Recipes

Pumpkin Baked Ziti, Your New Noodle Kugel

27 November 2013

My family has never been one to make kugels, noodle, potato or otherwise.  In  fact there’s really only been one noodle kugel I ever liked, which a friend of my parents used to bring to our break fast parties after Yom Kippur.  It was sweet and creamy, absent of devil’s spawn (raisins) and topped with ethereally crunchy shredded coconut.  This was the dish that first turned me on to coconut, though people who know me now will be hard pressed to imagine a time I didn’t like the rich, nutty tropical fruit.  Baked ziti–essentially an Italian version of noodle kugel without all the eggs–was another dish I wasn’t particularly fond of, due to the presence of grainy ricotta cheese.  Going vegan freed me from those terrifying shackles, by presenting me with alternatives to both, namely a sweet and savory, but creamy baked pasta dish.

This recipe comes straight from the ranks of Veganomicon.  I’m including it on my Thanksgivukkuh table this year because it’s an appropriate combination of Thanksgiving flavors, with loose ties to the more traditionally Jewish (ok Ashkenazi) kugel.  It’s also a total crowd pleaser, and can be easily multiplied for a larger number of guests.  Pasta is coated in a creamy mixture of pureed pumpkin and sweet cashew tofu ricotta, delicately spiced with nutmeg and white pepper.  What really makes the dish though, are the caramelized onions that are added to the mix.  Pumpkin and caramelized onions is almost as classic as pumpkin and sage after all, but not to be outdone, sage is featured in the homemade bread crumbs.  The topping also includes crushed walnuts for a nutty finish on top.  I usually use pecans or hazelnuts, since I’m not the biggest fan of walnuts.

Pumpkin Baked Ziti from Veganomicon

  • 3/4 lb uncooked ziti or penne pasta
  • 2 onions, sliced very thinly
  • 1 recipe Cashew Ricotta
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • white pepper and cayenne, to taste
  • 2 c pureed pumpkin or 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree (don’t use pumpkin pie mix)
  • 1/4 c vegetable broth

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly grease a 9×13 in lasagna pan with olive oil (you can also use two smaller pans).

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box.  Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain again.  Set aside.  While the pasta is cooking, start the onions.  Preheat a large, heavy-bottomed pans (cast-iron is great for this) over medium heat.  Add the oil, then the onions, and saute until the onions are very brown and caramelized.  I like to add some salt, to help release the liquid, and then cover.  Slow caramelized onions do take about 45 minutes to be properly done, but you can speed up the process some by increasing the heat.  Just take care not to burn the onions. Set aside.

Place the Cashew Ricotta (recipe to follow) in a bowl and fold in the pumpkin puree, nutmeg, pepper, cayenne, and vegetable broth and stir to combine.  Add the onions and pasta, mixing until thoroughly coated with the sauce. Pour into prepared pan, and press lightly with a spatula to distribute it evenly. Top with the sage breadcrumbs (recipe also to follow) and bake 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown.  Let cool about 10 minutes before serving.  This can also be made in advance and reheated.

Cashew Ricotta

  • 1/2 c raw cashew pieces (about 4 ounces)
  • 1/4 c fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves fresh or roasted garlic
  • 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 creamy paste forms.  Add the crumbled tofu to the food processor, working in two or more batches if necessary, until the mixture is thick and well blended.  Blend in basil and salt.

Sage Breadcrumbs

  • 2 1/2 c plain bread crumbs (homemade are great here)
  • 1/3 c pecans or hazelnuts, chopped until resembling coarse crumbs
  • 1/4 c vegan margarine
  • 2 tsp dried rubbed sage
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Melt the margarine in a large heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat. Stir in the breadcrumbs, nuts, herbs, paprika, and season with salt and pepper.  Stir constantly 3-4 minutes until evenly coated.  Remove from heat and sprinkle evenly over the ziti.

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