Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Weekly Vegan: Baked Ziti with Grilled Veggies

Since this week's vegan night fell on a work night, I wanted to go with something quick and easy yet delicious (Fortunately, my sister also gave me a vegan cookbook that starts with the words quick and easy. It felt like a sign to use it.). I had a particular hankering for Italian, so I went with a nice baked ziti, which is kind of like the most delicious lasagna impostor out there. I also had a new participant in vegan night, Sarah, who is no stranger to the ways of vegan cooking (meaning she might realize if I actually sucked at it). The pressure was on, but so were the grill and homemade pasta sauce, so I felt set to take on the challenge.

Baked Ziti
Modified from Quick and Easy Vegan Comfort Food by A. Simpson
Servings: 8
Time: 60 minutes
Faux beef FTW!

1 cup vegetable broth + 1/4 cup 
1 1/2 tsp hickory liquid smoke
1 bag Boca meatless crumble
1 pound ziti, cooked according to the package
1/2 onion, diced
4 cups marinara sauce (see below)
Pepper to taste
2 cups shredded vegan mozzarella

Stop now and you have "beefy" mac

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Bring 1 cup of the veggie broth and the liquid smoke to a boil in a pot. Add the meatless crumble and let cook until all the broth is absorbed (about 7-10 minutes)
  3. Mix the meatless crumble, cooked ziti, onion, marinara sauce (see below for a recipe or use store bought; I won't judge), remaining veggie broth and pepper in a large bowl.
  4. Lightly oil a casserole dish.
  5. Pour half of the pasta mix into the casserole dish then sprinkle on a cup of the faux mozzarella.
  6. Repeat step five making sure to take a sample of the deliciousness you're about to be in for.
  7. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 5 minutes or until the cheese melts (if your veggie cheese is having trouble melting like they sometimes do, you can put it under the broiler for about a minute to help).
  8. Scoop out like lasagna and enjoy.
It looks kind of like the ziti is trying to escape from a delicious melted cheese pool (fun fact: one day when I'm rich I will have a delicious melted cheese pool)
Like I mentioned above, this is essentially lasagna with different noodles (which in their tubular shape are much more fun to play with). The ziti was cooked just right, and the beefless crumble (with a great hint of smokiness) really simulated your usual carnivorous varieties (seriously you could pretend this was a meat dish and no one would have a clue you were lying). As always, though, the true star was melted "cheese". I've been quite impressed with the cheese substitutes available, and this was no exception. It had the mozzarella taste down perfectly and melted superbly to make each bite incredible (and even a little stretchy).

Marinara Sauce
Randomly thrown together in my head
Servings: 1 baked ziti
Time: 20 minutes

1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil
1/4 cup Red Wine, preferably a cab (here's a handy list of vegan friendly wines)
4 cups tomato sauce
Basil to taste
Oregano to taste
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

I find the sauce comes out better when I dress and talk like an old Italian woman.
  1. Sauté the onion and garlic in oil over medium heat until soft and translucent (about 5 minutes).
  2. Add in the red wine and reduce to about half.
  3. Pour in the tomato sauce and stir well.
  4. Stir in the basil, oregano, salt and pepper and let the flavors marry for about 15 minutes.
  5. Let cool somewhat (like 10 minutes) then add to your ziti mix.
This was a pretty good pasta sauce for our baked ziti. There was a sweetness and saltiness to it that worked very well together (and helped make the final product not require additional salt). The big impact, however, came from the onion component. Cooking them in the red wine really helped bring out some of their inert sweetness and flavor that shined throughout (and was further emphasized by adding more onions to the ziti). The only real change I would make would be using crushed tomatoes instead of tomato sauce to provide a little more texture.

Grilled Veggies
Modified from Quick and Easy Vegan Comfort Food by A. Simpson
Time: 50 minutes (30 inactive)

Asparagus, ends trimmed
Squash, sliced
Zucchini, sliced
Olive Oil

Not pictured: Grill Master Alexis rocking the veggies.
  1. Put the veggies in a plastic bag and drizzle on some olive oil and balsamic.
  2. Sprinkle in the spices and mix well.
  3. Let marinade in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  4. Get your neighbor to start up your grill your and lose one man point (If you don't have a grill, bake these in the oven around 400 F for 12-15 minutes. And if you don't have a neighbor, well you're screwed.).
  5. Grill on low for 20 minutes flipping halfway through or at high heat for 3-5 minutes per side if you want those grill marks.
  6. Realize that strange feeling is your body trying to leach all the nutrients out of the veggies it's been so deprived of.
Apparently, I am incapable of turning on our grill. Luckily, Alexis is a pro and was able to take over grill master duties while I worked on the baked ziti. These grilled veggies were a fantastic side for our baked ziti. The balsamic was key to their wonderful flavors, and the rosemary and thyme created a splendid aroma that enhanced the experience. Plus, Alexis grilled them to perfection lending to their speedy disappearance. 
They were right when they said I couldn't fit it all in my mouth at once...
I think this is the early frontrunner for vegan night of the year. I knew this was a winner when I saw people grabbing stray pieces of ziti on the foil and in the casserole dish while we were cleaning up. Also, this was great introduction to the other vegan cookbook that I know look forward to using for the next several entries in The Weekly Vegan. Three weeks in, I can definitely say that I finding myself looking forward to vegan night every week (and not just because of my strange phobias about touching raw meat).

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