Category Archives: Pasta

Roasted Eggplant Cannelloni

Roasted Eggplant Cannelloni

These are so light and delicious you won’t believe they’re good for you. The roasted eggplant adds a wonderful, smooth flavor to the filling and using the no boil noodles keeps them slim and small. Béchamel sauce is very traditional in Italy with cannelloni or lasagna and you will likely have leftover sauce which can be used with other dishes. I will often prepare either one of my lasagna recipes at the same time or double this cannelloni recipe, freezing one for another day. If you prefer, a simple tomato sauce will work just as well as the béchamel.

Cannelloni Ingredients:
1 pkg. veggie “meat crumbles”
1 large or 3 small eggplant
3 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 T. oregano
¼ t. dried red pepper flakes (optional)
1 t. garlic salt
½ c. chopped fire roasted tomatoes
¼ c. fresh basil (chopped roughly)
2 cups béchamel sauce (recipe below)
1 box of no boil lasagna noodles

To prepare:
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place washed whole eggplant on a lined baking sheet. Prick it with a fork a few times and bake it whole, until it’s nicely roasted and slightly collapsed. Remove the eggplant from the oven and set it aside until cool enough to handle. Meanwhile prepare the béchamel sauce and set aside. When the eggplant has cooled slice in half down from top to bottom. If you’re using large eggplant, and there are a lot of seeds, you may want to scoop out some of them and discard. Pull out the rest of the soft pulp down to the peel and chop the flesh fairly small and set aside.

Heat a deep skillet on medium heat, add the oil and when it’s mobile, add the onion and cook for a few minutes, until it’s soft and slightly translucent. Add the garlic, pepper flakes, and oregano. Stir a minute or two to release aromas. Now add crumbles. Cook the crumbles for a few minutes, until slightly browned. If the mixture becomes too dry, add a little more olive oil. Add the chopped eggplant, the tomatoes, and garlic salt, and stir to combine. Cook an additional few minutes until everything is nice and hot. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chopped basil. If desired season to your taste with salt, pepper, and additional oregano or basil. Set that mixture aside and prepare pasta.

Bring a wide, shallow skillet of salted water to a boil. When the water boils, add the no-boil lasagna sheets two to three at a time. Move them around a bit and when they are flexible and just slightly softened, remove them with tongs, and lay them on your work board. This takes about two to three minutes and you really want these underdone because you’ll bake them additionally in the oven.

Spoon some of the béchamel sauce, about a quarter of an inch to half an inch into a baking dish. Keep it next to your work area – you will be placing the cannelloni into this dish after stuffing.

Lay the noodles out flat to begin filling and rolling. Meanwhile, add another three sheets of pasta to the water. Place two to three heaping tablespoons of filling along one edge of each little sheet of pasta, roll it up, and place the cannelloni into the prepared baking dish. Continue until you’ve used all the pasta sheets.

Ladle some additional béchamel sauce over the cannelloni, top with a drizzle of olive oil and a little more fresh basil. Pour about 1/4 cup of water around the outer perimeter of the cannelloni, cover the baking dish with foil, and bake at 350 degree for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 10 minutes. The cannelloni should be steaming, heated through, and bubbly. Serve with a simple salad and garlic bread.

Béchamel Blush Sauce Ingredients:
6 T. vegan margarine, or olive oil
6 T. unbleached flour
3 c. unsweetened soy milk (warmed)
1-2 tsp. tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated nutmeg

To prepare béchamel sauce:
In a saucepan, melt the margarine over medium low heat. When the margarine begins to bubble whisk in the flour. Cook this roux over very low heat for a few minutes, but don’t let it brown. The idea is to cook off some of the raw flour flavor. When the roux begins to smell a little nutty and fragrant begin whisking in the soymilk. Continue whisking the milk about a cup at a time until the sauce is thickened and smooth. If it begins to get too thick, you may add a little additional milk or a bit of water, but use a light hand. The sauce should be a creamy thick consistency that evenly coats the back of a spoon. Remove the sauce from the heat and season it with salt and pepper, a few gratings of fresh nutmeg. Finally, whisk in the tomato paste.

This sauce will likely thicken while it sits. If it does, simple loosen it with some liquid, either milk or a little water. Store any leftovers in a covered container for up to a week.

Pasta Bolognese

pastabolognese300x181Ragu Alla Bolognese is a rich and creamy tomato-based sauce, typically made with a variety of meats, heavy cream, wine and beef broth.

I was surprised how easy a task it was to translate this dish to a lighter meatless version.

As with many recipes that contain meat, it is actually the supporting “cast members” — the dry white wine, nutmeg, sweet carrots, celery and red onion — that give dishes like my Bolognese sauce its distinctive and deliciously familiar flavor.

Serves 4

Ingredients
1 medium red onion
1 medium carrot
1 large stalk celery
1-12 oz. package vegetarian ground beef style crumbles
3-4 slices chopped vegetarian bacon (optional)
1 lb. fresh or canned tomatoes (look for a smooth crushed tomato)
4 T. margarine
2 T. olive oil
1/2 to 3/4 c. good quality dry white wine
Salt and pepper
1/4 t. fresh grated nutmeg
1 cup “beef” flavored vegetarian stock
1/2-3/4 c. unsweetened soy milk

To prepare:
To make preparation easier, use a food processor and process onion, carrot, and celery until very finely chopped.

Heat the margarine and oil in a heavy pan. When the oils are just warm add the vegetables and saute for 5 minutes. Add “beef” and “bacon” and continue sauteing for another 10 minutes stirring every so often.

Add the wine and cook for 5 minutes, then add the tomatoes. Simmer mixture for 15 minutes before adding the nutmeg and broth. Continue cooking for about another 20 minutes.

Taste the sauce to be sure all ingredients are well blended and season with salt and pepper. Lower the heat, add the soy milk, and continue cooking on very low for another 10-15 minutes. Keep the heat low, so the bottom doesn’t burn.

At this point, when the sauce is done, prepare the pasta. (I don’t recommend egg-based pasta because this sauce is too robust.) When the pasta is al dente, add the pasta to the sauce and combine and cook over very low heat for a few minutes.

Top off each serving with another drizzle of fruity olive oil and a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Note: With a little imagination and the inclusion of modern soy products, converting any meat-based family favorites is easier than ever. “Ground beef” style vegetable protein crumbles add consistency, texture, and nutrients, while eliminating fat and cholesterol.

Sweet Vegetable Lasagna

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Once you try my version of this classic Italian dish, you’ll never look at lasagna the same way again. Guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser, be sure to make an extra pan and freeze it. Lasagna will keep in the freezer for several weeks – much longer than it lasts on your table.

When using “no-boil” lasagna noodles, it’s crucial to have sufficient liquid levels in your filling ingredients. The tofu filling, spinach, and tomatoes work together to add the necessary liquid element here.

Serves 4

Lasagna Ingredients:
8-10 sheets of no-boil lasagna noodles
2-3 small zucchini, sliced thinly lengthwise
1-2 small yellow summer squash, sliced thinly lengthwise
6 tomatoes, cooked, skinned, and seeded (or 1 c. canned whole tomatoes)
2 c. julienned parsnips
1 c. julienned carrots
3 c. baby spinach, coarsely chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/2 c. coarsely chopped basil, reserved

Béchamel Sauce Ingredients:
6 T. vegan margarine (or unsalted butter)
6 T. unbleached flour
3 c. unsweetened soy milk (or 2% dairy)
Salt, pepper, and grated nutmeg

Tofu Filling Ingredients:
1 block extra firm tofu, drained of its water
3 T. nutritional yeast (or 1/2 c. freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, optional)
1/2 c. chopped parsley
1/2 t. grated nutmeg
1 t. salt

To prepare:
Drizzle olive oil over the bottom of an 8 X 8 baking dish and set aside.

1. Prepare béchamel sauce:
Heat soy or dairy milk until hot but not boiling. (You can add room temperature milk, but heating speeds up the cooking process and in my experience, makes for a smoother sauce.) Melt margarine in a saucepan but do not let it brown. Slowly whisk in flour until you have a smooth roux, continue whisking for a minute or two and begin adding the hot milk. Cook and stir constantly until the sauce thickens and is creamy but not runny. Season to taste and set aside.

2. Prepare tofu filling:
Crumble drained tofu into a bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix everything together with a fork. Season the mixture and set aside.

3. Prepare vegetables:
Heat a little olive oil in a skillet over medium low heat. Saute the parsnips and carrots for 5-8 minutes just until crisp tender. Add both the zucchini and squash and toss, just to heat the vegetables through. Remove from heat.

4. Assemble lasagna:
Spread about 1/2 cup of the tomatoes over the bottom of the baking dish. Cover with two sheets of lasagna noodles. Add a layer of vegetables, a few more spoonfuls of tomato, and spread about 1/2 c. of béchamel sauce over this layer.

Add a second layer of pasta, alternating the direction of the layers. Top this pasta layer with the tofu filling. Next do a layer of fresh spinach, add a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and top with yet a third layer of pasta. Add more of the vegetable mixture, a few dollops of the cooked tomato, a little more béchamel, and cover with two more sheets of pasta.

Top the casserole off with a nice cover of béchamel sauce, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, and the chopped fresh basil. Finally, spoon a little more of the tomato mixture around the sides of the lasagna.

Cover the casserole dish with foil and bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes, then remove the foil and bake another 15 minutes or until all the vegetables are easily pierced with a knife. If desired, top with remaining béchamel sauce and serve the lasagna hot.

Note: Béchamel sauce will thicken while it rests but a gentle reheating should loosen it up. If necessary, add very small amounts of milk, water, or stock until you regain the desired consistency.

I really appreciate knowing how to make a béchamel sauce because it can be used in so many other dishes and in this recipe, it makes what’s normally a “heavy” dish so light.

If you dislike the flavor of nutmeg, simply omit it and add an extra few turns from the pepper mill. Remember to always use a light hand and taste your food when you add seasonings.

Pasta with Red Onion, “Bakin,” Radicchio, and Edamame

Pasta with Red Onion, “Bakin,” Radicchio, and Edamame

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This was a dish that I grew up with and have adapted. It’s so easy to make in a pinch and a wonderful way to use up leftover pasta. Use any vegetables you like, but keep the edamame. It’s firm texture holds up well against the al dente pasta. Edamame are also superior in nutrition to many beans and children really like their sweet, crunchy snap. Vegetarian bacon adds salty flavor. The trick with vegetarian bacon products is to cook them separately and to help maintain a crispy texture, add back in at the end. The amounts given in this recipe are guidelines, so you can use as much or as little as you wish.

8 oz. penne (or your pasta of choice)
3 T. olive oil
1 red onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. red pepper flakes
1 ½ c. radicchio leaves, sliced thin
½ pkg. vegetarian bacon of choice
2 c. edamame beans, frozen and parboiled
Small handful torn basil leaves

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, in a large shallow pan heat oil. Chop the vegetarian bacon and fry the pieces until browned and crispy. Remove the “bacon” from pan and set aside.

Add pasta to the boiling water.

Add a small amount of oil to the pan you cooked your “bacon” in and sauté the onion and garlic until soft. Add the parboiled edamame and red pepper flakes and sauté for a minute or two.

When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain and, without rinsing, add the hot pasta directly into the onion mixture, turning everything over to heat it all through. Add in the cripsy bacon pieces, the radicchio, basil, salt, and lots of pepper, tossing to combine well. The radicchio will wilt slightly when it comes into contact with the hot pasta mixture. Plate and top with a sprinkle of picada if desired.

Summer Pasta with Tomato, Arugula, Basil, and Red Onion

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Ingredients:
1 box ziti or pasta of choice
4 vine-ripened tomatoes, in large dice
1 ½ c. baby arugula
1 c. basil leaves
½ small red onion, chopped
1 ½ T. good quality balsamic vinegar
About ¼ c. olive oil
Salt and fresh black pepper
Cold Fontina cheese (optional)

To prepare:
In a small bowl add vinegar and red onions, stir well and let stand for about 10 minutes.

Next, in a fairly shallow casserole dish, add diced tomatoes, basil, arugula, and onions along with the vinegar. Add about half of the oil. Sprinkle in about a teaspoon of kosher salt and combine. Gently mix as you would a salad, to coat all the veggies with the dressing. While the pasta is cooking continue to gently fold the veggies.

Bring a large pot of well salted water to boil. When the water boils add the pasta and cook until al dente.

Drain the pasta, quickly, and, without rinsing, add it to the casserole dish. Fold the pasta in gently bringing the veggies up from the bottom to the top, until well combined. If desired, add about five gratings, using the larger blade of a box grater, of Fontina cheese. Season with more salt if necessary and plenty of black pepper. Serve at room temperature. This pasta is equally delicious as it cools.

Fontina is a fairly soft cheese, that melts quite nicely. Keeping the cheese cold makes grating or slicing much easier. Macerating* the onions in vinegar not only softens the onions but imparts a subtile and delicious flavor with out any overbearing vinegar flavor.

*Macerating is process used in food preparation where raw, dried or preserved fruit or vegetables are soaked in a seasoned, usually acidic, liquid before cooking. Macerating is often confused with “marinating.” The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, however they have a different purpose. Macerating refers to the softening or breaking down of tough fibers in foods using a liquid. This process not only helps make food more flavorful, it also makes them easier to digest. This is especially helpful with raw onions. Fruit, on the other hand, is usually sprinkled with sugar and a little fresh lemon, then left to sit and release their own juices.

Better Than Classic Lasagna

Better Than Classic Lasagna

This is a glorious layering of pasta, light and tasty tofu “cheese,” savory “beefy” crumbles, and a creamy béchamel sauce that can be prepared two ways – either with or without dairy ingredients. I know you’ll love the scrumptious flavors and textures of this high-protein classic.

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Lasagna Ingredients:
8-10 sheets of no-boil lasagna noodles
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 c. coarsely chopped basil leaves (reserve 1/4 cup)

Béchamel Sauce Ingredients:
6 T. vegan margarine, or olive oil, or unsalted butter
6 T. unbleached flour
3 c. unsweetened soy milk (or 2% dairy milk)
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated nutmeg

Tofu “Cheese” Layer:
1 block extra firm tofu, drained well
1/2 c. vegan Parmesan-style cheese (or freshly grated Pecorino Romano), optional
1/2 c. chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 c. chopped spinach
1/2 t. grated nutmeg
1 t. salt

“Beefy” crumbles Layer:
1 pkg. “beef”-style crumbles
2 cloves garlic, mashed
1 onion, chopped into 1/4″ dice
3 t. dried oregano
2 T. chopped San Marzano tomatoes or prepared sauce (1/2 cup reserved for filling additional layer)
Salt and pepper to taste

To prepare:
First, drizzle olive oil over the bottom of an 8X8-inch baking dish and set aside.

Next, prepare the béchamel sauce by heating (soy)milk until hot but not boiling. You can do this in a microwave. (Milk at room temperature will work, but heating, in my experience, makes a smoother sauce.)

Melt the fat you’re using in a saucepan, but don’t let it burn or brown. Slowly whisk in the flour until you have a smooth roux. Continue whisking for a minute or two, then begin adding the hot (soy)milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens and is creamy but not runny. Season with salt and pepper and the grated nutmeg, cover, and set aside.

Now prepare the tofu filling by crumbling the drained tofu into a bowl, work the tofu with your fingers until smooth – the texture should be similar to ricotta. Add all remaining ingredients, mix together with a fork until blended, season with salt, pepper, a bit more nutmeg, and set aside. (Hint: when preparing the dairy-free version, you can substitute 3 T. of nutritional yeast flakes as a tasty substitute for the vegan cheese or grated Romano.)

Finally, prepare the “beefy” crumbles, by heating olive oil over medium heat in a heavy saute pan. Add garlic and onions and stir and fry until they’re translucent – about five minutes, then add your oregano. Saute for a few minutes until the oregano becomes nicely aromatic. Add the crumbles and continue to stir fry until everything is browned and heated through. Add the two tablespoons of the tomatoes along with another sprinkling of olive oil and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Season and set aside.

To assemble:
Place all layer ingredients within reach. Start with a layer of no-boil lasagna noodles. Spoon “beef” mixture onto noodles, then some of the bechamel. Toss on some of the basil. Add another layer of noodle, then tofu mixture, basil and more bechamel sauce. Continue layering, ending with a layer of the 1/2 cup of reserved tomatoes, then place lasagna noodles on top. Spoon the remaining bechamel sauce over the top, making sure to cover the entire surface of the uncooked top layer of noodle.

Take about 1/4 cup of fresh water and pour around the sides of the casserole to bring the moisture content up a bit, drizzle additional olive oil over the top then cover with foil, and bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for approximately 45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking the lasagna for another 15 minutes or so. The lasagna should be bubbling and the noodles cooked through. Remove from oven, sprinkle with reserved chopped basil, additional olive oil if desired, and serve.

This lasagna keeps well and is even more delicious the next day. I usually make two 8X8 inch pans and then freeze one for days when I’m too busy to cook but want a quick, hearty, and nutritious supper.

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Pesto Unlimited

Pesto Unlimited

Pesto brings to mind large handfuls of fresh basil, olive oil, and nuts and, while this is the most common way people think of it, lots of other vegetables and leafy herbs can be turned into a pesto, which simply means “paste.”

Last night I made a broccoli pesto, but I have also made pesto from asparagus tips, leeks, artichokes, roasted peppers, or even spinach. What follows isn’t an actual recipe, it’s more of a “method” it’s dead easy.

Take about a quarter to a half pound roughly chopped steamed broccoli tops and place them into your food processor bowl. Add two ot three cloves of fresh garlic and some salt. Pulse the broccoli-garlic mixture into a fine chop, then add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of pine nuts or almonds and process the mixture into a paste. Drizzle in some oilve oil and continue to process until you have a nice smooth consistency. I usually add a bit of crushed red pepper, but it’s optional. Toss the broccoli pesto, as you would basil pesto, with your cooked pasta and serve it hot. This is also totally scrumptious spread on toasted Tuscan bread as a bruschetta.

Pasta Leftovers

Pasta Leftovers

Leftover pasta can be a great quick meal when you’re in a time crunch, but the longer you store it the tougher and starchier it gets. Four days is about the limit for keeping plain, undressed pasta. After that, the best you can do is add it to a soup.

My method for bringing leftover pasta “back to life” is to warm a little olive oil in a skillet over low heat and toss in the pasta to warm it up slowly. This method gives a much better, more appetizing result than re-boiling it or microwaving it.

Another delicious option is to fry it in a little olive oil until the pasta is brown and crispy, then season with salt and pepper and serve it as a side dish.

Don’t toss it away – try my tips for creating a delicious, easy, and quick meal with your leftover pasta.

Pasta Choices

I don’t know what I would do if for some reason I bought into the latest craze of carb phobia and actually eliminated pasta from my diet entirely. There really is nothing faster and more satisfying than a dish of spaghetti, noodles or macaroni simply dressed with fresh veggies, a quick sauce , fresh herbs or a wash of good fruity olive oil. In fact I would encourage you to try many of the other varities of pasta or noodles on the market today. Even if you have a wheat allergy, there is something out there for you. Rice, soy and spelt pastas are virtually everywhere.

Lately I am using some of the more unusual pastas, unusual in the sense of not commonly used by most, and have discovered a whole new set of flavors and textures. From buckwheat to mung bean the colors, textures and flavors are just wonderful. With asian noodles, the cooking time is super fast, and it doesn’t take much to prepare an authentic tasty and healthy meal that looks like you spent hours preparing.

On my last trip to Italy I noticed that whole wheat pasta is gaining in popularity, and for good reason. Not only are the health benefits increased, but that wonderful al dente texture remains nicely intact. If a change interests you, start with a good quality whole wheat pasta with your favorite sauce. Don’t be put off by the darker color. Remember more color usually always spells better nutrition. Give these pasta choices a try – you may never go back to white pasta again.