Today I tried out a new vegan cheese dish, "Unstuffed Shells" from The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook. It simplifies the typical "stuffed" shells dish by simply tossing the pasta with the vegan ricotta cheese mixture, and then topping everything with a tomato sauce.
Not knowing how successful this attempt at cheesy shells would be, I decided to create a hearty salad to go along with them, sort of like an antipasto platter in a salad bowl. I had some wonderful Fra Mani salumi in the freezer, not enough to make more than 1 sandwich from, so this was a great way for everyone to enjoy the mortadella and salame rosa and not let them go to waste.
I have been wanting to make some homemade bread for the longest time, and this seemed like a great opportunity. If the shells turned out awful, we'd have salad and bread to fall back on! I chose the Modena Mountain Bread from Lynn Rosetto Kasper's marvelous The Splendid Table. It's very rustic, and includes potato and wheat berries in the dough.
First, the shells recipe. I used Pipe Rigate a sort of half-round pasta, instead of the shells. Owing to a "new" orthodontic device (Herbst appliance), DS is prone to choking. I was a little worried he might inhale a shell!
"Unstuffed Shells" from the Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook.
1 lb. firm regular tofu
1/3 to 1/2 c. vegan mayonnaise
2-3 T minced fresh parsley
2 t. dried basil
2 t. onion powder
1 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. salt
2 c. (1 16 oz. can) tomato sauce* see below
4 c. medium shell pasta
Break tofu into large chunks. Place in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Drain well and mash fine.
Combine tofu, mayonnaise, and seasonings in a large bowl. Mix well and set aside
Heat the tomato sauce and keep warm. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain well and combine with reserved tofu mixture, tossing until evenly distributed.
Divide among 4 dinner plates, and top each with some of the tomato sauce.
I made the following adjustments to this recipe: I used Hellmann's mayonnaise, to taste. About 1/3 c. After cooking and draining the tofu, I used the food processor to combine it with the other ingredients. Mashing fine didn't work for me, it left all kinds of icky lumps. Using the food processor yielded a texture more like ricotta cheese.
A note about seasonings: I dislike using onion and garlic powders, but concede it is sometimes necessary when a concentrated flavor is needed without adding the bulk or moisture of the real thing. Actually, fresh garlic probably would work fine here in place of the garlic powder. The powders taste "off" to me, and worse, tend to linger on the palate for several hours after dinner.
My ratings for the Tofu Ricotta Cheese:
Color: 3 stars. It looked like ricotta with herbs mixed in.
Texture: 3 stars. It pretty much had the texture of ricotta cheese.
Cheese Flavor: 1.5 stars: while it was reminiscent of cheese, a raw, beany flavor from the tofu still predominated when the cheese was cold. However, when warmed by the hot pasta ans sauce, this was much less pronounced, and the finished dish was fairly tasty.
Taste: 2 stars: Good; but not by itself. In the dish, the flavor was not unpleasant, just a bit different. With pasta and tomato sauce, the beaniness was much reduced. If you like tofu, this probably won't be an issue for you. I wonder if cooking the tofu a little longer would help with the raw taste.
Overall: 2 stars: Good. I would eat this again, but I would not serve it to guests. Actually, I will not serve it to DS again, as he just couldn't handle the vegan cheese. I will add, however, that he does not like dairy ricotta or lasagna.
DC-O-Meter: "Tastes fine with the tomato sauce on it. I would eat it again."
I made my own quick tomato sauce by sauteeing half and onion and 2 cloves of garlic in a little olive oil and the dressing from a jar of marinated artichoke hearts. I added about half a jar of ready-made pasta sauce, 1/4 c. red wine, and the artichoke hearts and cooked until everything was heated through.
This added a really delicious touch to the dish. With plain tomato sauce, I doubt this pasta would be palatable to most people. With my doctored-up jarred version, it was both quick to prepare and tasty. I really liked the pipe rigate in this dish, too. They are a bit smaller than shells, and less "hefty."
Antipasto Salad by DomesticMuse
This is really more of an idea than a recipe. It's good for using up little odds and ends of things. Artichoke hearts would be delicious here, but since I had put them in the pasta sauce, I didn't add them. Here's what I put in the salad:
Romaine salad mix
3 slices Fra Mani salame rosa, julienned
3 slices Fra Mani mortadella, jullienned
9 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 roasted red pepper, chopped into large dice
1/2 pkg. button mushrooms, quartered, blanched and marinated
1/4 cauliflower head, broken into tiny florets, blanched and marinated
Divide ingredients among 3 salad bowls, adding as much or as little salad mix as you like.
For both the marinade and the dressing, I used an heirloom family recipe, my Aunt Edith's Italian Dressing. DS loves it, it's his absolute favorite. It's really more of a light vinaigrette than what most people would consider Italian dressing.
Aunt Edith's Italian Dressing
1 c. corn or other mild vegetable oil
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
2 heaping t. Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves garlic, sliced fine
2 t. salt
4 t. sugar
Mix all ingredients except the corn oil in a blender or food processor. With the motor running, add the oil in a slow steady stream until it's incorporated and the dressing is emulsified.
The bread is one of my favorites, one that I haven't made for a long time. I always start it the night before, to give the sponge time to preferment. I usually prep the wheat berries and potato the night before as well, and zap gingerly in the microwave, stirring well to prevent hot spots, to bring it to room temp before adding to the dough.
Modena Mountain Bread from The Splendid Table
2 T. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. granulated yeast (I always cheat and just use the whole little packet)
1/4 c. warm (110F) water
2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 c. warm water (110F)
5-6 oz. red skinned potato
1/2 c. (3 oz.) wheat berries
1 c. (4 oz.) whole wheat flour
2 1/4 t. salt
4 1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 T. flour (for sprinkling loaves)
Sponge: Make the sponge 16-22 hrs. before you plan to bake the bread.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the 2T flour, the yeast, the 1/4 c. warm water. Let the mixture stand 5 minutes, or until the yeast is bubbly.
Add the 2 c. flour and 1 c. warm water and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and set aside at room temperature for 12-18 hrs.
To prepare the potato, boil the unpeeled potato in water to cover 30 minutes, or until very tender.
Drain, reserving 10 T of the cooking liquid. Cool and peel. Puree the potato with the reserved cooking liquid. Cook the wheat berries in fiercely boiling water to cover for 10 minutes,
or until tender
Drain and cool. Crush lightly in a food processor, blender, or mortar and pestle. Set the potato and wheat berries aside at room temp. If working ahead, cover and refrigerate, and bring to room temp before adding to the dough.
Combine the sponge, potato puree, wheat berries, whole wheat flour, salt, and 2 c. of the unbleached flour. Beat with the paddle attachment at medium speed for 2 minutes. Beat in another 1/2 c. of flour and switch to the dough hook. Gradually add enough of the remaining flour to make a sticky dough. The dough will be soft but holding its shape around the dough hook while it cleans the bottom and sides of the bowl. If it puddles at the bottom, add a few T of flour. The dough should be very elastic, soft, and a little sticky. Knead about 10 minutes in the mixer.
Lightly oil a large bowl. Add the dough, turn to coat with oil, and cover with plastic wrap.
Set aside to rise at room temp 2-3 hrs., or until the dough is 21/2 to 3 times its original size. It will look blistered and soft. No harm will come to the bread if you let the dough sit as long as 8 hrs.
Lightly oil a cookie sheet with olive oil. Place a jelly roll pan on the floor of a gas oven or the lowest rack of an electric oven.
Punch down the dough and knead it about 5 minutes. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a ball, tucking the dough under itself until you have a taught sphere.
Set the two pieces of dough on the oiled cookie sheet. Sprinkle the dough with the 1 T flour. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise at room temp 1 1/2 hrs., or until doubled.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Make sure the rack is in the center of the oven. Place the cookie sheet with the two loaves on it in the oven. Pour 3 c. boiling water into the jelly roll pan, and close the door to capture the burst of steam. Bake 40 min. Turn the loaves over and bake another 10 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Remove the bread from the oven and place the loaves on a rack to cool. Allow to cool 1 1/2-2 hrs. before cutting.
And here is DC's plate: