Cashew ricotta and spinach cannelloni
Growing up in the northeastern part of the U.S. I was exposed to a lot of Italian foods. New York, Boston and Philadelphia have always been home to a large number of Italian-Americans, and this old meets new Italian cuisine is responsible for a whole lot of what Americans eat today.
When we think of Italian food, many of us think pasta (or yes, pizza, of course!). At first, you might not think that pasta would be an issue in a plant-based diet, but that isn’t really the case. While normal, dry pasta is almost always 100% plant-based, fresh pasta contains eggs. I know a lot of people consider fresh pasta to be superior, but in many dishes that doesn’t really need to the case, and well, dry pasta is a whole lot cheaper!
As a kid, I always loved ravioli. Ah, man it was easily my favorite. Spaghetti, fusili, tagliatelli, yeah sure, but those large filled ravioli always got my vote. However, like most kids (and many adults, haha), I did not think that spinach was good back then, despite Popeye’s attempts to convince me otherwise. However, I later grew to love the combination of ricotta and spinach.
I’ve never made my own ravioli before, but spinach and ricotta manicotti, or cannelloni, is something I’ve liked for a long time, and made many times when I was “only” vegetarian. So when I was at a nearby, low-cost supermarket recently during their “Italian week” sales, I picked up some cannelloni tubes and some pretty dang awesome, no dairy pesto – green AND red! (But that’s another story.)
So, then the question is – how do you make a plant-based, ricotta-like cheese. Surprisingly, it’s not that hard – you use cashews. Soaked, drained and blended cashews are a good starting point for several different vegan cheeses. Ricotta is used in Italian cooking not so much for it’s flavor, as it’s consistency. By adding a little acidity in the form of lemon juice (just like someone making their own dairy ricotta would do) to cashews that have been soaked overnight, a smooth, creamy cashew ricotta can be whipped up in minutes. Throw in a few herbs and spices and you’re well on your way! Sometimes people think that making your own vegan version of something like this, is a time-consuming, extra step, but I promise you, this is easy cheesy!
The sauce can be everything from quick ‘n’ easy out of the jar, to make it all yourself. That all depends on you, how much time you have and the occasion. I went for something in the middle. As for the spinach, I really like working with the frozen “pucks” you can get. It’s easy to eyeball (I need like two pucks per tube), there really isn’t a lot of excess moisture, and it’s usually chopped very finely so you don’t have large pieces sticking together.
Last but not least is our cheese topping. Back in the day, one might have used mozzarella and some Parmesan, but this is a post-dairy version we’re going for. As I’ve mentioned in my baked potato pizza and grilled cheese sandwich recipes, finding a vegan cheese, or cheeses, that melt well is very important. This time around I went for a mix of ”mozzarella” and “pizza cheese” – you’d think these might be the same, but they were different both in texture and flavor, one softer and whiter, and the other more firm.
I’d love to hear from people living in different parts of the world about what is, and isn’t, available, and what you yourselves recommenced.
So, that’s all for this time. Lucky for me I have some leftover cashew ricotta and spinach cannelloni for tonight’s dinner! Leftovers? I know. How did I not eat it all up, you ask?! Restraint, lots of restraint.
- ½ onion, diced
- olive oil
- 1¾ lbs (800 g) - canned chopped tomatoes
- 1 bay leaf
- fresh or dried basil and oregano
- Salt and pepper Spinach
- 9 oz (250 g) - frozen spinach
- ½ onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic
- ¼ tsp ( 1.25 ml) - nutmeg Cashew ricotta
- 1 cup (2.4 dl) cashews, soaked in water overnight
- ca 3 Tbsp (45 ml) - lemon juice (juice from one lemon)
- 1 Tbsp (15 ml) - finely chopped onion (or 1 tsp onion powder)
- 1 Tbsp (15 ml) - olive oil
- 1 Tbsp (15 ml) - nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp (5 ml) - tahini
- 1 clove garlic
- ¼ cup (.6 dl) - water
- 10-12 cannelloni tubes
- 4½ oz (125 g) - vegan cheese(s), I used a mix of two different vegan cheeses.
- Sauté the diced onion in a little olive oil for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes, herbs and spices (add(omit according to your preference), stir and let simmer for 20- 30 minutes until sauce thickens.
- Sauté the other half of the onion in a little olive oil for a few minutes, then add the spinach, garlic and nutmeg. Heat until spinach melts and any excess water/moisture cooks away. Should only take about 10 minutes, so remove and allow to cool a little while sauce is still cooking.
- While the sauce and spinach are cooking, prepare the cashew ricotta. Drain and rinse the soaked cashews and pour them and all the other ricotta ingredients into a blender. Mix until smooth.
- Spread a little olive oil on the bottom of a ovenproof pan. Combine the spinach and ricotta and mix well. Fill a piping bag or a plastic bag with the ricotta/spinach mix and squeeze into the cannelloni tubes, placing each tube in the pan when filled. You should be able to fill ca 10 – 12 tubes.
- Pour the thickened tomato sauce over the cannelloni, spread some fresh basil leaves on top, and finally top with the vegan cheese(s).
- Cook in oven at 375° F(190° C) for about 30 minutes (follow the instructions on the cannelloni package). Check from time to time and cover with foil if the cheese starts to burn.