Posts Tagged ‘italian’
Roasted Tomato Sauce

I had a bunch of grape tomatoes and basil left over from pasta salad at the beginning of the grocery week, and felt like I had to use them in some meaningful way. I had also recently been reading about the different “types” of tomato sauce. You can apparently do a slow-cooking sauce (this is the one I usually go with), and everything gets really rich and caramelized. Another option is to do a sauce that cooks for a few hours, and the third is to do a really fresh sauce that only gets cooked for a matter of minutes. Since I was dealing with grape tomatoes, I felt like the best thing to do would be to stay true to their nature and go with a very bright sauce. Whoever posted the anonymous comment about aluminum cans leaching lycopene from tomatoes, this sauce is for you. It uses fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, and a bit of garlic. It only takes about 20 minutes from start to finish, but pre-roasting the tomatoes keeps it from tasting too “raw”. I know a bunch of people who are into the whole raw vegan thing, but this girl likes her food to be pretty cooked. Sure, I love a good salad or crunchy raw vegetables. I even had a raw brownie that I was into once, but when it comes to something like my tomato sauce, I like it to have that kick that only comes with being heated above 105 degrees.

Roasted Tomato Sauce

  • 2 c. grape tomatoes
  • 1/4 c. fresh basil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • nonstick cooking spray

Cut the tomatoes in half. Spray a baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and place the tomatoes, cut side up, in the dish. Spray the tops of the tomatoes with spray. Mince the garlic and sprinkle on top.
Broil the tomatoes on high for 5 minutes, or until they start to wilt and get soft. Remove from the oven.
Take half of the tomatoes and puree them in a food processor. If you don’t have a food processor, mash them with a potato masher.
Pour the blended tomatoes, roasted tomatoes, and basil into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. You may add a few tablespoons of water if the sauce is too thick. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Toss with fresh pasta and serve.

When The Moon Hits Your Eye

Since the revolution (which is how I refer to me becoming a vegetarian), I have been bringing my own lunch to work almost every day. Sometimes, my co-workers get lunch envy, and nothing gets them gathered around and asking questions like when I show up with a home-made vegan pizza.
Now, I am from New Jersey, which means I know more about pizza than you do and I make better pizza than you ever will. I spent a summer working at Vesuvio’s Italian restaurant in Belmar, NJ, where they made some of the best thin crust pizza I’ve ever tasted.  I picked up a thing or two while working there, and now you, gentle reader, get to reap the benefits.

Step 1: The Dough
Now, the reason why New York, Boston, and New Jersey have the best pizza in the world is supposedly in the water. However, the real reason why it’s a thousand times better than those Papa Huts and Pizza Johns is that the crust is rolled out until it is as thin as possible. A good slice of pizza is a 1-to-1 ratio between crust, sauce, and cheese. That being said, you can recreate some of that pizza magic in your own kitchen by just taking the time roll out your dough to the proper thickness.
I like to use Trader Joes’ pizza dough in whole wheat, although their garlic and herb is also very tasty. They sell it refridgerated in big bags, and I will bring it home and freeze individual servings of dough. When it’s time to make a pizza, I defrost my dough and then roll it out onto a cutting board with plenty of whole wheat flour. You should knead it a few times before gently stretching the dough in your hands until it is no more than 1/4″ thick. Be liberal with your flour, because the dusting of whole wheat on the bottom of the pizza is really going to make your crust.

Step 2: The Sauce
A good pizza sauce should be very, very thin. One shortcut that I use sometimes is to take canned tomato paste and mix it with a little bit of water and some spices. Another real shortcut is probably to just buy the stuff in a jar. Either way, you want to get a nice thin layer of sauce on top of your dough.

Step 3: The Garlic
I’ll usually mince two cloves of garlic and sprinkle them on top of my sauce layer. I eat a lot of garlic.  It probably really sucks to kiss me, but I’m selfish so I really don’t care. I’m going to continue to eat as much garlic as I want. It’s a natural antibiotic. It’s good for your cardiovascular system.It has antioxidants. I’m worth it.

Step 4: The Cheese
When making a vegan pizza, you have a few options. One is Follow Your Heart Mozarella, a soy-based cheese that actually melts. Another is Daiya cheese, wich is tapioca based and featured at Pizza Fusion (in Santa Monica and San Diego). A third option is to forgoe cheese altogether and just sprinkle a pinch of nutritional yeast over your sauce and top with a bunch of veggies. My favorite is the Italian Daiya, which you can probably get at Whole Foods, I know that we can out here.

Step 5: Toppings
This is a great way to use up whatever vegetables you have lying around in your fridge. My favorite pizza topping is frozen spinach, which I will defrost and saute in a little bit of cooking spray before topping my pizza. Another good option is to use mushrooms, which are especially nice if you are foregoing cheese altogether. I also love fresh basil, but can never seem to use an entire package of it, so I rarely keep it on hand. I’ve had great success with Tofurkey’s sausage. Check the label very carefully, because they only have one vegan variety.

When I was in college, we had a Wolfgang Puck Express in the middle of campus, and I cannot tell you how many times I had their pesto and sausage pizza for lunch. No wonder why my jeans didn’t fit. I have recreated the flavor combination, though, by using a low fat vegan pesto, soy cheese, “sausage”, and fresh tomato slices. It’s absolutely amazing, and sometimes it’s fun to go wild and use something other than classic tomato sauce.

Let’s Talk About “Gravy”

Gravy is a term that some people use to refer to hand-crafted tomato sauce. It implies that said sauce did not come out of a can, but rather was painstakingly prepared over the course of several hours. I have never used the term “gravy”, but when I think of tomato sauce, I don’t think of Prego. I think of tomato paste, like the can pictured above, whole canned tomatoes, onions, garlic, and a kitchen that smells absolutely heavenly. I love to put on a pot of tomato sauce and then freeze what’s left over, so I have some on hand for pizza and pasta dishes.
I know that canned sauce is very convenient, but who the hell knows what they put in there. Usually it’s a lot of additives that rack up the calories. Real tomato sauce should have no more than 5 or 6 ingredients, and as a result, it will be low in fat and full of lycopene, which is an important free radical phytochemical that fights free radicals (Thanks, Lori). If you want, you can start with actual tomatoes and cook them down or some such nonsense. Instead, I do what my mom did and I take some important shortcuts. The only time-consuming part of my tomato sauce recipe is the time it sits on the stove. This recipe is super easy and super delicious. So, grab a knife and a pot and prepare to impress the hell out of your friends.

Tomato Sauce
4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
an onion
four cloves of garlic
2 cans of tomato paste
2 cans whole tomatoes
fresh basil

1. Drizzle olive oil in a large pot, add onions and sauté until soft, then add the garlic and sauté for a few more minutes over medium-high heat. Be careful not to scorch the bottom of the pan, as you will regret it later if you do.
2. In a bowl, mix the 2 cans of tomato paste with the equivalent of 2 cans of water. You want to stir this together pretty well. Pour it into your pot in a technique the chefs like to call de-glazing.
3. Open up the canned whole tomatoes and add them to the pot. This is the point where you have a decision to make. To squish or not to squish. I personally like to squish the whole tomatoes in my hand, it breaks them up and makes a thinner, smoother sauce. If you like your sauce to be chunkier, don’t bother getting your hands dirty.
4. If you are using dried basil or oregano, you can add it now. If you are using fresh, wait until about 10 minutes before serving before adding it to your sauce.
5. Stir well and cook over very very low heat for at least 2 hours. You want the sauce to be hot, with steam coming out, but you don’t want it to be at a full simmer. A couple of bubbles piercing the surface is all we’re looking for here.

Serve over your favorite pasta. I promise that I will take a shot and fresh vegan pasta some day. I love home-made pasta, but it almost always has eggs in it, so I don’t eat it since The Revolution.

serves: at least 8; I have no idea how many calories are in this, but it’s basically like eating a tomato with, at most, half a tablespoon of olive oil

Hey Garfield, it’s Lasagna!

Who didn’t love the comic strip and television cartoon about that fat orange cat who seemingly lived for the sole purpose of shipping dogs off to Abu-Dabi? More importantly, who doesn’t love a good lasagna?
I used to take great pride in finding the perfect ratio of mozzarella to ricotta to tomato sauce to pasta. Then, I realized that putting 4 tablespoons of spinach into a 12-serving tray did not a healthy dinner make. Lasagna is comfort food, and with my discovery of vegan ricotta cheese, seemed like a good idea to me. This recipe has two components, first is a tofu-ricotta made with a food processor. This ricotta would be suitable for a baked ziti, or even on top of a vegan pizza with lots of garlic.

Vegan Ricotta Cheese
I looked at a few recipes online, but they all seemed to use A LOT of olive oil, which kind of defeats the purpose of using tofu as a low-fat alternative to the ricotta. So, I reduced the olive oil and then when I was having trouble getting the mixture to blend, added a few tablespoons of unsweetened soy milk. Your goal is to get something with a thick but spreadable consistency.
5 oz. of firm tofu, drained and cubed
3 tbsp. nutritional yeast
2 cloves of garlic
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tbsp. pine nuts
salt and fresh ground black pepper
soy milk to blend

1. drain and cube tofu, chop garlic cloves into quarters
2. combine tofu, olive oil, nutritional yeast, oregano, and pine nuts and blend by pulsing on and off for a few seconds at a time
3. add a few tablespoons of soy milk until you achieve a creamy consistency
4. stir in salt and pepper by hand (just a dash of both)

Vegetable Lasagna
The addition of spinach and mushrooms not only packs in extra servings of vegetables, but the mushrooms give the whole dish a meaty texture.
5 lasagna noodles
1.5 c. tomato sauce (I will post my recipe later)
2/3rds of the ricotta mixture above
2 c. sliced mushrooms
1/2 c. frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 tomato

1. in a large pot, bring water to a boil and drop lasagna noodles in one at a time. Cook until tender, drain, and let cool. Cut the lasagna noodles in half (I used my handy kitchen scissors)
2. mix thawed frozen spinach into the tofu ricotta
3. coat the bottom of a pie plate with a few tablespoons of tomato sauce to prevent sticking. Lay 3 of your half-sized noodles on top of it
4. spoon out 1/3rd of the ricotta mixture on top of the pasta, and cover with a layer of sliced mushrooms
5. cover the mushrooms with a half cup of tomato sauce
6. repeat a layer of pasta, ricotta, mushrooms, and sauce. Your final layer will just be 3 noodles and then half a cup of tomato sauce.
7. arrange tomato slices on top and sprinkle with dried basil (or fresh if you have it on hand)
8. bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes and enjoy

Servings: 4 servings at 322 calories each

The verdict: I was not impressed with my tofu ricotta when it was raw. Even with the garlic and nutritional yeast, it tasted a little bland, but that is a natural trade-off when you reduce the oil in a recipe. However, once everything was cooked together with the mushrooms and spinach, it tasted  exactly like the real thing. Real ricotta looses some of its flavor when you put it in a dish, but the secret must be that tofu ricotta actually gets better.