Ok – it’s time to get into the extra-cheesy holiday recipes. Really, I just wanted to post a recipe for Vodka Sauce, but perfecting the vodka…(sauce) recipe, combined with a couple of rounds of Santa Claus, Go Straight to the Ghetto on Christmas Day, we are now well into the Harlem Holiday Spirit!
Baked Manicotti with Kale for 4
- 1/2 recipe Vodka Sauce
- 8 large leaves curly leaf kale
- 8 fresh manicotti (I used fresh, store-bought)
- 1 t. olive oil
- 1t. white balsamic vinegar
- Pinch of salt
Prepare the Vodka Sauce.
Prepare manicotti if making from scratch (ok, I promise a recipe for this some day. In the meantime, see what your local Italian deli has available. Stuffed shells would be awesome here too).
Wash and dry kale, and cut the rib off each leaf. Toss in a bowl with olive oil, vinegar and a light sprinkle of salt and massage lightly to coat. Partially wrap each manicotti in the seasoned kale leaves, leaving to top edge bare. Patching a few leaves together here is fine – try to get a lot of the nice frilly leaves top-side since these get wonderfully crunchy when they bake.
Lightly coat baking dish with olive oil and cover bottom with a thick layer of sauce. Arrange kale-wrapped manicotti in dish and spoon remaining sauce carefully over bare manicotti’s, leaving the edges to peek out a bit.
Lightly cover top with aluminum foil (do not tuck in). Bake for 30 – 35 minutes in 350° oven, until manicottis are hot through, sauce is bubbling, and kale is crunchy but still green.
This is probably my all time favorite pasta sauce, taught to me over 20 years ago by my dear friend Silvia Pavani, one of the best cooks I have ever met. I am eternally grateful to her for infusing me with the joy and passion for great pasta (and great coffee!)
This recipe has probably deviated quite a bit over the years, since I just wing it every time I make it now. I was encouraged by Silvia’s own adventuresome spirit – she made this sauce without finishing it with heavy cream, as is traditional. She said it simply “wasn’t necessary” and I think she was spot on. I have never had a better Vodka sauce, and it’s easily made vegan.
It is a nostalgic recipe for me, full of old times and dear friends. It is a sauce full of love and memories. And recently I had the absolute pleasure of making it for my dad’s older brother, my Uncle Warren – an avid pasta fan who’s total delight in every bite made the recipe even sweeter. This one’s for you Uncle Warren!
(Pasta alla) Vodka Sauce
- 2 medium onions
- 1/2 cup water, plus more as needed
- 1/2 cup Vodka (split)
- 1/4 c butter (or substitute olive oil)
- 3 T olive oil
- pinch or two red pepper flakes
- 1/2 t salt
- 1 large (28 oz) can diced or whole tomatoes (Use high quality like Muir Glen)
- 1/4 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Prepare the Vodka Sauce:
In a large, heavy skillet, melt butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add a pinch or two of red chile flakes and fry for a split second before pouring onion puree into the pan. Add salt and mix well to combine. Cook over medium heat for 10- 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all the water is evaporated and onion puree is mild and sweet. Do not brown. When the onions start to noticeably fry (listen to them!) after 7- 8 minutes and look like a paste,- then add a splash of water (2 T), stir to deglaze the pan, and let cook down some more. Hover, stir, let cook, taste, add water, let cook, hover, stir…I do this 3 – 4 times, depending on the sharpness of the onions. Be attentive and do not skimp on this step – the flavor and sweetness of the onions carries the whole sauce. It will take about 10 – 20 minutes.
When all the water is cooked out and the onion paste is very sweet and has lost it’s bite, it is time to add the tomatoes: do this by reaching into the can with one hand and grabbing handfuls of diced or whole tomatoes and crushing them BY HAND, squishing them though your fingers into the bubbling onions. (Don’t ask me why this makes it taste good, but it does).
Hold back on adding in the juice until all the tomatoes are in the sauce: saute the tomato pulp for a minute, then add in juice from the can. Stir and cook over medium-high heat for about 4-5 minutes – this part goes quick. Taste and adjust for salt (you can use 1/4 – 1/2 t more here) If you are using good tomatoes, the sauce should be sweet enough, but add 1/2 t of maple syrup or coconut sugar if there is any hint of acidity left at this stage.
Turn off heat and add remaining 1/4 c vodka to pan. Stir well. The idea here is that MOST of the alcohol in the vodka will burn off with the heat of the sauce, but some of it will sneak into your tomato chunks and just make them indescribably yummy. Do not simmer this sauce to keep it warm – if you need to wait on the pasta, keep the sauce off the flame until the very last minute, then heat briefly just before serving.
I use this sauce in a number of recipes, including Baked Manicotti with Kale. But my favorite basic go-to pasta recipe is…
Pasta ala Vodka (for 4)
- 1 pound high quality pasta*
- High quality sea or other high-mineral salt
- Splash of olive oil
Somewhere around the time you start to cook the onions, get your pasta water going. Bring water to a rolling boil in a large pot and SALT IT WELL – it should be briny like the ocean. Please do this. It sounds simple and I know we American’s get fed all sorts of anti-salt propaganda, but trust me – well-salted water is the secret to great pasta. And great pasta is good for the soul.
Cook pasta al dente and drain immediately, return to pot and add a splash of olive oil to it. Toss in the pot to coat pasta in olive oil. If you salted the pasta water well, the pasta should be good enough to eat at this stage without any sauce at all.
Add sauce. 🙂 Toss briefly, adding grated Parmesan if using.
Serve immediately with extra Parmesan on the side. Buon Appetito!
*A Note on Pasta: I have recently been experimenting with gluten free pastas, and have found that the Tinkyada brown rice pastas are great. Feeding a regular crowd? Don’t tell anyone… they will never know.
How could I say no to that? Even though I have been in Spain for less than a week, and I am still living from a suitcase more or less camping out in a house strewn with unpacked furniture…and even though I only have a few weeks to get settled and get the new retreat center kitchen together, equipment purchased, people organized, supplies ordered…
How could I say no? So we walked through the olive orchard (we have 350 trees!), over the neighboring wheat fields and to the god-only-knows-how-old crumbling ruin to which I look out upon from my bedroom window each morning. They call it The Convent. It is huge and roofless, with arched windows in the tower that look out over miles of surrounding countryside, including our property, Villamartin, Prado del Rey, and Arcos de la Frontera, a few the famous Andalusian white villages.
Inside, the entire ruin is completely full of waste-deep dark green stinging nettles! Armed with (almost-thick-enough) gloves, we harvest the lovely, giant, tender nettle leaves from the one shady corner, carefully picking just the leaves. Nettle flowers contain an irritant to the urinary tract, but the leaves and stems are surprisingly rich in protein (up to 25% dry weight) and full of iron, potassium, manganese, calcium, as well as vitamins A and C. Steamed, they are very tasty… like a soft, rich, extra-green tasting spinach.
Krishana, who I come to understand is a bit of a celebrity gardener on Martha’s Vineyard, has taken it upon herself to create a giant organic vegetable garden for the Suryalila Retreat Center kitchen. In the two months since I was last here, has miraculously transformed about an acre of what looked to be hopelessly barren, rocky, dry soil into rows and rows of sprouting, peeking, microgreen potential! I mean, we are talking about rows of tatsoi, mizuna, spicy braising mixes, 3 or 4 types of kale, chioggia and bull’s blood beets… (wait – is that even vegetarian?). We are planting huge amounts of crazy gourmet vegetables, flowers, and herbs- some of which I have never worked with so I can’t wait until they all come up!
I have to say that Krishana is also the kind of person who is super fun, and who will always be getting you into trouble. I have known her for two days and already I know this – yesterday we were chased around by the local supermarket police, got almost lost several times trying to find our way back from town, and arrived back and the kitchen at 7pm which is when I should have had dinner finished. And now we are climbing through barbed wire fences to get to the elusive nettle patch when we are probably both supposed to be doing something more responsible… how great is that!
So yes, I am finally here in Andalusia Spain! I will be here for 6 months to a year to start, setting up the Suryalila kitchen, cooking, blogging and, I suspect, soon embarking on a crash course in organic gardening. The property already has loads of fruit trees (lemons, tangerines, figs, cherry, peaches, apricots, quince and the Sevilla oranges) not to mention loads of olive trees and some almond trees, which are just starting to blossom. And now Krishana has planted almost an acre of organic vegetables which should take care of most of our veggie needs for most of the year. If not… well, there just happens to be an organic farming collective just 15 minutes away. Folks, we are going to eat well this year, so if you have ever harbored any fantasies about roaming the Andalusian countryside, picking oranges and almonds off the trees, drinking good (cheap!) Spanish wine, maybe doing a little yoga or horseback riding…all while enjoying amazingly fresh local organic gourmet cuisine… you might think about coming for a visit to Suryalila while I am here.
So, in celebration of our almost 1/4 acre of newly planted potatoes and to continue the gnocchi theme, here is recipe for potato gnocchi – the all day, even-though-it’s-not-Saturday type. We started with over 5 kg of potatoes, and after feeding a very enthusiastic crowd of 10, I have enough frozen for at least one more meal, maybe two. This recipe I adapted from Michael Chiarello’s potato gnocchi recipe, because it seemed to have a higher ratio of eggs than most. Did I mention that the fruit orchard is also a huge chicken yard, housing nearly 100 birds – chicken, geese, turkeys, and peacocks? We are now bringing about two dozen eggs a day, and because I don’t use a lot of eggs or dairy in my cooking, they are starting to pile up. (My new challenge this year with be in managing abundance!)
So here is a great potato gnocchi recipe, to which I added the bounty of our our wild nettle harvest, with the result being the most lovely plump little green flecked dumplings you could ever imagine. Delicious and totally worth the work!
Wild Nettle Gnocchi for about 24
- 10 pounds potatoes
- 2 -3 cups coarse or kosher salt (not a typo)
- 15 egg yolks
- 5 cups all purpose flour
- 4 cups fresh nettle leaves, without stems or seeds
- Freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 425°
Blanch the nettles in about an inch of generously salted water. Drain, cool, squeeze dry and chop coarsely.
Wash and bake the potatoes on a layer of course salt for 45 minutes or so until very tender, then peel the potatoes while still hot, being careful not to get too much salt into the whites. You can save the salt to use in the next batch. Press the potatoes through a mill or grate, (or mash by hand if you are ok with something a bit more rustic and lumpy – this is what I did and it was great). Taste for salt and add some if they don’t taste like… well, mashed potatoes. I found that after the salt baking and messy peeling process I did not need to add any more salt, but you are probably a neater cook than I am.
If the potatoes are still screaming hot, spread out to cool a bit so the yolks don’t cook, then, using a fork, gently work the eggs yolks into the warm but not hot potatoes, cutting them in and keeping it all as fluffy as you can. Dump a couple cups of flour on a worktable, top with your potato mixture and gently work in most of the flour, using your knuckles and hands to gently work and fold it in, (without really kneading it though). Scatter the chopped nettles over the dough and gently fold in a few times to partially integrate, leaving it a bit flecky. It’s nice to have bits of green here and there.
You may not need all the flour here, and you may need a bit more, but go for less if possible. This part is really “by feel” and its a great feeling so enjoy it! You should have something that is just barely a dough, and that you can roll into ropes as long as it is very well covered in flour. Split the dough into 4 pieces, and pat each piece into a 1 inch think rectangle. Slice 1 inch pieces off and roll them between your palms into 1/2 inch ropes, then cut again into 1 inch logs. You can leave these as little dumplings, or roll them off a fork, Italian Granny style…
Keep in a single layer on a well floured sheet-pan until ready to cook or freeze. If you are freezing, just put the whole pan in the freezer and bag up the gnocchi when frozen solid.
Cook gnocchi in small batches in boiling salted water for 1 -2 minutes after they bob to the surface of the pot. Drain well and toss in a pan with very good olive oil or butter and a little Parmesan, salt, and pepper, or serve with your favorite sauce.
About halfway through the process, I realized I had someone who did not eat wheat, but luckily I had a bit of potato left over so so I whipped together a gluten free gnocchi using rice flour. It worked amazingly well! Makes me want to try with corn flour, spelt, etc…
Gluten Free Wild Nettle Gnocchi for 2
- 2 cups salt-baked, mashed potatoes (see above)
- 1 cup rice flour
- 1 large egg plus 1 yolk
- 1/4 cup cooked, squeezed and chopped nettles (see above)
- pinch of salt if necessary
Make gnocchi as show above, but don’t worry about overworking the dough… you can’t. These will be a bit more delicate to cook, so its best to keep them in a simple log or pillow shape, rather than rolling them off the fork which makes them want to fall apart. Enjoy!
Besides being really fun to say, and sort of mind-boggling to spell, gnocchi are really super fun to make. And, apparently, you can make them with pretty much anything. This winter, after years of being intimidated by the process but drawn to the allure of these puffy little dumplings, I finally decided to tackle them and pulled out my mom’s old fashioned potato mill from the pantry….
I started with what looked most legitimate – the über fussy potato ones from Nancy Silverton’s gorgeous new Mozza Cookbook. Because I am incapable of following a recipe verbatim, (even my own), and because I wanted to try making them using white whole wheat flour instead of white all-purpose, I second-guessed the recipe and added about 1/2 cup less flour than she calls for.
They were incredibly delicious – maybe one of the the most delicious potato things I have ever put in my mouth. But they were also almost too delicate, and could have used more flour in them for a bit more bite…(probably exactly what the recipe called for). Making potato gnocchi is really a project and the Mozza recipes are great – very detailed and wonderfully specific – so rather than trying to re-post my only slightly modified version of that recipe*, I am going to recommend that you get that book, which is loaded with other inspiring veggie recipes, and devote an entire Saturday afternoon to the Potato Gnocchi Gods as I did. It’s wonderfully satisfying.
On the other end of the spectrum – for everyday life – there is ricotta gnocchi, which are so ridiculously quick and non-fussy to make that a dinner for two can be pulled together in about 30 minutes. Probably less. These are really a different creature than the potato ones, even if they look the same. Whipping these off the fork last night with the help of a somewhat ambivalent 12 year old was a whole different dimension from the Saturday mega-project, which was a dedication to art and love. The ricotta dough is definitely less silky and refined, and these gnocchi of course will not give you the Sublime Potato Experience (if you are prone to that sort of thing). Nonetheless, they are possibly even more fun to make because they can be made so easily and spontaneously, and they are unpretentious enough to really be dressed up with any funky old sauce, or none at all. They are amazingly tasty just as they are.
- 2 cups whole milk ricotta, (organic, grass fed if possible)
- 2 whole eggs
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan (use a microplane)
- 1/4 t salt
- 1/4 t white pepper
- freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour, plus 1/2 cup for shaping
- 3 T. butter, olive oil, or a mix
- 1 T minced fresh herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme, or a combo)
- 1 T freshly chopped Italian parsley
In a medium sized bowl, combine ricotta, eggs, 1 cup Parmesan cheese, nutmeg salt and pepper. Still to combine thoroughly. Add flour and mix lightly to combine. Dough will be very soft.
Dump out onto well floured board, turn over and fold over very gently a few times just to fully integrate dough. Separate into two balls and, taking turns, shape and flatten each one into a 1 inch thick rectangle. Using a clean knife, cut 1 inch strips from this and gently, on a well floured board, roll each one out into a 1/2 inch thick rope of dough.
Cut the rope into 1 inch “pillows” and, using your thumb on the back of a fork, gently roll each gnocchi off the fork tines, creating ridges on one side and a bit of an indentation on your thumb side. Don’t be afraid to be liberal with the flour. Or, you can just forget the fancy fork thing and do some rustic “loggy” ones or whatever you like. Try some fishes! Just make batches in relatively all the same size so that they will cook at the same time.
Repeat shaping the remaining gnocchi, dropping the finished ones on a floured baking sheet in a single layer. These can be frozen like this, to be bagged up after they freeze or cooked immediately.
To cook, bring a medium sized pan of salted water to a boil. (The rule for fantastic pasta of any kind is to make the water as salty as the ocean, and to use high quality grey, sea, or Himalayan salt to do this with. Trust me, it’s worth it). Cook the gnocchi in 2 – 4 batches at a time, for only about 2 – 3 minutes after they float to the surface. Alternately, you can skip the cooking and try just pan frying them, but I found them a bit lighter if you boil them first.
Drain with a slotted spoon or strainer, adding all the cooked gnocchi to your skillet before tossing quickly and giving a slight reheat in the herb-butter. Finish with a touch of coarse salt, freshly ground black pepper, and parsley, and top each serving with a bit of grated Parmesan.
*The white whole wheat flour works surprisingly well in gnocchi! Substitute 1:1 for all purpose in the recipes. It’s delicate and just slightly nutty which works great with the butter sauce, and you know…if you didn’t know, you wouldn’t know.
Last week I was working on the foodie section for a friend’s hilarious and brainy new website, PhilomobileInNaples.com, and I had the great pleasure of researching and writing about the origins of pasta and the pasta machine, much of which significantly happened in Naples.
Apparently, the first pasta machine on record was commissioned in the 1700’s by the King of Naples, Ferdinand II. Up until that time a “pasta maker” was someone who sat on a bench and kneaded the dough with his feet. (The term “maccaruni” in fact, means “made by dough by force”. )
Cesare Sapdaccini, this same genius engineer, is also credited with inventing the 4-pronged fork on behest of the Queen, who was reportedly embarrassed by the King eating pasta with his fingers. (Thus proving that the birth of civilization actually began in Naples…!)
To underscore that, Naples is also where Gelato, Pizza Margherita, and a wonderful Neapolitan custom called “Caffe Sospeso” was born:
Caffe sospeso literally means “coffee in suspense” and in old timey Neapolitan society it was a custom to order not one but two coffees at a time, one for you and one for someone else less fortunate. The order would be logged in the cafe’s book until someone else came in and inquired, at which point they would be graciously served.
Anyway, to read more pasta trivia (and mythology), check out La Storia di Pasta.
So, what do you do after spending a whole day reading about Neapolitan pasta? Make fresh pasta! How could I not? The egg pasta dough recipe is super easy and straight out of Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian cookbook,* and he also has a vegan version in there but I wanted the full “Crack-The-Eggs-Into-The-Flour-And-Mix-With-Your-Hands” Experience. (And besides, I was planning to top it with a very un-vegan fresh mozzarella, basil and tomatoes). So this is it.
Fresh Summer Pasta “Margherita” for 4
Prepare the Fresh Egg Pasta Dough:
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups unbleached flour
- 1 t salt
- 2 eggs
- 3 eggs yolks
Combine 1 1/2 cups flour and salt on a counter or large board. Make a well in the middle. Into this well, beak the eggs and yolks. Beat the eggs with a fork, slowly and gradually incorporating a little of the flour at a time. When it becomes too hard to stir with a fork, use your hands. When all the flour has been mixed in, knead the dough, pushing it against the board and folding it repeatedly until it is not at all sticky and quite stiff.
Sprinkle the dough with a little of the reserved flour and cover with plastic or a cloth: let it rest for about 30 minutes.
(Recipe Courtesy Mark Bittman)
(I actually let it rest for one hour, and it was still a bit tough to roll out thinly. But I might have gotten a bit overzealous in the kneading stage… it is a beautiful, silky dough – really satisfying to knead. I didn’t try it with my feet, but I was questioning how enlightened Mr. Sapdaccini really could be after all of that: why would anyone want to make pasta dough with a machine?)
Summer “Margherita Sauce” for Pasta
- 1/2 pound super fresh mozzarella, cut in 1″ cubes
- 1 cup sweet ripe cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
- 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, cut or torn
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 T capers
- freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 – 1/2 t salt, to taste
- 2 T freshly roasted pine nuts
In a medium sized serving bowl, combine all ingredients except salt and pine nuts, and let marinate together at room temperature while the pasta dough is resting and cooking.
Boil in salted water for just 2 – 3 minutes until tender but al dente. Drain and toss with Margherita mixture, and toasted pine nuts, adding salt to taste and drizzling with a bit more olive oil as needed.
Serve immediately, while the cheese is still cool and the pasta is hot. Enjoy!
*Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian has become my all purpose cookbook bible (really! It’s huge but I shlepped it all the way to Bali, and to Costa Rica before that. And you know what? It was the one cookbook that Tracy Morrisette – the chef I was working with in Costa Rica – had also brought with her from the States! Says something, I think). I rarely use recipes except for reference, but when you need a quick and reliable basic, like fresh pasta dough, or need to to know how many beans to soak to feed 40 people, this is the book to turn to.
Like the Raw Lasagna, my Raw Pad Thai recipe is also an adaptation from Russell James’ original recipe. (If you haven’t already – sign up for his email list to get the original emailed to you). This recipe is extremely flexible so use what you have on hand. I made this one with tahini because for some reason that is available here but also have made it with almonds, almond butter, and peanuts and it’s great. I used raw bok choy which I was lucky to find in the farmer’s market in Limon and love the combination of that with the arugula, but napa cabbage is great too, and of course if you can get mung bean sprouts (I can’t) then that would add a more Pad Thai touch to the recipe.
Young coconuts and tamarind are easily available in this part of Costa Rica, but you may have to do a bit of sleuthing to find them in your home town. Look for Tamarind Paste in your local Hispanic market (ask for Tamarindo) and both tamarind paste and young coconuts, or “white coconuts” can often be found in the produce section of Chinese or Southeast Asian markets, and in some high-end markets like Whole Foods. You can also ask your local health food store to order you a case of young coconuts – they come 9 to a box – and then cut them all open and freeze the meat and juice to have on hand all the time. I love young coconuts! This is just one of the many ways you can use them.
Raw Pad Thai “Noodles” and Vegetables – Serves 4
- 2 – 3 young coconuts
- 1 ½ cups arugula, torn into 3′ pieces
- 2 carrots, ribboned with a vegetable peeler
- 1/2 red bell pepper, julienned
- 4 cups young bok choy, sliced thin on diagonal
- 1 spring onions, sliced thin on diagonal
- 8 basil leaves, chiffonade
- 4 tablespoons cilantro, roughly chopped
Pad Thai Sauce
- 1 oz tamarind paste (or 2 dried apricots, one date, plus 1 T lemon juice)
- 3 T palm sugar, or coconut crystals, or sucanat
- 1 T red miso
- 1 t sesame oil (leave out if using nuts instead of tahini)
- 4 sundried tomato halves, soaked
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 t dulse flakes or kelp powder (optional)
- 1 teaspoons ginger
- 1 teaspoons garlic
- 1 tablespoon lime
- 1/2 jalepeno, seeded and minced
- 6 T tahini
Make Sauce: Combine all sauce ingredients in a Vitamix or other high speed blender and blend until smooth.
Prepare Noodles: Cut open the top of the coconuts with a large sturdy cleaver over a large bowl, being careful to capture the juice. (Use juice for another purpose… like drinking!) With the back of a spoon, gently work out large pieces of the white flesh from the inner shell. (If you are new to this, Dr Ralph gives a thorough video intro to coconut whacking here). Slice the meat of the coconut in to long, fettuccine-like pieces.
Assemble Pad Thai: In a large bowl, toss together all vegetables, reserving a pinch of basil and cilantro for garnish. Pour 1/2 sauce over vegetables and massage gently with your hands to coat well and soften vegetables. Add coconut noodles and toss gently, adding some or all of the remaining sauce to taste. Allow to sit for 1/2 – 1 hour to allow flavors to combine and serve with a sprinkle of herbs and a slice of lime.
By popular request, here is the “Raw Zucchini Lasagna” recipe, which, while made with raw zucchini instead of pasta, was not a totally raw dish only because the spinach in Costa Rica is too bitter to serve raw. This recipe is based on Russell James’ raw lasagna recipe, the original which can be found on therawchef.com for free when you subscribe his raw food tips. I really respect Russell James – if you are new to raw food I HIGHLY recommend his Raw Chef Academy Homestudy Course – his videos are very professional and well presented, and the recipes are consistently reliable and good. I don’t think anyone out there is educating on raw food as professionally as he is.
While this recipe has many different components, it is actually very easy to put together and extremely flexible. The nut layer can be made with soaked macadamia nuts or pine nuts instead of cashews, the spinach layer can be made all raw instead of cooked, or be replaced with any other vegetable layer, or eliminated completely. You can leave the mushroom part out of the mushroom nut layer, or do a raw version, or leave the nuts out, or eliminate that whole layer as well and just use the cashew ricotta, pasta and tomato sauce. Get creative with what you have on hand. The lasagna can be made several hours in advance and held, but serve it the same day you make it because it is best fresh.
Raw Zucchini Lasagna “Pasta”
- 10 medium zucchini or goldbar squash, peeled
- 1 t olive oil
- 1/2 t salt
Using a mandolin or Chinese slicer or very sharp knife, carefully slice each peeled zucchini lengthwise into even 1/8 -1/4 inch slices. Only use the fleshy outside of each squash discarding or reserving the seedy core for another recipe. Gently rub salt and oil into all the slices, reserving the nicest, most lasagna-like “noodles” for the top. Let sit while you prepare the remaining fillings, tossing gently with your hands occasionally and letting excess liquid drain off.
Texture Tip: texture is everything here. The reason you peel these and the thickness of the slices all add up to a smooth, lasagna-noodle “mouthfeel”, which I think is the whole trick. You may have to adjust the thickness as you go to get it perfect – I find that thinner slices are nicer, but go too thin and you will lose the body after the squash marinates in the salt a bit. Play with it – you can always bury the ugly ones in the middle!
Cashew “Ricotta” for Lasagna
- 2T lemon juice
- 2T nutritional yeast
- 2 yellow peppers, seeded and chopped
- 2T fresh parsley
- 1T fresh thyme
- 2t salt
- 3 cups cashews, soaked 2 – 4 hours and drained.
- 1⁄2 c water if needed
- ½ c (optional) fresh chopped herbs (rosemary, parsley, thyme, basil)
Blend all in vitamix until smooth and creamy, starting with peppers and adding nuts at the end, and water only if needed. Fresh herbs can be added at the end if using. Set aside, use the (unrinsed) vitamix to make tomato sauce:
Sundried Tomato Sauce
- 11⁄2c sundried tomatoes, soaked for 1 hour or more
- ¼ small onion
- 2c tomato, seeded and chopped
- 4 t agave/honey or 2 soaked dates
- 11⁄2 T dried oregano
- 1t salt or to taste
- ¼ c olive oil
- 2T lemon juice
Process all in a food processor or vitamix until smooth, adjust for salt/sweet depending on how salty your sundried tomatoes are. Set aside while you make your mushroom filling:
Mushroom Nut Filling
- 2 pounds fresh mushrooms
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 T olive oil
- 1t salt
- 1t black pepper,
- 1T dried sage
- 11⁄2c sunflower seeds soaked 1 hour or more and drained
- 1c sun-dried tomatoes, soaked for 1 hour or more
- 2T dark/brown miso
- 2t dried oregano
- 2t dried sage
- 1T nama shoyu/soy sauce
- 1⁄2t cayenne pepper
- 1T olive oil
- 1T honey/agave nectar
- 1t sea salt
In food processor, chop mushrooms coarsely. Sauté with garlic in 2 T olive oil, salt, pepper and sage, for 5 – 10 minutes until liquid is absorbed and mushrooms are very flavorful. Alternatively, for a truly raw version, spread evenly on dehydrator sheet and dehydrate for 2 – 3 hours until lightly “cooked”.
In food processor, blend nuts and remaining ingredients until combined but slightly chunky still. Combine with mushrooms. Set aside in dehydrator or warm place while you make your spinach filling:
Spinach and Onion Filling
- 2 large onions
- 1 pounds fresh spinach leaves, washed and chopped
- 1 t salt
- 2 T olive oil
Sauté onions in olive oil, salt and pepper until translucent, add spinach and sauté 5 – 10 more minutes until gently cooked. Cool slightly in colander, squeezing lightly to drain excess liquid. Alternatively, to make raw, toss raw spinach with other ingredients and massage gently to soften.
Assembling the Lasagna….
Spread one cup of tomato sauce on the bottom of a large casserole dish, preferably glass. Top with one even layer of zucchini pasta, overlapping each slice slightly. Top with one thick even layer of mushroom filling.
Add a second layer of zucchini (use the ugly ones here and make sure you have enough for one more layer of nice ones for the top. You can skip this layer if you don’t have enough for both.
Top second layer of zucchini with the cashew ricotta, dot with spinach. Top with final top layer of zucchini. Smooth remaining tomato sauce over the top. Cut carefully into 10 -12 pieces with a serrated bread knife and keep warm in dehydrator or low oven until ready to serve.
This is blow your mind delicious alternative-to-pasta dish. Its easy to make but you have to get into the “Zen of Parsnip Peeling”…or have a couple of kitchen helpers around – it’s fun to do with friends!
Parsnip Pasta (Serves 4)
I love parsnips! They seem to be a very under-rated vegetable since no one seems to know much about them. They are wonderfully sweet and have a mellow wintery satisfying flavor and if you peel them into Fettuccine-like noodles with a simple vegetable peeler, they develop a delicious silky mouthfeel that is completely satisfying with a rich creamy nut sauce.
Texture Trick: the trick to the vegetable pastas is in how you cut it. You much slice or peel with the grain of the parsnip (or zucchini, or goldbar squash). DO NOT use one of those cool spiral slicer gizmos to make a vegetable pasta. Cool as it may look, those slicers will cut through your vegetables against the grain, resulting in a rough and mealy mouthfeel which is not good for a pasta dish.
- 8 medium sized parsnips, thoroughly peeled to take off all the tough skin.
- 1 zuchinni or goldbar squash, very lightly peeled, just to take off the smooth outer skin
- 1/2 t salt
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 2 T olive oil
- freshly ground black pepper
Peel the parsnips into fettucine shaped “pasta” the same way you would peel a carrot, rotating the parsnip by small turns until you run into the core. Keep peeling away as long as the parsnip is sweet and tender. Depending on the parsnip this might be the whole thing, or you might have to stop at the core which is sometime woody. (yes – you will have to keep munching on the raw parsnip as you prep… watch out, it’s habit forming).
Peel the zucchini into fettucine the same way, stopping short of the seedy core. We are just going for texture here.
Add salt and gently massage into the tangled mass of shredded veggies until they begin to soften and get slippery. This helps to break down the viberous nature of the vegetables and to give it that nice, smooth “cooked” feel in your mouth.
Now add the wine and the olive oil and massage in for a minute or two. Taste for salt, add pepper. It should be completely delicious even at this stage.
Let sit at room temperature for at least an hour for vegetables to soften and marinate in the wine. You can do this up to 24 hours ahead.
- 1/2 lb brown crimini, king oyster, or mix of other fresh wild mushrooms, cleaned.
- 1 T lemon juice
- 1/4 c olive oil
- 1/2 t finely crushed garlic
- 1 T finely chopped fresh parsely
- course salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Cut mushrooms into thick slices or bit sized chunks and toss with remaining ingredients- massage marninade into mushrooms gently with your hands for one minute. Adjust for taste (it should already be delicious at this stage).
Warm in dehydrator for 1 – 3 hours until mushrooms are soft and sauteed tasting. (Dehydrating is optional – you can simply leave out at room temperature and it will taste great).
In a large serving platter, top pasta with Raw Rosemary Cream Sauce, and finish with a heap of mushrooms in the center. Enjoy!
Note: any leftover parsnip pasta can be made in the base for the Warm Winter Carrot Soup.