Plant-Based Manicotti (Modern)
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Credit: Chef Kirk Kief
the National Culinary Review, March 2021
From the Chef
“To make the dough for a plant-based, modern manicotti that is dairy- and egg-free, Chef Kief reaches for silken tofu and a little turmeric, adding red bell pepper powder or spinach-and-leek powder to make the dough more colorful as well as vitamin-enhanced. To make the vegan-friendly cheese topping, he soaks raw cashews for a few hours or overnight, then blends the softened nuts with nutritional yeast and plant milk to recreate the umami flavor of cheese. For the plant-rich “ricotta” filling, he uses tahini, nutritional yeast, firm tofu, fresh spinach and basil. A simple tomato sauce, spiked with a pinch of red pepper flakes, rounds out the dish. 'I love Italian cuisine, and this is one of those Italian comfort foods that is easy to adapt, easy to prepare and very cost-effective, and still packs in all the flavors that we love,' Chef Kief says. 'I recently converted to a whole-food, plant-based diet, primarily for health reasons. I have lost weight, dropped my cholesterol by 50 points, and feel better and more energetic than I have in years. There are several restaurants that I no longer visit due to a lack of choices like these. Restaurants that do not offer plant-based alternatives are needlessly losing business, when it is so easy and cost-effective to keep those dining dollars in their cash registers. There is no dairy or egg used in this [modern manicotti] dish, but it is still packed with flavor.'”
1 (8- to 10-ounce) container silken tofu
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 ¼ cup 00 flour or all–purpose flour
1 ¼ cup semolina
1 block firm tofu (12 ounces), well-drained, finely crumbed
2 tablespoons tahini
2 1/2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
2 1/2 tablespoons minced shallot
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups baby spinach, steamed, chopped, and drained well
1 cup chopped fresh basil
1 (28-ounce) can whole San Marzano tomatoes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
7 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large fresh basil sprig and/or 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, plus more to taste
Cashew Cheese Sauce:
1 cup pre-soaked raw, unsalted cashews
1 tablespoon plus 1 cup vegetable stock or unflavored almond milk, divided
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
Salt and ground white pepper, to taste
To prepare the dough, in a food processor, blend the tofu, oil, turmeric, and sea salt until smooth. Gradually add the flour and semolina in equal parts until the dough begins to form a ball. Pulse until just combined.
Transfer dough to a surface lightly dusted with flour.
Knead the dough until very smooth, about 10 minutes. Add small amounts of flour and semolina to prevent the dough from sticking while kneading. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for at least 30 minutes, or overnight in refrigerator.
Once rested, roll out the dough. If the dough has rested overnight in the refrigerator, let it come to room temperature, about 30 minutes, before rolling.
In a large bowl, add the crumbled tofu, the tahini, nutritional yeast, and shallots, and mix to combine. Add garlic, nutmeg, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, mixing well. Fold in spinach and basil. Mixture should hold together but not be too wet.
Pour tomatoes into a large bowl, crushing with your hands. Reserve.
Heat the oil in a large, semi-deep skillet over medium heat. When hot, add garlic.
As soon as garlic is sizzling, without letting it brown, add the tomatoes. Add red pepper flakes, oregano (if using), and salt. Stir.
Place basil sprig, including stem, on the surface, allowing it to wilt and then submerge in the sauce.
Simmer until thickened, about 10-15 minutes. Adjust seasonings as needed.
Cashew Cheese Sauce:
Soak cashews in water, to cover, 2 to 3 hours, or overnight. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the stock or milk in a small skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and cook just until softened. Set aside.
Drain cashews, discarding the liquid. Transfer to a blender or food processor. Add reserved shallots, remaining stock or plant-based milk, nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth. Adjust with more liquid if too thick.
To prepare the manicotti, layer tomato sauce into the bottom of a baking dish.
Place manicotti into sauce, cover manicotti with more sauce, and top all with the cheese sauce. Bake in a 350-degree F oven for about 25 minutes, or until warmed through.
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