Vegan Spaghetti and Meatballs Casserole

IMG_3000     I adapted this Vegan Spaghetti and Meatballs Casserole from a recipe on VegWeb.    Under the spaghetti sauce, there’s a layer of cream cheese with green onions and chives, and I added a layer of meatballs in the middle.  This is easy and pretty quick to throw together, and surprisingly delicious.  It makes plenty, so there will be leftovers, or you could serve it for a dinner party, with salad, garlic bread, and maybe a sorbet for dessert.

VEGAN SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS CASSEROLE

Serves 6

INGREDIENTS
8 oz. thin spaghetti or capellini pasta
1/2 Cup vegan cream cheese
1/4 Cup vegan sour cream
1/3 Cup chopped scallions (green onions), white and green parts
2 Tablespoons chopped chives
2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
2 Tablespoons vegan butter (such as Earth Balance)
12 oz. vegan meatballs  (about 16-20 is good)
24 oz. pasta sauce  (from a jar is fine)
1 Tablespoon vegan parmesan, such as Go Veggie brand

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Add 2 teaspoons of salt to a pot of water, break spaghetti in half and start cooking pasta per package directions.

With a fork, mix vegan cream cheese, sour cream, scallions and chives in a bowl.
When pasta is cooked to al dente, scoop out 1/3 Cup of pasta water and set it aside.  Remove from heat and strain pasta.  Into the empty, still-warm pot, put the butter, nutritional yeast and the 1/3 Cup reserved pasta water.  Add strained pasta back to the pot and with a wooden spoon, mix until pasta is thoroughly coated.

Add half the pasta to the casserole dish and level it somewhat.  Place the vegan meatballs on top of this bottom layer of pasta.  Add the rest of the pasta on top of the meatballs.   Add dollops of the cream-cheese mixture to the top and spread gently with the back of a spoon.  Pour the pasta sauce over all.  Sprinkle with a Tablespoon of vegan parmesan cheese.  Bake 20-25 minutes–you should see the edges bubbling.  I bake the first 15 minutes with the lid on, but am not sure if this is necessary.

Notes:  I use an old Corning Ware 3-Liter casserole dish that is about 8″ square by 4″ tall.  This tastes even better the next day, so it’s a good one to make ahead.  I set out the sour cream and cream cheese for 10 minutes so they soften up a bit.  The variations are endless:  you could lean into a more whole-foods, gluten-free version with spaghetti squash instead of pasta.  Or instead of meatballs, mix chopped walnuts into the tomato sauce, to mimic ground beef and add protein and omegas.  During that summer glut of garden tomatoes, fold some in.  Or mix some chopped spinach into the cream-cheese and scallion mixture, etc.  Buon appetito!

One Pot Pasta

IMG_2843     One Pot Pasta is a thing–it’s all over the internet, so I tried it.  It’s good, but be aware that since you’re NOT draining the pasta, there is a slight starchy quality to the sauce.  It was quite good though, and it makes a quick meal with no colander to wash.  Also, there’s no walking to the sink with a heavy pot of boiling water (to drain the pasta).  I adapted this recipe from Martha Stewart, except I prefer thinner pasta, so I used spaghetti instead of linguine.

EASY ONE POT PASTA

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS
12 ounces spaghetti
12 ounces cherry tomatoes, or chopped fresh tomatoes, if in season
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 sprigs fresh basil, plus torn leaves for garnish
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4.5 Cups water
vegan parmesan for sprinkling, such as Go Veggie Grated Parmesan Topping

DIRECTIONS
In a large skillet with straight sides, or a small stock pot (which is what I use for everything), combine uncooked pasta, tomatoes, onion, garlic, red-pepper flakes, basil, oil, salt, pepper and water.  Bring to boil over medium-high heat.  Keep at a low boil, stirring and turning pasta frequently with tongs, until pasta is al dente, and water has nearly evaporated, about 10 minutes.  Divide among bowls and garnish with basil.

Serve with any toppings you like, such as vegan parmesan, sundried tomatoes, Kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, lemon zest, toasted pine nuts, cannellini beans, sautéed vegan sausage, blanched broccolini, etc.

Notes:  Can also be made with linguine.  Do not try this with capellini or angel hair, because finer pasta sort of breaks down into a starchy mess (speaking from experience).  I made this twice so I could be sure of the technique.  If there are no fresh tomatoes in season, I suppose one could try using well-drained canned tomatoes, and a few Tablespoons less water.
IMG_2849  I used red and yellow Amish tomatoes.
IMG_2848  Toppings.
IMG_2846  Still cooking.

Mediterranean Pasta Salad

IMG_2479    This Greek and Italian style Pasta Salad is simple to make, but deceptively complex in flavors.  It’s very versatile–you can make the basic salad and add or subtract whatever you like, or whatever you have on hand.  Perfect for a barbecue or picnic and especially good in summer.  With the beans, it’s great as a main dish too.   I make this at least once every summer, and it’s developed over the years.

MEDITERRANEAN PASTA SALAD

Serves about 6 as a main dish, or about 8 as a side.  (?)

INGREDIENTS
For the dressing:
1/4 Cup white Balsamic vinegar  (or red wine vinegar)
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, pressed or crushed and minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram (optional)
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon grainy mustard from a jar  (Dijon style, or spicy brown, etc.)
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Basic Salad
2 Cups pasta cooked  (measure before cooking)
15 oz. can Cannelini beans  (or other white beans)
1 red bell pepper, diced fine
1/4 Cup sun-dried tomatoes chopped
1/4 Cup Kalamata olives chopped
2 Tablespoons capers, chopped
1/2 Cup chopped artichoke hearts
1/4 Cup diced red onion  (I use Pickled Red Onions)
2-inch piece of preserved lemon, minced into oblivion  (optional)
(or just use the zest of a lemon)

Other possible additions:
cooked broccoli florets
fresh raw corn off the cob
raw cucumber, seeded and diced
chopped fresh parsley
chopped fresh spinach

Optional Garnishes:
1 avocado, diced
1 large garden tomato, cut up and salted
toasted pine nuts

DIRECTIONS
Make dressing and pour into a large bowl.  Drain and rinse beans and set them aside.   As you chop ingredients, add them to the dressing so they start to marinate.  Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain pasta and add to the dressing bowl.  With a wooden spoon, mix all bowl ingredients.  Fold the beans in gently.  If not serving right away, store in refrigerator.  Let salad come to room temperature before serving.  Garnish before serving, with fresh tomatoes, or avocado, toasted pine nuts, etc.

Notes:   Use smaller pastas, such as penne or fusilli, etc.  If you want to add broccoli florets (fresh or frozen), blanch them for two minutes in simmering water, and then rinse under cold water in a colander.  If you want to add fresh garden tomatoes, add just before serving (do not chill the tomatoes).  If using avocado, add just before serving (so it doesn’t turn brown).  Trader Joe’s has good artichoke hearts in a jar.  I make about a pint of Preserved Lemon once a year and then it’s on hand.

Pasta With Vegetables in Wine and Saffron Cream Sauce

Inspired by Crunchy Pappardelle by Yotam Ottolenghi, this elegant pasta is versatile.  You can substitute whatever vegetables you have in the fridge.  Using some French technique, this is also a great little exercise in sauce making, but don’t be intimidated; it’s simple.  We’re using coconut milk creamer instead of heavy cream, but don’t worry, it does not taste like coconut.  I’ve added some toasted pine nuts for a little added protein, flavor and texture, but some other type of nuts or even cooked or canned cannelini beans would be great here too.

Pasta With Vegetables
   in Wine and Saffron Cream Sauce

Serves 2-4

INGREDIENTS
Pinch of saffron (a pinch is 1/16th of a teaspoon, be sparing or it will taste odd)
1/4 Cup pine nuts, toasted (or some other chopped nuts)
3 Tablespoons Panko (no more)
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot or two small shallots, finely diced (or finely diced onion)
3 Cups of fresh broccoli florets,  cut to bite-size pieces and ready to saute.
1/2 Cup white wine
1 dried Bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme, or 2 sprigs chopped fresh thyme, stems removed
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon corn starch
2/3 Cup So Delicious Original Coconut Milk Creamer
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
grated zest of one organic lemon
1 small garlic clove, pressed, or crushed and chopped
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, stems removed
pasta for 2-4 people

DIRECTIONS
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
Blanch the broccoli florets in the boiling salted water for two minutes.
Using tongs or a spider strainer, remove the florets to a colander and drain them, keeping your hot water in the pot as you will use it to cook the pasta.
In a small dish, place saffron in two Tablespoons of water and set aside.
In a large skillet over medium heat, toast the nuts until you see a bit of color on them, or smell a toasty aroma.
Remove the nuts from the skillet and then in the same pan, toast the panko until golden, stirring occasionally.
Remove the panko from the pan and then heat the oil in the same skillet over medium heat.
Saute chopped shallots in the hot oil until they soften.
To the shallots, add the wine, bay leaf, thyme and sugar.
Boil wine sauce gently until liquid is reduced by half.
In a very small dish, add the corn starch to 2 Tablespoons of the creamer and stir to create a smooth slurry.
Add the slurry and the remaining creamer to the wine sauce, and stir until thickened.
Add salt, pepper, and saffron/water to the wine sauce, and remove from heat.
Mix together the lemon zest, garlic and parsley.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook it.
When the pasta is just ready, add the blanched broccoli to the cream sauce and warm it over low heat.
Reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water, drain the pasta.
Add half of the parsley mixture to the cream sauce.
Add the drained pasta to the cream sauce.
If the pasta and sauce seem a bit dry, add some of the reserved pasta water.
Transfer to serving platter.
Stir the remaining parsley mixture into the panko and sprinkle over the pasta dish.
Scatter nuts over all.
Serve immediately.

Notes:  The key to this dish is prep–get everything washed, measured, chopped and ready to add to the pan.  To reheat, just put a couple of Tablespoons of water in a dry skillet, add the leftovers and stir to heat, adding water by the Tablespoon if necessary.  If using a vegetable like red bell pepper or mushrooms, you can saute that with the shallots.  I suppose you could use frozen broccoli florets too!

Vegan Pumpkin Gnocchi with Chanterelles and Sage

Rolling gnocchi off an antique butter paddle.  The whimper in the background is my dog Ipo letting me know it’s time for her mid-morning snack, not kidding.

I veganized this recipe from an old Martha Stewart show.  You can watch the video here.  The famous chef says this recipe is hundreds of years old.  I had never made gnocchi before and this combination sounded so good.  And, it is.  There’s a line in one of the Isabel Dalhousie novels where she says something like, “I think chanterelles just elevate a dish, don’t you?”  They sure do, and their golden color and flavor are so simpatico with the pumpkin and this time of year.  It wasn’t hard to veganize this.  I lightened it up by substituting cheesy (and vitamin packed) Nutritional Yeast for the parmigiana, and then used rich soy creamer and vegetable stock.  I also couldn’t see using two Tablespoons of salt.   One thing I ran into was that I needed a lot of bench flour, like more than an extra cup of it.  The dough was so sticky.  Watching the video helped, and I noticed that the chef used a lot of bench flour too.  I had never cooked with sage leaves in this way before, and was surprised at how wonderful and mild the flavor was.  With the golden chanterelles and the squash flavors, it was like a little Fall symphony!  p.s.  My gnocchi look a bit clumsy, but they taste great.  There are also some good videos on youtube where they show the old method of rolling the gnocchi off a fork to get the sauce-catching ridges in them.  Like this one.  These gnocchi freeze very well too.

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Mushrooms

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS
1 small sugar pumpkin (1.5 to 2 lbs.), stem removed, halved lengthwise and seeded  (or use my easier baked pumpkin method) (I bake two un-cut pumpkins since I’ve got my oven going)
2 Cups “00”  (zero zero) flour, plus more for work surface (or all-purpose flour, which is what I used)
2 teaspoons fine sea salt in the flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt in the water
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, plus more for serving
1/2 Cup Nutritional Yeast
2 Tablespoons vegan butter (Earth Balance Buttery Stick)
2 shallots, finely chopped
20 medium chanterelle mushrooms, well rinsed, and sliced or trimmed
6 fresh sage leaves
1 Cup vegetable stock (I like Better Than Bouillon stock base, some are vegan)
1 Cup soy creamer  (I used Silk brand)
1 teaspoon dry sherry (totally optional)

DIRECTIONS
Use my easier baked pumpkin method, or do the following:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Place pumpkin halves, cut side up, on baking sheet and fill each with one Tablespoon of water.
Cover with foil.
Transfer to oven and roast until soft, about 45 minutes.  Let cool.
Scrape pumpkin flesh from skin, and discard skin.
I like to puree my pumpkin flesh now.
Reserve 1/4 Cup of pumpkin puree (for the sauce).

Mound flour in center of a large work surface; add 2 teaspoons salt and the nutmeg. Using a fork, mix until well combined.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture.
Add up to 2 cups pumpkin and the Nutritional Yeast to the well.
Slowly incorporate flour, beginning with inner rim of well.
Note;  I used another whole cup of bench flour to get rid of extreme stickiness.
When flour is incorporated, gather dough together to form a rounded mass; knead mixture until smooth, 3 to 4 minutes.
Divide dough into 6 equal pieces.
Roll each piece of dough into a cylinder about 1 inch in diameter; cut into 1/2-inch-long pieces.  My knife kept sticking to the dough, so I switched to a plastic pastry scraper and it worked great for cutting the gnocchi.
Transfer gnocchi to a baking sheet and cover with a clean, wet/damp towel.
Repeat process until all the dough has been used.

Bring 6 quarts water to a boil in a large pot over high heat.
Add last teaspoon of salt to water, and return to a boil.
Add gnocchi and cook until they rise to the top, about 4 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over high heat and add butter and shallots.
Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking until shallots are golden.
Add stock, mushrooms and sage; cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes.
Add 1/4 cup pumpkin, vegan creamer, and cook, stirring, about 1 minute.
If you want to, you can add an extra Tablespoon of Nutritional Yeast here.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to skillet and toss to combine.
Serve immediately with freshly grated nutmeg.
Everyone can season with salt and pepper at table.

Notes:  You can make the pumpkin a day ahead, as I did.   Note that once you begin to add the mushrooms, sage, etc., the sauce should be done in a couple of minutes.  If you overcook it at that point, it sort of turns into a loose pumpkin puree, instead of a creamy sauce.  I was surprised at how pleasant and mild the sage leaves were.  The second time I made it, I put the mushrooms in a couple of minutes earlier, and added 1 teaspoon of dry sherry, and we really liked it.  Be sure to rinse the chanterelles really well as they can have teensy bits of grit in them.  You could use cheaper mushrooms, but now that we’ve tasted the chanterelles in this dish, I wouldn’t even make it without them.  Their golden meaty flavor is just perfect here.  These gnocchi freeze very well.

Candle Cafe Tofu Spinach Ravioli (frozen dinner)

I found this at Whole Foods very recently, and took a chance on it.  I was home alone at lunch today and decided to try it.  And . . . it’s delicious.  I used to eat those little frozen ravioli meals sometimes, before i went vegan.  I’d dress them up with chopped olives or whatever, for a quick lunch that wasn’t too fattening.  This Candle Cafe Vegan Tofu Spinach Ravioli in Classic Tomato Sauce tastes so much better than those big brand frozen meals ever did.  What surprised me most was the creamy cheesy-ness of it.  I want to go to the famous Candle Cafe and Candle 79 restaurants in NYC someday, and I’ve tried some of their recipes with success, but I was still surprised at how good this was, being that it is a frozen entree.  Next time I go to Whole foods, I’ll get this one again, and maybe also the Seitan Piccata with Lemon Caper Sauce, or the Ginger Miso Stir Fry.  I’ve got the Macaroni & Vegan Cheese in the freezer, and can’t wait to try that one of these days.  This ravioli dish has 11 grams of protein, and lots of organic ingredients.  I’m sold.  Now if we could just our Whole Foods in Annapolis to carry the Candle Cafe dessert products too.

Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Pasta

Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Penne Pasta is just one of those simple products that’s a good thing.  Wheat Free, Cholesterol Free, Sodium Free, AND Organic!  I’m not gluten free, but also think we could use a bit less wheat in our diet when there’s a good alternative.  The ingredients are organic brown rice and water.  I’ve tried some whole-wheat pastas and we weren’t crazy about them.  Some were tough or became tough once they sat a few minutes.  One cup of this pasta (cooked) provides 4 grams of protein and some iron.  This one-pound bag provides 8 servings and costs $1.99.  We just hope Trader Joe’s in Annapolis will also supply the  fusilli, and not just the penne.  And we hope Trader Joe’s will also make small elbow macaroni for vegan macaroni and cheese!

Vegan Macaroni Pasta Salad

This is a good, creamy Pasta Salad that would be great for a picnic or BBQ.  It’s easy and doesn’t take too long to make.  You can put any spin on this recipe that you like, and you can double it for a crowd.  p.s.  I think I grated my carrot a little too finely, because it’s not showing up well in this photo.

VEGAN MACARONI SALAD,  PASTA SALAD

Serves:  at least 8, am not really sure yet

INGREDIENTS
2 Cups uncooked macaroni noodles  (I like Field Day organic pastas)
1/2 Cup vegan mayonnaise (I like Reduced Fat Vegenaise with the yellow lid)
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar (yes, it does make a difference)
2 Tablespoons Dijon smooth mustard
2 Tablespoons sweet relish
1 level teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast (not brewer’s yeast)
1 stalk celery, very finely diced
1/2 of a red bell pepper, very finely diced
1/2 of a small red onion, very finely diced (I used my pickled onion)
1/2 of a medium to large carrot, very finely grated
Optional additions could include a pinch of turmeric, a pinch of Old Bay Seasoning or celery salt, and a finish dusting of paprika.

DIRECTIONS
Bring the pasta water to a boil.  Add a pinch of salt and the macaroni and cook according to package directions, for about 7 minutes or until al dente.  Rinse in cold water, drain, and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the vegan mayo, sugar, vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, nutritional yeast, sweet relish and any other spices.  Add celery, carrot, red bell pepper and onion to the bowl, and mix.

Add the drained macaroni and combine gently but fully.  This is best chilled in the fridge for a few hours before serving.  Can be made the day before!

Note:  If you want this to taste like a Pennsylvania Amish macaroni salad, double the sugar.  Double this recipe to serve “a large crowd.”

Tomato Sauce

This tomato sauce is all over the internet.  It’s adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan.  I first made this in February, and what it taught me is that it’s super easy to make a really nice sauce without buying inferior-tasting bottled stuff that has additives. You can dress this any way you like, but it’s great as it is.

I use organic tomatoes (you can find them in most regular grocery stores now).  Quite a few bloggers have raved over this recipe, so I emailed it to my amazing friend Laurel on Kauai, and she replied that it was fantastic.  Enough of a recommendation for me!  So, with a 28 oz. can of tomatoes, one onion, and some pasta, you can make a lovely lunch or supper.  I served this to our friends Jim and Jan, and Jan commented that the tomato sauce tasted so fresh.  That’s what it tastes like, in a nutshell; it doesn’t taste like it comes from a can, and it’s got the subtle, delicate umami of the unmasked tomatoes.  The simplest version of the original recipe that I could find is here on epicurious.  All I did was switch out the butter for Earth Balance, and it still did have that buttery taste.  I reduced the fat in half as i just couldn’t see five whopping Tablespoons of butter in only one can of tomatoes.  Also, I have a problem with throwing away an onion, just couldn’t do it.  In fact throwing away an onion seems to be slightly bizarre behavior, and possibly a mortal sin.  So, I diced the onion and kept every bit of it in the sauce.  And yes, it is delicious, and simple, and quick to make.  I like to add some Trader Joe’s Meatless Meatballs into the pot with the sauce, for some extra protein.  Afterthought;  OK, OK, I guess for picky little ones, you could just cut the onion in half and then remove it at the end, as the original recipe calls for, but don’t tell me about it.
******************************************************************
Vegan Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onions 

Serves:  4 as a main course, at least.

INGREDIENTS
-28 ounces whole peeled tomatoes from a can (San Marzano tomatoes are suggested but I don’t worry about this as long as they’re organic)
-2 tablespoons Earth Balance
-1 medium-sized yellow onion, peeled and halved (I chop mine fine)
-Salt to taste

DIRECTIONS
Put tomatoes, onion and butter in a heavy saucepan (it fit well in a 3-quart) over medium heat.
Bring sauce to simmer, then lower heat to low, to keep the sauce at a slow simmer for about 30 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free of the tomatoes.
Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon.
Remove from heat, add salt to taste and keep warm while you prepare your pasta.

Serve with pasta of your choice, with or without grated vegan parmesan cheese to pass, but, it’s better plain.  For pasta, I like penne, or vermicelli, or capellini. 

I’ve also made this with crushed tomatoes (which saved the crushing of the tomatoes in the pot), and another time with a can of tomato puree, because it was all I had.  Both of these also worked well, despite having slightly less texture.   Note:  The leftovers are great for meatball subs!

Pesto Sauce

My good friend Jan told me she plants her basil seeds at the end of June, so that the basil is ready for harvest when the tomatoes are ripe.  If you have a little patch of soil, you’d be amazed at how easy basil is to grow.  You simply scratch the seeds into the soil, and voila, come August and September, you’ll have an embarrassment of basil.  I first tried pesto only six years ago, at a little Italian place in South Kensington called Dino’s.  The food was okay at Dino’s but the pesto was a revelation to me.  So when I came home from Europe, I decided to try making pesto, did some reading and came up with a basic recipe.  It was so good that I have never bought pesto in a jar.  Now that I’m vegan, I wondered how my pesto would be this summer without the parmigiano.  I’m relieved to say, it’s wonderful!  The toasted pine nuts already have a cheesy taste to them, and then adding a bit of nutritional yeast did the trick.   Nowadays, there are lots of pesto recipes that skip the blanching.  I do it because it sets the color and because, when you’re picking basil from the garden, there will be a few tiny bugs or caterpillars in it.  One last note is that I see online recommendations to add a bit of parsley in with the basil leaves, because supposedly the chlorophyll in the parsley helps the basil from turning black.  I just haven’t found this to be a problem since I blanch the leaves, but hey, a little parsley never hurt anyone.  I made a bit too much pasta here, so your finished dish might be a bit more green in color than this, hopefully.  Either way, it’s all good.
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Vegan Pesto Sauce

INGREDIENTS
1/2 C pine nuts toasted
1/4 C Nutritional Yeast (not brewers yeast)
2-3 C packed fresh basil leaves
¼ t salt
2 garlic cloves
2 T olive oil,  plus 1T olive oil

DIRECTIONS
-Toast pine nuts under broiler, and set aside to cool
– Fill a metal sauce pan half full with water and set on medium heat
-Pick basil leaves (cut about 5 branches from the mother plant)
-Sort through basil leaves, discarding any that don’t look good
(use as many small leaves as you can)
-Enjoy the spicy cinnamon scent of fresh basil as you pluck the leaves
– Fill a small mixing bowl half full with ice water
-When water is simmering, blanch basil leaves for about 10 seconds
-Use a spider ladle or slotted spoon to lift leaves,
and scrape leaves into ice water

-Into food processor, add toasted nuts and salt and crushed garlic.
-Process about a minute.
-Gently squeeze basil leaves to remove most of water (not all).
-Add squeezed basil leaves to garlic/nut mixture, process another minute.
-Add 2 T of the olive oil and continue processing until smooth, another 2 min.
-Scrape pesto into a cereal bowl.
-Stir the nutritional yeast into the bowl, adding the last 1T of olive oil now.
-Mix well.

It’s fine to let this chill for a couple of hours or until next day, or divide and/or freeze now.

If serving now:
Boil pasta and drain, reserving a ladle or two of the hot pasta water.
Add a ladle of hot pasta water to the pesto and stir well to blend.
Gently toss hot pesto with hot pasta until well mixed.
Serve.

NOTE: You can substitute raw walnuts in equal measure for the pine nuts.

Pesto keeps, its surface covered with plastic wrap, chilled, for a few days. 

Serves:  Makes two one-third-cup measures of pesto, enough for four big plates of pesto pasta, or more smaller side dishes.  Since I’m usually cooking for two, I freeze half of the pesto for a winter’s day.  I like to use fine spaghetti, vermicelli or capellini, or even angel hair.

Macaroni and Cheese

For some, a good vegan mac and cheese is like the Holy Grail.  Maybe it’s because cheese is the hardest thing for many people to give up.  Not surprising, since cheese has opiates in it that are designed to bring the baby calf back to the mama cow.  Yes, the milk in cheese is for baby cows, not humans.  Nowadays, some recovering opiate addicts are even advised not to eat cheese and other dairy.  When VegNews magazine claimed they had the best mac ‘n’ cheese on the planet, I cut out the recipe.  However, i also had a  recipe from the little cookbook Skinny Bitch in The Kitch, called “Macaroni and Four Cheeses.”  So, I wavered between the two recipes, wondering which one to try.  The recommendation on the Skinny B. recipe was very strong, but I won’t quote it here.  And looking at the ingredients, I could tell it was kind of a brilliant recipe, because they use frozen butternut squash puree to help give that neon orange glow we all used to know and love (admit it).  Now, i don’t have four different vegan cheeses in my cupboard, and this recipe made way too much, so I made just a few minor changes, and DANG it’s good.  And the best part is that it was even better the next day!  I think we’ve all reheated the gloppy, congealed mess that is leftover Macaroni and Cheese.  Looking at it is a metaphor for what it does to your arteries, not to mention all the animals that suffer horribly so we can have a bit of gunk. If you haven’t read the best seller Skinny Bitch, then you need to, because  IT  WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!  Don’t let the title put you off, it’s deceptive.  This is actually a deep and serious book cloaked in a somewhat-offensive kitschy title.  There’s also a male version of this powerful little book.  I halved the recipe (but not the topping) and changed some other amounts too.

VEGAN MAC AND CHEESE

Serves 6-8 (depending upon if you’re serving women and girls, or men and boys)

INGREDIENTS
1 T fine sea salt, plus 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 pound whole wheat or brown rice elbow macaroni
1 10 oz. pkg. organic frozen butternut squash puree, such as Cascadian Farms
1 C soy or rice milk  (I use the 8 oz. boxes for cooking)
3 oz. Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds (approx. 3/4 Cup)
2 oz. (about 1/4 C) vegan cream cheese
3/4 tsp powdered mustard
1/16th tsp cayenne powder

TOPPING
1/4 C whole wheat bread crumbs  (equal to one slice Ezekiel bread)
2 Tbsp vegan parmesan cheese, such as Go Veggie brand (optional)  (could substitute Nutritional Yeast here)
1 Tbsp oil, such as safflower or canola

DIRECTIONS
Pulse and grind 2 slices of healthy bread to fine crumbs.    Preheat oven to 375 F.  Grease or spray a casserole dish (1.5 to 2 qt. size).    Add 1 T salt to a pot of water and cook pasta according to directions,  drain and set aside.

In a medium-sized saucepan, over medium heat, combine frozen squash puree and milk, stirring until squash is defrosted.    Bring squash and milk mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally.    Remove squash mixture from heat, whisk in vegan cheeses, spices and the remaining 1/2 tsp salt, until smooth.

Return drained pasta to its pot,  and stir cheese sauce into macaroni.    Transfer macaroni/cheese mixture into buttered casserole dish.    In a cereal bowl, combine bread crumbs, parmesan and 1 Tbsp oil.    Sprinkle bread crumb topping over top of macaroni and cheese.    Place casserole dish on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes.    Then broil for 2-3 minutes until top is nicely browned.  Don’t walk away here, don’t burn it.

Eat and have flashbacks from your childhood, only better.  I like to chop up some garden tomatoes and sprinkle them with a teensy bit of fine sea salt.  Top with hot mac and cheese.  The next day, you can reheat the casserole dish in a 300 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca is a classic dish named for um . . . , ok we won’t go there.  Anyhoo, it’s so good with ripe garden tomatoes and a grind of sea salt on top.  A great thing to make when there’s not a lot in the pantry.  If you want to make it for less than four people, simply cut down on the capellini or vermicelli, as I do.  I prefer something thinner than spaghetti.  Also, any leftover cooked greens can be thrown in here too, but they’re not necessary.  Green olives can be substituted in a pinch, no sweat.

VEGAN SPAGHETTI ALLA PUTTANESCA

Serves 4 to 6

INGREDIENTS
1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed or minced
2 ounces or more Kalamata black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon coarsely chopped capers
2 large well-ripened tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 pound spaghetti  (or vermicelli or capellini)  (less if only for two people)
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
For the sauce:  place the olive oil in a frying pan and add the minced garlic.  When garlic is golden (don’t burn it), add olives, capers and tomatoes.  Stir well and heat through for about 6 minutes.

Cook the pasta al dente and drain it.  Put pasta in bowl and add half the sauce.  Toss well.  Add remaining sauce and sprinkle on the parsley with some salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot.