Saturday, January 12, 2013

On Thursday I made what might be the best vegan dish I've made yet. It was simultaneously very simple -- and it used every dish in my kitchen. (Okay, not really -- but it used my Vitamix AND my food processor, so it felt like I used every dish!)

The recipe is for baked ziti. The above picture is of whole wheat penne (ziti is similar, but the ends are cut straight). Publix didn't have whole wheat ziti, so this is what I used (we're so used to whole wheat pasta now we don't even notice a difference). I'm going to post a link to the recipe but for reasons I do not understand it doesn't always work (maybe it's just me), so I'm going to post the recipe here, too. And mention my very slight changes (in addition to using penne instead of ziti!).

First, here's the link to the recipe.

There are four separate parts to the recipe. One is just cooking twelve ounces of pasta -- I assume you know how to do that, so I won't type that out! (And you could use ziti, penne, rotini -- even big macaroni would be okay.) After you cook it, drain it in a colander and run some cold water over it and set it aside.

Next, the sauce (I actually started this THEN started the water for the pasta because the sauce has to cook for 45 minutes and who wants their pasta sitting around for that long?). It was very simple but surprisingly good. You just saute half a cup of chopped onion (the recipe calls for sauteeing in olive oil; I used water) until it's soft. Then you add half a teaspoon of garlic, two teaspoons of oregano, one teaspoon of basil, half a teaspoon of rosemary, and a 28-ounce can of fire-roasted tomatoes. (If you haven't tried fire-roasted tomatoes yet, you are missing out! When I first started using them I had to buy an imported brand that was expensive, but now good ol' Hunt's has come through for me.) I bought the Hunt's variety and had to use two 14.5-ounce cans instead. Cover it loosely and simmer it at a low temperature for half an hour. Then add a teaspoon of salt and simmer for about fifteen minutes more. I sometimes ignore simmering times, but I did this for the whole time and the tomatoes broke down more and, of course, the sauce got thicker. I also added a little bit of sugar when I added the salt. I think sugar makes tomatoes taste more "tomato-ier." I don't know how much I added -- a couple of teaspoons, probably.

While the sauce is cooking you make your ricotta "cheese." You have to soak 1 1/2 cups of macadamia nuts for at least four hours. Put them into the food processor along with 1/4 cup of water, 1/8 teaspoon of garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. I didn't use any oil (the recipe calls for a tablespoon). You just process this, scraping down the sides of the container, until it looks like ricotta cheese. I ended up adding more water -- maybe another 1/4 cup. It never feels smooth to the taste -- it feels like ground up nuts -- but that's okay. I was afraid it would detract from the finished product, but it didn't. I did process it for a longer time than the recipe called for because I kept thinking it should get completely smooth, and it doesn't (she has you do it for two minutes).

Finally, you make the cashew cream. I have read that if you don't have a Vitamix you should soak your cashews for at least an hour, but this recipe doesn't call for that (and since I have a Vitamix I don't know how it is without one). I just put all the ingredients into my Vitamix at the same time, but the recipe says to blend up the cashews into a fine powder first and then add everything else to your blender. Anyway, the ingredients are 3/4 cup of cashews, 1/8 teaspoon dried dill, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1/3 cup water, and 1/4 teaspoon rice vinegar. (Rice vinegar is sweet so don't substitute white vinegar or anything like that -- if you have to, I guess balsamic vinegar would be okay, but it's just 1/4 teaspoon, so it's not a huge deal. You find rice vinegar in the Asian foods section at Publix.) Blend this until it's smooth.

Once the sauce was done I just dumped the pasta into the sauce pan and mixed it up along with a couple of tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley. Then you stir in the "ricotta," leaving blobs of it intact (you're not trying to beat it smooth and have it all evenly distributed). Last, you drizzle in the cashew cream and stir that a little bit. Dump the whole thing into a 13x9 pan and then bake it at 350 for half an hour.

We both just LOVED it. It's not pretty -- if the link above is working you can see her pictures (I didn't take any of mine), but it's really, really delicious. Now -- it's NOT a low fat recipe, even though I left out all the oil, because it's got 2 1/4 cups of nuts in it, but it's worth a splurge now and then!

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