Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Desdemona's Outrageous Layers of Italianate Yum

This ginormous pan of carbtastic goodness happened because I couldn't choose between making eggplant lasagna or penne with mushrooms and spinach. I finally decided to combine the two ideas and see what happened, and the result was like the love-child of lasagna, eggplant parmesan, and creamed spinach. (Please don't vex me with biological minutiae: the ways of foodstuffs are not our ways.)

And what a happy little cherub it is: a layer of pasta tossed in creamy vegetable sauce, topped with slices of baked, roasted - or even fried - eggplant, Veganomicon cashew ricotta, and marinara sauce, then baked in the oven until browned and beauteous. Who wouldn't want to adopt this protégé and...well, eat it? (Okay, I think we've taken this metaphor far enough, but you take my point.)

I realize that this recipe looks like a lot of steps that will keep you in the kitchen all day, but it only took about two hours from start to finish; it was also remarkably un-heavy, considering the number and variety of ingredients. More proof - as if any were needed - of the magical properties of vegan food: did you think it was a coincidence that Strega Nona's enchanted cooking pot is always full of pasta?

Desdemona's Outrageous Layers of Italianate Yum
The Vegetables
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 3 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 10 oz. mushrooms, sliced
~ 1 tbsp. dried basil
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, oregano
~ 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
~ A few generous grinds of black pepper
~ 1 lb. frozen spinach, thawed

~ In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil and saute the onions over medium heat, about 3 minutes.
~ Add the garlic, mushrooms, and seasoings, and cook about 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are giving up their juices.
~ Stir in the thawed spinach and combine thoroughly; cover the skillet and cook 5 minutes, until the spinach is just cooked.
~ Remove from heat while you make...

The Sauce
~ 1 lb. penne pasta
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 3 tbsp. flour
~ 1 cup grated Sheese or other vegan cheese (I used a combination of blue and cheddar flavors, but anything would work)
~ 2 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk

~ Cook 1 lb. penne pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.
~ In a saucepan, heat the oil over low heat, and stir in the flour to make a roux.
~ Add 1/2 cup of the soy milk, stir until smooth, then add the grated Sheese and mix.
~ Gradually add the remaining soy milk, stirring constantly, and cook until the mixture thickens and there are no lumps remaining, about 3 minutes.
~ Add to the cooked vegetable mixture, then combine with the cooked pasta and set aside while you carry on with...

The Cashew Ricotta
~ 1 cup raw cashews, soaked in boiling water at least 30 minutes
~ 1 lb. extra firm tofu
~ 1/4 cup lemon juice
~ 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tsp. each salt, basil
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (NB that this is my addition to the original recipe; I have a nooch jones)

Directions~ Drain the cashews, combine with remaining ingredients in a food processor, and blend to a smooth, delicious paste. (Easy, wasn't it?)

You'll also need...
~ 1 big-ass eggplant, cut into slices and baked, roasted, or (gasp!) breaded and fried as you would for eggplant parmesan (I confess that I used 2 packages of those Dominex frozen eggplant slices; highly recommended for taste and convenience)
~ 2 cups marinara sauce, homemade or jarred, your call

The Assembly
~ Transfer the pasta/vegetable/sauce mixture to a large, greased casserole dish, then arrange the eggplant slices on top in an even layer.
~ Layer the cashew ricotta over the eggplant, smoothing with a rubber spatula (don't worry about it being super-tidy; we're not frosting a cake here!.
~ Spoon the marinara over the whole business in a thin layer, then cover with aluminum foil and bake at 375 for 20 minutes.
~ Raise the heat to 400, remove the foil, and bake another 15-20 minutes, until slightly browned on top.
~ Allow to rest about 10 minutes before slicing.


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