Friday, January 15, 2010

A Vegan Delight - Broiled Tofu and Spinach Pesto Pasta with Artichokes

So being up in New York city with Sam has brought about the opportunity for some experimental vegan dishes out of a couple of his really nice cookbooks. This particular recipe we borrowed from two of his books, one called "The Veganomicon" by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, and another called "Vegan with a Vengeance," again by Isa. These books have such a complete collection of vegan recipes, you wouldn't even believe it. From pumpkin waffles to thai green curry and more, this collection is comprehensive and wonderful, even for a habitual meat-eater myself. A lot can be taken from vegan cooking - new methods of preparing foods, new foods in general, and an overall sense of eating well and eating organic. And you can't argue with that.
Spinach pasta with a cilantro-basil pesto sauce with artichoke hearts and red onions topped with garlic-basil broiled tofu. THAT is a mouthful - an exquisite, melt-in-your-mouth flavor explosion of a mouthful. This recipe we modified a bit to make it easier on ourselves, and make it work with the fact that we only have one pot, but this was quite a simple meal and will serve around 4 people.

Here's what you'll need:

For the tofu:
-1 pound extra firm tofu (normally you would have to press it - a process I won't go into here since you don't need to do it! The way we'll be preparing it by broiling it allows you to overlook this lengthy process. So just squeeze out as much moisture as you can and you're set!)
-1/2 cup water or white cooking wine, or vegetable broth - whatever you have
-2 Tablespoons olive oil
-2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
-2 Tablespoons soy sauce (or tamari if you have it - my sources tell me it's nearly the same thing as soy sauce)
-2 Tablespoons lemon juice
-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
-a big chunk of torn up basil leaves

For the pasta:
-1/2-1 pound spinach spaghetti or linguine (depends on how many you want to feed, and spinach pasta is the green kind)
-2 Tablespoons olive oil
-1 medium red onion, chopped in half moons (definitely make sure you get red if you can!)
-4 cloves of chopped garlic
-2 Tablespoons of water (or 1 T water/1 T lemon juice)
-1/2 teaspoon of salt
-several pinches of ground pepper
-1 (15 oz.) can of artichoke hearts (canned in water or brine - NOT oil)
-1 recipe of basil-cilantro pesto (see below)

For the pesto:
-2 cups loosely packed fresh basil
-1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro
-1/4 cup freshly ground unsalted almond butter (having a wholefoods nearby makes this really easy to get, but if you can't, 1/3 cup of sliced unsalted almonds will work perfectly too!)
-2 cloves of garlic
-2 Tablespoons of lemon juice
-1/2 teaspoon of salt
-1/4 cup olive oil

Okay, I know that all seems like a lot, but most of the ingredients are staples you might have lying around your house. Should this be a bit too much, use it for a special occasion! When all served up, this dish is beautifully presentable and can definitely feed a group.

So here's how you'll prepare it:

**We'll learn a new term here today - "mise en place.
[miz ã plas]" It's a French culinary term meaning literally "putting in place." This means get all your ingredients out (chopped if need be) and put in place so they're ready for everything! Doing this can help make sure everything's done on time and at the SAME time, which is ideal.**

1. Start with the sauce for the tofu. This is the easiest to prepare first. Throw the chopped garlic in a bowl with the basil chunks. Add the lemon juice, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and water. Stir it all up.

2. Turn your oven's broiler to HI. Slice your tofu into centimeter thick slices, cut each one in half, and cut each half into diagonal triangles.
Dip each triangle in the mixture you just made and place each triangle on a lightly greased baking sheet. With the broiler pre-heated, put the tofu under the broiler for 8-10 MINUTES. Set a timer or something, you don't want to burn it. Depending on when you start it, it will come out throughout the rest of the preparation. After it broils ten minutes, pull it out, drizzle some more sauce over it all, and broil again for 3 minutes. After 3 minutes, drizzle with the remaining sauce, broil for 3 more, and pull it out and let it set while the rest of the meal finishes up.

2. While the tofu starts to broil, get a pot of salted water on the stove, and turn it on HI. You can do the pesto while you wait for it to boil.
3. For the pesto, put the cilantro, basil, almond butter or almonds, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and olive oil (all the ingredients) in a food processor or blender and blend until it's nice and creamy. As opposed to a typical pesto which would contain pine nuts, almonds are cheaper and will help give it a nice, creamy texture. Make sure there are as few chunks as possible, and scrape down the sides of the blender/processor as necessary. Smell/taste this. Always taste. It should taste great. Set it aside.

4. The water should be boiling by now! Put the pasta in and cook it according the directions on the box - probably around 10 minutes over medium heat. You can do the next part while the pasta cooks.
5. Put the olive oil and red onions (chopped in half moons) in a large skillet and saute until soft, 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for a minute or so more.
6. The pasta should be done by now, but don't drain it. Use a slotted pasta spoon to transfer the pasta bit by bit to the skillet with the onions and garlic. Bring the heat to LO. Add some pesto each time you add some pasta. Stir to heat and coat evenly. (At the end, should it be too thick you can use some of the water on the pasta to help coat it.) Saute in the pan until all the pesto and pasta are in, and then add the artichoke hearts and stir to coat, and heat on LO for about 3 minutes.

7. Transfer the pesto pasta to serving bowls and top with 5-6 pieces of the broiled tofu. Serve this to everyone you love and they will love you even more.

This was such a superb dish. The garlic and basil broiled on top of the tofu perfectly complements the flavors of garlic and basil in the pesto, and little bursts of lemon juice bring out the flavor of the artichoke hearts and the red onions add a subtle caramelized flavor to the pasta. The tofu was firm, but soft to bite and broiling allowed the sauce to seep in perfectly. Definitely take a shot at this one - you will not be disappointed.

Signing off, (on a southbound bus home with no leftovers!)


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