Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pumpkin Baked Ziti

Just in time for Halloween (assuming it's not cancelled or rescheduled due to Hurricane Sandy!), here is an extra-hearty, pumpkin-filled recipe.  I have fond memories of making various pumpkin-themed dishes with my family over the years--curried pumpkin soup served right in the pumpkin, for one--so here's one to add to that list.  Enjoy!     

Warm and creamy baked ziti with a sage crumb topping.

Pumpkin Baked Ziti
  • 1 pound ziti or penne pasta
  • 3 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 onions, sliced very thinly
  • 1/2 cup cashews
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound firm tofu, pressed and crumbled
  • 1.5 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup vegan butter
  • 2.5 cups bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup walnut pieces, blended in a food processor to create coarse crumbs
  • 1.5 teaspoons ground sage
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 - 15 ounce can pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie mix)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • a few shakes of black pepper and cayenne pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth

First, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Lightly grease a 9x13 inch baking pan and set aside.  Prepare the pasta according to the package directions and set aside.   
Meanwhile, begin caramelizing the onions.  Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil a large skillet over medium heat and then add the onions.  Allow the onions to cook, stirring occasionally, until they become very brown and caramelized; they will reduce down, too.  This will take some time (at least 25 minutes, most likely), so be patient.  Once they are ready, set aside.

While the onions are caramelizing, prepare the tofu-cashew ricotta.  Blend together the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, cashews, lemon juice, and garlic in a food processor. Add the tofu and blend until the mixture is thick and well combined.  Then mix in the basil and salt. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
Next, make the sage bread crumb topping.  Melt the butter in a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat.  Then stir in the bread crumbs, walnuts, sage, oregano, and paprika, and season with salt and pepper.  Stir until the mixture is lightly coated, and then remove from the heat.  Set aside. 

Now it's time to assemble the pasta mixture.  Mix the pumpkin, brown sugar, nutmeg, peppers, and vegetable broth into the tofu-cashew ricotta.  Then add in the cooked pasta and caramelized onions and stir until the pasta is coated.  Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula or spoon.  Then sprinkle the bread crumbs over top.  

Bake for about 28 minutes or until the breadcrumbs look golden brown.  Allow the pasta to sit for several minutes before serving. 
Yields about 8 servings.
This pasta dish is incredibly rich (almost heavy) and smooth, thanks in no small part to the great tofu-cashew ricotta.  Far from overpowering, the pumpkin flavor is actually quite mild.  Simon and Rachel both enjoyed the subtle pumpkin flavor and we all appreciated the creaminess that it added to the dish.  The caramelized onions may have been my favorite part: they add a nice sweetness to each bite.  Unfortunately, we all agreed that there were too many bread crumbs, so I might cut them down a bit next time. 
This recipe has an extensive list of ingredients!  If you don't have some of the ingredients (especially in the bread crumbs), you can always consider leaving them out.  
Aside from the cashews, everything is pretty inexpensive.  (Why are nuts so expensive?  It must have something to do with the difficulty in shelling them.)  We didn't have trouble finding the ingredients. 
 Ease of Preparation:          
This recipe isn't too difficult to pull off, but it does take some time and attention.  I wrote the recipe to involve a fair amount of multitasking to save time, but it still took at least an hour to make. 
Non-vegan friendliness:         
Anyone who enjoys a creamy, rich pasta bake would enjoy this seasonal dish.  It's amazing how similar the tofu-cashew ricotta is to non-vegan ricotta.    

1 comment:

  1. Update: I made this again a couple days ago with a few very small, yet successful, changes.

    1) I cut down on the bread crumbs (2 cups instead of 2.5)
    2) I added broccoli to the mix (cut up a head of broccoli into florets, add the florets to the boiling pasta to blanche for the pasta's last three minutes of cooking, drain the broccoli along with the pasta, and mix the broccoli and pasta together with the other ingredients, as described above, before baking).

    It was delicious!!