When I have people over for dinner, different types of recipes typically get responses that fall into a specific category. Some are the Oh, this is so healthy!-category. Others, the this is sinful, just give me a tiny slice-category. There’s the I can’t stop eating this-category, usually related to appetizers. There’s the, this is so rich, you might have to roll me out the door-category. Anytime I use tofu-ricotta in a recipe, my dinner guests usually fall into the I’d better not eat too much of this-category, but are delighted when they realize that this recipe actually falls into my favorite recipe category: the, this is so healthy but it’s satisfying all my cravings right now category.
I know, I know, some people have an aversion to even the slightest mention of tofu. Everyone’s had soggy unflavored cubes of tofu at some point. Those little guys give this versatile protein a bad rap! In this case, the tofu is blended with a variety of ingredients to give it the taste and feel of real ricotta. The best part is, it tricks the mouth into thinking it’s cheese, but is full of protein! Even my little brother, for whom pizza is a food group, approves of my tofu ricotta–here’s my recipe for kale ricotta lasagna that had him fully convinced that the world was not as he had previously imagined–I ate TOFU? And I thought it was CHEESE?! Mind blown!!!
Most of my recipes are born out of food daydreams, and this one was no exception. I picked up a box of brown rice manicotti (which I had no idea even existed) and began to dream of my pre-lactose intolerant days and the deliciously creamy stuffed pastas I had enjoyed in the past. In that instant, I knew what I must do. I whipped up a batch of tofu ricotta and lightly sauteed some spinach to stuff inside–creamy, garlicky and full of vibrant greens. For the top, a fire-roasted tomato sauce filled with garlic and fresh oregano, and basil to garnish.
I’m of the mind that one shouldn’t eat (or avoid eating) from a place of guilt or shame. Sure, some foods are very occasional sometimes foods. I certainly have my share of nope, definitely can’t/won’t eat that foods, mostly of the highly-processed variety. Sometimes a little sweet treat or crunchy snack is just the thing I want, and I allow myself that every now and again. I’m highly unlikely to jump on the Paleo, Ketogenic, or any other kind of diet-philosophy band-wagon, but what feels best to me is the way Michael Pollan sums it up: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” For me, being healthy always comes back to using real whole ingredients to make real, flavorful and soul-satisfying foods, and to giving yourself the flexibility to give your ever-changing body what it needs when it needs it.
To all my vegan, lactose-intolerant compadres, I hope this stuffed pasta takes you back to the pre dairy-avoiding days that only exist in your dreams! Enjoy!
- For the tofu ricotta:
- 1 (14-ounce) block extra firm tofu, drained
- 1½ tablespoons tahini
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1½ teaspoons mellow white miso
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- For the pasta and sauce:
- 4 tb olive oil, divided
- ½ medium onion, finely chopped
- 5 large cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup dry White wine (optional)
- 1 24 ounce can crushed fire roasted tomatoes
- 1 24 ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 ½ tsp dried basil (or about a tablespoon and a half chopped fresh basil)
- ¼ tsp Crushed red pepper
- splash of balsamic vinegar to taste
- 3 tb finely chopped Fresh oregano (or 1 tablespoon dried)
- 7 ounces brown rice or whole wheat manicotti (I like this kind)
- 8 oz baby spinach, roughly chopped
- salt to taste
- Fresh basil to garnish, optional
- Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Sauté for 3-5 minutes, or until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for an additional minute. Pour in the white wine if using, and cook for a couple minutes to burn off some of the liquid. Add both cans of tomatoes, and dried herbs (fresh herbs are added later), crushed red pepper, and salt to taste. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the tomatoes slightly darken and the flavors meld. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar to taste (about 2 teaspoons), and stir in the fresh oregano. Adjust salt to taste.
- Preheat oven to 350˚F.
- Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add 2 tablespoons salt and par-cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside. If pasta will be sitting for a while, lightly toss it with oil so that it doesn't stick together.
- To make the tofu ricotta, combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth, stopping to push down the sides with a rubber spatula if needed. Adjust seasonings to taste and set aside.
- Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium frying pan. Add spinach, and generous pinch of salt and cook for 2 minutes, or until the spinach has just wilted and is still bright green. Allow to cool slightly.
- Combine the spinach and tofu ricotta in a medium bowl and stir until evenly incorporated. Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag or large freezer bag, and cut off a small corner at the bottom of the bag.
- Spread half the sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Pipe the spinach-ricotta mixture from the bag to fill each noodle, and arrange them in a single layer in the baking dish. Spread the remaining sauce over the top of the noodles, cover with foil and bake according to the pasta package directions, about 40 minutes. Garnish with fresh basil right before serving if desired.