I would be remiss

I feel compelled to apologize for the recipe I’m about to share, so I’ll just cut to the chase. It’s messy, and time consuming, and dirties far too many pots and utensils than any one-dish meal should call for.

If an enthusiastic, Dodin Bouffant-wearing seven-year old helps you out? It turns into a scene right out of Shel Silverstein poem.


Spaghetti, spaghetti, all over the place . . .

But here’s the thing – it’s really good. Also! it’s especially suited to the extreme wintry weather we’ve all been experiencing. Nothing says ‘comfort food’ like a pan full of smooshed spaghetti, right?

What I’m trying to say is that I’d remiss if I didn’t share this with you.

oodles of noodles oodles of noodles

Spaghetti pie

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This recipe has lots of steps and ingredients because that’s how I unwind when the weather forces me indoors. If you’re in a rush, though, the basic equation for this dish is: 1 box spaghetti + (1/2 C red sauce blended with 1/2 C cashew cream cheese) = spaghetti pie. If you’re using gluten free pasta, you’ll want to cook and drain it just before mixing with the sauce. If you use semolina pasta, you can use leftover or fresh noodles. This calls for cashew cream cheese – plain ol’ cashew cream (super thick) works just as well; store-bought vegan cream cheese would probably work, but I don’t know how it would taste.

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1/4 cup caramelized onions or, 1 medium onion + a splash of oil
2 handfuls mushrooms, minced
1 large pinch each of dried basil and oregano
3-4 lacinato kale leaves, cleaned, de-stemmed and finely chopped
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
splash of red wine
1/2 cup cashew cream cheese or thick cashew cream
1 box (12-16 ounces) spaghetti
a few pinches turbinado sugar

Lightly oil a baking dish, 8 x 8 inches-square or something approximate to that size.

If you need to caramelize your onions: slice your onion into half-moons, and then slice those into 1/2-inch pieces. Heat a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat and add a teaspoon or two of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion and toss to coat; add a pinch of salt and toss again. Stir frequently until the onion has first softened, then browned, then turned a deep caramel hue. Scrape your pot as necessary when the onion sticks, and use a couple tablespoons of water or white wine if needed to deglaze your pan while your onions finish caramelizing.

If using pre-caramelized onions (I actually keep jars of 24-hour slow-cooked caramelized onions on hand because I am a food nerd), add them to a cold, heavy-bottomed pot and place over medium heat. Once the onions have warmed through, add the herbs and mushrooms. Stir for a couple of minutes to sweat out most of the moisture, then add the kale. Add a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper. If you don’t live with a couple of spice-phobic wimps, add a large pinch of red chili flakes, too. Stir frequently until the kale has softened and everything is starting to stick. Use a big splash (or three) of your favorite red wine to deglaze the pan, scraping as you go. Add the crushed tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Cover partially, leaving the lid ajar to let steam evaporate as the sauce thickens.

While the sauce cooks down, preheat your oven to 375 F / 190 C and make your spaghetti. If making gluten free spaghetti, this is what I do to keep it from sticking after it drains. I bring a kettle (or small saucepan) of water to a boil, and then immediately after draining my pasta in a colander, I pour the hot water over it for a second rinse. Works like a charm!

Return your cooked and drained pasta to it’s pot, and toss with a tiny bit of oil if you’re worried about it sticking. Turn the heat off from under your sauce. In a medium bowl combine 1/2 cup red sauce with 1/2 cup cashew cream cheese and stir to combine. Toss this with the pasta until the spaghetti is uniformly coated. If your spaghetti is too dry, add up to 1/2 cup additional red sauce. You only want enough sauce to coat the pasta, though, not to saturate it.

Turn the spaghetti into the oiled baking pan, tucking in any stray noodles so that the top is relatively flat. Add a thin layer of sauce over the top, taking care that every noodle is covered. Unless you like a few wispy crispy edges, which I do – then by all means, leave a few tendrils unsauced! Sprinkle the surface lightly with sugar – just enough to bring out the sweetness of the onions and tomatoes.

Bake for 30 minutes, covering lightly with foil if your sauce starts to brown. Let the pan rest for about five minutes after you remove it from the oven.

Prep time: 10 minutes | Stovetop time: 30 minutes | Oven time: 30 minutes


Asparagus & caramelized red onion pesto

In my kitchen, there is no such thing as too much pesto, and I’ve been making this one the past couple of springs when asparagus is in season.

I grow purple asparagus at home, but the spears are so tender and sweet that I eat them right on the spot. For this pesto, I make a special trip to the farmers’ market to pick up a bunch of bright green spears.

Asparagus isn’t in season right now where I live, but it’s in season somewhere, right? When I found this recipe in one of my torn and tattered notebooks over the weekend, rather than rewrite it I decided to post it here.

asparagus.redonion.pestoYep, definitely worth a trip to the farmers’ market.
capellini.w.asparagus.pestoWorth the effort.

Asparagus & caramelized red onion pesto

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Thin asparagus spears are preferable, as they are less fibrous. If you use thick stalks, you’ll need to peel them before steaming. If you have a steamer basket (or stainless steel colander) that fits over your pasta pot, use it instead of an asparagus steamer. This dish tastes equally well hot, at room temperature, and cold, especially as a midnight snack. We like ours tossed with capellini. (My favorite gluten free brand, hands down, is Jovial.)

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1 large handful (25-30) thin asparagus spears
2-3 red torpedo onions or 1/4 red globe onion
2 teaspoons olive oil
2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast, to taste
1-2 teaspoons lemon zest, to taste
large pinch of coarse salt
pasta water to thin, if needed

Snap off the woody ends from your asparagus stalks. Thinly slice your onions; there should be enough to loosely pile into a 1/3 measuring cup. If using a red globe onion, cut a few thin-as-possible half moon slices, then cut into small strips about 1/4 inch long. Set up your steamer, your pasta pot (if not using to steam the asparagus), and a small cast iron or nonstick skillet for the onions.

Steam asparagus until fork tender. While the asparagus is steaming, put a teaspoon or two of olive oil into a small skillet over med heat. Sauté the onion until it begins to caramelize, then remove from heat and transfer to your food processor. When the onion and asparagus have both finished cooking, begin heating your liberally salted pasta water.

Cut the asparagus into 1-inch pieces and add to the food processor. Pulse a few times until the mixture is almost puréed. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the remaining ingredients. If you need additional liquid, add some of the pasta water, a tablespoon at a time. Season to taste with salt and additional lemon zest, if needed.

Drain your pasta, reserving a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water. Add the pesto and gently toss to coat, using some of the reserved water if it’s too thick. Season with cracked pepper and coarse salt at the table.

Yield: 1 Cup

Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 10 minutes

Marcella, forgive me

Long before I went vegan, I had a love-hate relationship with eggs. I loved foods that had eggs incorporated into them (egg noodles, brioche, crème brûlée), but hated stand-alone eggs (hard boiled/fried). The one exception was scrambled, but only if they were dry as tinder and loaded with veggies. I’ve since become a thrice-a-week tofu scrambler, a pinch of sulphurous black salt at the ready to give them that little extra bit of oomph.

tofu scram w/ Vegg

When I received a complimentary packet of Vegg in the mail a few months ago, I was excited to test out this new product. It smelled like egg! The fingertip dip test revealed that it tasted like egg! But … what if it actually resembled egg yolk? My enthusiasm was waning.

So. I could take the easy way out and hide Vegg in something like egg noodles, brioche, crème brûlée . . . or I could give myself over to the magic of kitchen alchemy and see what happened. The challenge I put to myself: make a traditional dish that features egg yolks prominently, but my former self still would have eaten. I am not exaggerating when I say it took me a month; runny egg yolks were the stuff of childhood nightmares.

I’m so glad I held out, though.

I turned to my culinary confidante regarding all things Italian, Marcella Hazan, and her recipe for this failproof dish. It’s carbonara in its simplest form – no messing about with distracting add-ins like peas, mint or cream. Just spaghetti, salt, pepper, pancetta, grated cheese, parsley and egg yolks. Or in my case: fake pancetta, cheese, and egg yolks. Even with vegan ingredients, though, my (non vegan) Italian husband said this was the best carbonara he’s had in ages.

spaghetti alla carbonara

Spaghetti alla carbonara + vegan parmesan
Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan

serves 3-4 

1/2 pound best quality spaghetti
1 1/2 teaspoons Vegg powder + 6 tablespoons water
4 slices bacon substitute – I’ve been playing around with this recipe
a few generous pinches of vegan parmesan (scroll down for recipe)
salt and pepper to taste
a few sprigs of parsley, minced

Put on a large, deep pot of liberally salted water to boil. Get your skillet ready to heat up your bacon, be it tempeh, tofu, or the adzuki bean/buckwheat version I’ve fallen in love with. Mince your parsley and grind your parm, then set both aside for later.

Make your Vegg: It’s very important to blend the powder and water well for several seconds, with an actual blender of some sort. Whisking will not suffice! I used my immersion blender, on high for about 30 seconds. If you don’t have an immersion blender, there are directions on the package for mixing up the entire packet in a stand blender, as well as how to store it.

Make your veg bacon: Time this so that your bacon is finished cooking right before you drain the pasta. Cut each strip of cooked bacon into half-inch pieces and leave in the skillet to stay warm.

Compose your dish: Drain your pasta and immediately transfer to a large bowl (if using gluten free pasta, rinse with hot water first so that it does not stick). Drizzle with Vegg and toss to coat evenly. Add some vegan parm, salt, and a few generous turns of the pepper mill; toss again. Taste and season as needed. Add the bacon and gently toss one more time. Plate out the individual portions and top each with an additional pinch of vegan parm and minced parsley.

vegan parm

Vegan parmesan

There are myriad vegan parmesan recipes floating around the ether, and I suspect many of them came into being as mine did — based on what was in the pantry. This is my contribution: simple, protein-packed, and quite satisfying.

Use this simple ratio and make as much – or as little – as you want.

1 part pine nuts : 2 parts hemp hearts : 2 parts nutritional yeast + 1 large pinch Himalayan (or another large grain) sea salt

Put all of the ingredients in your grinder or food processor, pulse briefly a few times, and sprinkle liberally on anything that could use a bit of umami.