Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pumpkin Baked Ziti with Caramelized Onions and Sage Crumb Topping

Straight up now tell me
Will you cashew me forever?
Oh oh oh
Or is this tofu gonna run?
Straight up now tell me
Can garlic and basil together
Oh oh oh
Make a ricotta approximation?

I regret to inform you that the Amish CSA is taking a few months off as a theme for the blog, as we recently received our last shipment of vegetables. In it were a couple of acorn squash.

I am generally unfamiliar with the squash genre of vegetables. I grew up detesting zuchinni and yellow squash -- texture violation issues, generally -- I still prefer them a bit firm. But finally I came around, and have been cooking with summer squashes regularly. I'm still generally a bit unsteady with winter squash.

But here we had these acorn squash, sitting nice and pretty on the counter, and we had to do something with them. Enter the Pumpkin Baked Ziti with Caramelized Onions and Sage Crumb Topping (p. 194). I decided to substitute the acorn squash for the pumpkin.

But before we get to that, let's talk about one of the components of this dish: the Cashew Ricotta (p. 206). First, if you try this dish, you will be making it a lot. Which means you may need a supply of cashews. And for all y'all budget-conscious vegans who shop at Ye Olde Natural Foods Warehouse, the prospect of buying cashews may fill you with dread. But fear not! Your local Indian grocer is your friend! I bought 3 pounds of cashews at International Bazaar on Lafayette Road for $12! Remember, you're not looking for whole cashews because you're just buying them to grind up to make awesome fake ricotta anyway, so don't pay more than you have to...bits and pieces are fine.

This facsimile of ricotta cheese is made of cashews, tofu, garlic, basil, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. You just throw it all in a blender, and voila! ricotta-like goo. And I have to tell you, this is the first recipe that Iv and I have licked off the spatula. This is some mighty fine stuff.

So onto the rest. I made Iv peel the acorn squash for me because it was a major pain and he's good at that kind of stuff. Though not without swearing. The skin on this sucker is tough. Anyway, he ultimately triumphed, and I finally cut them in half.

And then cut them into little cubes, tossed them with a bit of olive oil, and roasted them at 400 for 20 minutes until they caramelized a bit. They should look like this when they're done.
So once this is done, you mash the roasted squash with a potato masher, then mix it with the cashew ricotta and the onions you've been caramelizing over low-medium heat while all the rest of this excitement has been going on. Then you mix it all up with some cooked ziti, and lay it out in a greased casserole dish.

Then, you create the bread crumb topping. Now, I have to tell you, this recipe calls for margarine. But I am here to say that you don't have to use it. Here's what I did. For breadcrumbs, I bought 3 multi-grain rolls at Kroger, tore them into bits, and ran them through the food processor. I did the same thing with the walnuts.
Then I just mixed the bread crumbs and walnuts with the herbs and fried them in the equivalent amount of olive oil and let them cook until the breadcrumbs were nice and crispy.

Seriously, folks, you don't need margarine for this.
Finally, you just layer the breadcrumbs over the rest of the casserole, then stick it in the oven, and wait for the goodness to emerge.

And oh man, is this good. It's garlicky, salty, and sweet from the squash, with a nice sagey crunch from the breadcrumbs. If you didn't know this was vegan, you wouldn't know this was vegan -- though you might wonder a little bit about why it doesn't hold together as well as baked ziti usually does. But whatever. It's moist and delicious and so on. Make this. It's very good. And it's awesome the next day, too. Iv took some for lunch, where he was brown-bagging with one of his coworkers, and was moved to pity him for his wretched peanut butter sandwich. Yes, this recipe has the power to move you to condescend to your less fortunate friends. All bow to the Pumpkin Baked Ziti!


Cortney said...

This was the first recipe I made out of the book, because I dearly love pumpkin and ziti. I loved it too, and also made it with olive oil instead of margarine.

Mixxie said...

This was also my first recipe from the book. I'm making it for the fourth time right now. It is crazy good, no matter what food label you put on it.