Pesto Redux

I find myself working from home today while trying to fend off an illness whose most notable symptom is the sensation that there is a vise across the bridge of my nose. I left work early yesterday and it was all I could do to swing by the drugstore for some (to be used for legal purposes only) decongestants.

I rolled out of bed this morning, made some coffee, and got to work. By 12:30 I had sent 43 emails and held two conference calls. (Remember when sick days were a thing?) The vise was tightening. I was hungry and I had failed to stock the fridge. It was chilly and gray and I had no interest in donning pants. I was going to have to make do with what I had.

There was some kale from my CSA, a quarter cup of ricotta cheese that seemed to still be good, and an open bag of whole wheat penne. While I am not above making this a meal, it seemed a little sad. Then I remembered that rosemary-basil pesto I had frozen during the last gasps of summer and it all came together. Twenty minutes later, I was sitting down to a delicious lunch – and my next conference call.

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Pasta Alla Eliana

My sister Eliana continues to camp out on an air bed where my dining table usually resides.  The regular reader (anyone?) will recall that she is 16 and vegan.  One of my goals for Eliana’s visit is to teach her some cooking fundamentals so that she can feed herself healthy meals at college and beyond without relying on exorbitantly priced prepared items from Whole Foods.

Today’s CSA share included a giant eggplant, some purple basil and an abundance of glorious tomatoes.  I was thinking Pasta Alla Norma, which is a traditional Sicilian pasta dish with fried eggplant, tomatoes, basil and ricotta salata.  Ricotta salata is an Italian cheese that’s a lot like feta in its crumbly texture but with a less sharp flavor.

But I am feeding a vegan…

Pasta Alla Eliana

  • 1 large or 2 medium eggplant, cut into cubes
  • 4 tbsp (or so) olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1/2 tbsp crushed red pepper or to taste
  • 4 ounces tempeh, cut like lardon (roughly half the size of a matchstick)
  • 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1-3 tbsp red wine vinegar (depending on acidity of tomatoes)
  • 10 ounces whole wheat ziti or other large tubular pasta
  • 20 fresh basil leaves
  • 3/4 cup vegan mozzarella shreds
  • 3 tsp nutritional yeast
  • salt and pepper
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat.  (Nonstick would be easier, but I don’t own one and it was fine so long as we made sure to scrape the bottom regularly.)  Add the eggplant in batches so as not to crowd the pan, pouring another tablespoon of olive oil into the pan before each batch.  Cook eggplant, stirring occasionally until browned and softened.  Add all of the eggplant back to the pan along with the garlic, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan, for a few minutes until you smell the garlic toasting.  Remove from pan.
  2. Put a pot of salted water on to boil.  Heat another tablespoon of olive oil and add your tempeh as well as the soy sauce.  (I know that the soy sauce seems odd here, but it will help give the tempeh a flavor that mimics the guanciale or other cured pork product I would ordinarily be tempted to include.)  Cook stirring constantly until the tempeh is nicely browned and then add your tomatoes.  Cook for a few minutes, throw the eggplant back into the pan, stir in a tablespoon of red wine vinegar and let simmer, adding a little water if it starts to dry out.  
  3. When the water boils, add your pasta and cook until just before al dente (about two minutes less than the package instructs).  Scoop the pasta directly into your sauce, allowing some of the pasta water to transfer, and simmer for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce begins to stick to pasta.  Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and vinegar as you see fit.
  4. Dish pasta into individual bowls, topping each with 1/4 cup of the vegan mozzarella, torn up basil leaves and a teaspoon of nutritional yeast.  (While this last ingredient is definitely not necessary, it will lend a cheesy flavor.  And, since it was a staple of my childhood, I’m going to assume that it has some nutritional value.)

This provided a solid dinner for two people with enough leftovers for Eliana’s lunch tomorrow.  Here’s what it looked like once we mixed it up.

And here’s a little tomato porn, just because.