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Monday, January 28, 2013

The Italian Vegan

My grandmother's parents immigrated from Italy only a few years before she was born.  One of eight children, she grew up with homemade pasta and sauce.  I love hearing my grandma's stories about watching her mom roll and cut gnocchi dough.  My grandmother and mother were my first cooking teachers and the Italian influence in what I was taught was never lost on me: fresh ingredients, love and passion into whatever I cook, herbs, and lots of garlic!  I grew up with family recipes for rigatoni and lasagna.  I loved to watch my grandmother make her turkey meatballs.  I can still smell the garlic and parsley that filled them.  Her marinara sauce is something I have always strived to replicate, but have never mastered.

When I became vegan, I did not realize how my new lifestyle would impact family dinner menus.  Forgoing the meat was fairly easy to navigate, but I struggled with how to eat Italian without all of the cheese.  I do not usually substitute dairy cheese with processed soy vegan brands.  Instead, I prefer to replicate the flavors and textures with natural, whole ingredients that give me the same feel for the food, but an appreciation for itself on its own.  This made things a bit more challenging at first, but luckily I found inspiration and help from some great cookbooks and resources like VegNews.

Here are some of my Italian favorites veganized.  Mangia!

Meatballs - I experimented with many a vegan meatball until I found one I liked.  This walnut and millet version from VegNews is my favorite.  Click here for the recipe.

Vegan meat sauce by VeegMama
"Meat" Sauce - I posted this recipe for my yummy sauce a few weeks ago in a post about meals for carnivores.  I love this recipe and so does my family.

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3-4 slices of "Fakin' bacon" (my favorite tempeh bacon), chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
2 packages of vegan ground "beef"
1/2 cup dry red wine
One 28-ounce can tomato puree

1. In a large, heavy pot, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat and add the "bacon."  Cook for 1-2 minutes and add the onion, carrot, and celery.  Cook until softened, about 8 minutes and add the garlic. Cook until it smells really good, about 1 minute.

2.  Add the "beef" and cook about 3-4 minutes.  Add the wine and cook until the liquid is cooked off, about 5 minutes.

3. Stir in the tomato puree and 1 cup of water.  Season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer.  Partially cover and cook over low heat for about 30-45 minutes, until thickened.  Season with salt and pepper.

Ann Gentry's recipe for lasagna rolls from Vegan Family Meals
Lasagna Rolls - There are many recipes for great alternative lasagnas, made with vegetable layers instead of pasta, or butternut squash and a white sauce, to name a few; but, I crave the traditional lasagna like my mom taught me to make - layers of lasagna noodles topped with ricotta, some kind of veggie, (I make two varieties - one with spinach and another with an artichoke and sun-dried tomato mixture), marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese.  I came upon a recipe for Lasagna Rolls in Ann Gentry's book Vegan Family Meals and it was the perfect recipe to adapt my mom's traditional dish.  The tofu ricotta is the perfect filling.  Sometimes I make the recipe as it is in her cookbook, but sometimes, I add in my stand by veggies (artichokes and tomatoes) to make my family's version.  The rolls are a fun way to serve it up.  Ann's everyday tomato sauce is easy and delish (almost as good as grandma's!).  Click here for the recipe for the rolls, tofu ricotta and sauce.

Linguini with Clam-Free Sauce - My dear childhood friend, Lori, made me this dish years ago and I would make it ever since for special occasions.  I loved the saltiness of the clams with the tang of the lemon juice and white wine.  I recently discovered a wonderful recipe in last month's Vegetarian Times, from Mark Reinfeld's The 30-Minute Vegan's Taste of Europe, made with mushrooms, (mimics the clam texture perfectly), that gives me the same taste profile that I think I like even better.  Click here for the recipe.

Rigatoni (or Mostaccoli or Farfalle) Bake - My aunt Peggy made this dish at every family gathering.  My mother passed the recipe down to me and I will pass it down to my kids, although now I have a vegan version!  This is one recipe where I do use a soy cheese in place of regular mozzarella.  I use different pastas - mostaccoli or farfalle depending on my mood.  My kids love the vegan version as much as me.

1 box of rigatoni or mostaccoli
2 jars of marinara sauce (or homemade)
2 blocks of vegan mozzarella, grated (I like Trader Joe's variety)
1 jar of marinated mushrooms, sliced

1. Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain and mix with half of the marinara sauce.  Add in mushrooms.

2. Coat bottom of 13x9 baking dish with a little bit of sauce to coat.

3.  Layer the pan with pasta, then handfuls of cheese, and last sauce, one after the other until all ingredients are used, ending with a layer of cheese.

4. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes.  Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.