) My secret ingredient for the filling was to season it with truffle salt (totally not necessary, but definitely adds another layer of flavor.) A generous amount of marinara poured under and over the shells will keep them from drying out. Oh, boy, these are so creamy and delicious there’s no mistaking that this recipe will become one of my favorite plant-based baked pasta dishes. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Shells Stuffed with Tofu Ricotta, Spinach & Shitake Mushrooms

  • 6 oz. jumbo shells, cooked according to package directions
  • 8 oz. frozen spinach, defrosted and excess water squeezed out
  • 8 oz. shitake mushrooms, stems removed
  • 2 cups of Tofu-Cashew Ricotta (below) (make ahead of time)
  • 1 clove of garlic, pressed
  • ½ teaspoon truffle salt (or regular salt)
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Marinara sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Saute mushrooms in non-stick skillet until brown and liquid has evaporated. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in spinach and cook to dry out any extra liquid. Let cool.

In bowl of food processor, process spinach/mushroom mixture until coarse. Remove and place in large bowl with ricotta, truffle salt and pepper. Stir well. Using a small spoon or a pastry bag fitted with a large tip, stuff shells with filling. Cover the bottom of a baking pan with sauce. Arrange shells on top of sauce, then spoon additional sauce over the shells. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes until thoroughly heated. You can remove the foil toward the end of baking to brown the top a bit.

Makes about 18 to 20 stuffed shells.

Tofu-Cashew Ricotta

  • 1 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight
  • 1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon lactic acid powder (or and extra teaspoons cider vinegar)
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • ¼ tsp. salt (if using for a filling that usually calls for eggs, you can use black salt instead of table salt)
  • 8 oz. firm tofu
  • 1 Tbsp. nutritional yeast (optional)

Place soaked cashews, cider vinegar lemon juice, sugar and salt in food processor. Process until smooth but slightly grainy.  Add tofu and nutritional yeast and process until incorporated with cashews. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Note: If you don’t want to bake the stuffed shells, simply place them on a baking sheet and freeze overnight then place in a zip-lock bag for future use.

30 Jan 2016

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