I’m a farmers’ market junkie, so eating in season is my default, but I did want to stick with my “try new things” MoFo plan and highlight the good stuff we get here in August.
Tomatoes are key this time of year. I could’ve made a whole tomato THING, really, but I didn’t. Eggplant is also in season, and squash–and squash blossoms. Basil and other herbs are beautiful; I’m getting avocado and sweet fancy lettuce varieties too. So why not make an eggplant BLT–I haven’t made eggplant bacon before–and stuffed squash blossoms?
For the BLT, only the eggplant required a little extra prep. Everything else was wash ‘n’ slice.
A side of stuffed squash blossoms takes a little more effort, but it’s worth it.
I’ve done stuffed squash blossoms before, but these had a slightly different filling and batter. In the past, I’ve done more of a cornmeal crust; this was white flour and club soda (OK, well, homemade herbed sparkling water). And I made the almond ricotta myself with blanched almond flour, lemon juice, and water.
What are our best secret ingredients, after all, but weirdo vegan secrets? Aquafaba? Nutritional yeast? Cashews that are not merely part of a snack nut mix?! Come on. Any one of these things will garner a raised eyebrow from most of your relatives, and that’s not even counting those who make a face at the mere thought of eating tofu.
One of those weirdo vegan ingredients that has gotten me questions in the grocery checkout line is tempeh. “What do you do with it?!” they ask. And I always answer: marinate, pan-fry, bake, or…crumble, simmer, and sauce. The latter feels more “secret ingredient”-y: tempeh marinara is delicious, easy, and one of my go-tos on nights when I don’t know what else to cook.
Step 1: Dice up the tempeh and simmer it in a saute pan with red wine (about halfway up the tempeh pieces), splash of soy sauce, and some seasoning: oregano, thyme, red pepper flakes, crushed fennel seeds if you’re feeling adventurous.
Step 2: When most of the wine is absorbed, smash the tempeh with a fork or potato masher, then add a little olive oil to help some of it brown a bit. This is also a good time to add onion, if you like.
Step 3: Add crushed tomatoes or tomato puree (~24 oz. can or jar) and stir, then bring to a simmer while you wait for the pasta to cook. (Oh. You should’ve started some pasta water.) Toss in as many cloves of microplaned garlic as you can tolerate peeling as the sauce heats up. (If you don’t have a microplane or garlic press, just mince the garlic and give it a 30-second saute with the olive oil, before you add the tomatoes.)
Step 4: Season to taste (salt, pepper, nooch) and consider stirring in fresh parsley or basil, if you have it. A handful of baby spinach or arugula also wouldn’t be out of place. Fold in your cooked pasta (you already cooked your pasta, right? And set aside some cooking liquid to revive it/unstick it if your timing wasn’t awesome?).
Step 5: Eat some pasta. Be glad you didn’t buy those weird faux ground beef crumbles instead of tempeh.
The tempeh could also be used, sans tomato sauce, as sausage crumbles in other applications, such as pizza topping. Ohhh, it’s good on vegan pizza.
I also recommend making your favorite version of a vegan parmesan. A lot of recipes call for roasting things, drying things, etc. but I am LAZY and I just put hemp seeds, almonds, and nooch in a spice grinder and let ‘er rip until it’s a nice powder.
For my dinner, I used this sauce to make a baked penne dish with roasted eggplant and tofu-cashew ricotta, adapted from an omni recipe on Chowhound. The sauce is the same process, though I added some sliced onion at the crumble-saute step and about ¼ cup of chopped kalamata olives with the tomato sauce. I also did not layer the baking dish, but you could. Melty vegan cheese, if that’s your thing, would be a nice addition. It’s actually delicious even without baking, just sprinkled with nutty nooch.
Honestly, I don’t have a go-to here – I plan my menus around the people eating them and the food I find.
But there are some things that always sound impressive, require some effort, and come out like something made with love. Gnocchi is one of these. It’s easier than pasta (no special equipment required) but it sounds fancy and special.
I’ve found that a little goes a long way, so I made as much gnocchi as a single russet potato could produce.
To go with it, I made a lovely, chunky sauce with yellow onion, eggplant, plum tomatoes, garlic, and plenty of red pepper flakes, olive oil, and red wine vinegar. I also made a quick cashew-hemp seed-almond milk creamy sauce to mimic a bechamel or cheese topping and baked everything together like a casserole.
Since this is actually a weeknight meal, I needed some more protein (pan-fried tofu) and greens (spinach), which I cooked with a little bit of the extra creamy sauce. It was, frankly, overkill – some people like rich food; I am not often among them – and the appearance wasn’t as “ooh-la-la” as I hoped, but it was still good.
Gnocchi is always special, even if it’s not magic.