Monday, October 10, 2011

Got a can of pumpkin but don’t want to bake a pie?


I suggest you try this savory casserole instead. It’s the first recipe I’ve tried from Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. I prepared this as a treat for my eldest who was home from school for the weekend and cramming as much New England autumnal activity in as possible. We went apple picking, we browsed an antique store, and we watched a ton of horror movies.

I got started during Theater of Blood starring the never-disappointing Vincent Price so I missed most of the gross-out scenes but they sounded gruesome. It is highly recommended Halloween viewing.

This recipe has three major prep steps but none are at all complicated and then you just mix everything together at the end and stick it in the oven.

Pumpkin Baked Ziti With Caramelized Onions and Sage Crumb Topping

Serves 6-8

Time: About an hour

  • 3/4 pound uncooked ziti or penne pasta
  • 2 onions, sliced very thinly
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 1 recipe Cashew Ricotta (to follow)
  • 1 tbs brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • white pepper and cayenne (I didn’t have white pepper so I just used black---white pepper is really more about aesthetics in a dish like this)
  • 2 cups pureed pumpkin, or 1 (15-oz.) can pumpkin puree (don’t use pie mix)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable broth

Sage Bread Crumbs:

  • 2 1/2 c bread crumbs, preferable fresh and homemade (I used Panko the 2nd time and didn’t taste a major difference)
  • 1/3 cup walnut pieces, chopped in a food processor (if you don’t have a food processor, place the nuts in a plastic bag and run a rolling pin or a heavy can over them until they are coarsely crumbled)
  • 1/4 non-hydrogenated vegan margarine
  • 2 tsp dried, rubbed sage
  • 1 tsp dried oregano (I didn’t have this but I probably would have omitted it anyway)
  • 1/2 tsp ground paprika
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

PREHEAT THE oven to 375. Lightly grease a 9x11-inch lasagna-type baking pan with olive oil (cooking spray is fine)

If you are going to make bread crumbs and walnuts  in your food processor, prepare them before preparing the Cashew Ricotta. It is a lot easier to clean the bowl of bread crumbs then the messy ‘ricotta’ mixture.


Slow cooking over low heat is the trick to caramelizing the onions rather than burning them. I use my 8” cast-iron pan for this. It looks crowded at first but the onions will sweat out and reduce quite a bit as you can see from the photos. I sprinkle a bit of kosher salt over them to facilitate the sweat. This is what you’ll be doing with the 3 tbs olive oil, btw. It takes about 15 minutes for the onions to get to the third stage.


While your onions are browning, make the ‘ricotta’ mixture.

Cashew Ricotta

Makes 2 cups

1/2 c raw cashews pieces

1/4 c fresh lemon juice (I used bottled)

2 tbs olive oil (my current olive oil is a bit stronger in flavor than I like so I used walnut oil instead since there are walnuts in the dish)

2 cloves fresh or roasted garlic (the first time I used roasted, the second I used raw---I didn’t detect a difference)

1 lb. firm tofu, drained and crumbled

1 1/2 tsp dried basil

1 1/2 tsp salt

In a food processor, blend together the cashews, lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic until a thick and creamy paste forms. Add the crumbled tofu to the food processor, working in two or more bathes if necessary, until the mixture is thick and well blended. Blend in the basil and salt. The results are delicious, very similar to the taste and texture of ricotta, and you will be immediately thinking of all the wonderful ways you can use it in the future.


At this point you may as well transfer this mixture to a large bowl and fold in the pumpkin, brown sugar, nutmeg, pepper and cayenne, and vegetable broth and mix well. It will turn a lovely pale orange color that my camera didn’t quite capture. Instead, here is a picture from before I stirred it and you can use your imagination and knowledge of color theory to figure it out.


By now, the onions are probably ready so mix them in to the pumpkin mixture. At this point, you also should have a pot of water coming to the boil for your pasta. Cook that according to the directions on the box and drain. If you are going to cook your pasta in advance, rinse it under cold water to prevent carry-over cooking.


In a large, heavy bottom skillet (I like my cast-iron for this) melt the margarine over medium heat and add the bread crumbs, walnuts, herbs, and paprika stirring to combine and keep the mixture from burning. You just want them lightly browned. Nuts can burn quickly so this is not the time to check on anything else. You can actually turn the heat off before full browning occurs and there will be enough heat left to finish the job,

When the pasta is done, mix it well with the pumpkin mixture and spread into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle on the crumb topping and place in the pre-heated oven to bake for about 28-30 minutes.

This is a dish that you can easily bring to a ‘mixed’ pot-luck and no one will know or care that it is vegan.


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