Vegan Pumpkin Manicotti


Thrusting from a vacation back into the continual chill known as November in my part of the world, rejolted my need for hibernation.

Part of this ritual naturally consists of no longer wanting to venture outside for long walks along the beach or having bird like meals made up of crunchy vegetables. Rib sticking, hearty, soft and warm is what I crave, and so what if all I want to do is have a nap afterward?

With my onslaught of deliciously sweet pumpkins awaiting my arrival, I’ve made my share of sweet treats. If anything, I’ve noticed from my humble, hearty gourds is that, as wonderful as pumpkin is with sugar and nutmeg, they go fantastically well with the acidic punch of a tomato. So in meeting my hibernation qualifications, I concocted this little twist on a traditional cheese stuffed manicotti.

So, after a bit of an absence, I’m about to check in with Ruth and my other Presto Pasta lover’s to see about the transition from salads to soups and sauces. I’m positive the round-up of dishes will be rib stickingly delicious, as usual.


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Soba 101


One of my most favourite places to explore is any neighbourhood China Town. Bustling with people, new aromas, and spilling produce, this exciting area of most major cities is a feast for the eyes.

Here in Toronto, tucked a few blocks over from the central China Town is a small but wonderful Japanese store. After refilling my wasabi prescription, I gaze along the long aisles of offerings. Included are various teas, Hello Kitty Pocky sticks, every shade of miso, enoki mushrooms and of course, noodles.

Wheat, rice, green tea, tofu, ramen, udon and soba noodle varieties ready for any dish the Far East has ever created.

How elated was I to discover that soba is the name for buckwheat in Japanese?
For those of you who weren’t sure, like me, buckwheat is neither a grass or related to the wheat family. It’s a flowering plant which produces the seeds for great things like pillows and yes, buckwheat flour.

Asian noodle soup has to be in my top list of most amazing meals. The simplicity of them makes them satisfying and perfect. The noodles and broth create a host bowl for just about any combination imaginable.


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Great White North



I’m currently tearing off the layers as I write this. It’s tough to believe that it’s Thanksgiving, here in Canada, that is. You see, it’s 90ºF and I’m really thankful I cooked our “Appreciate The Turkey Day” feast yesterday when it was cloudy and chilly enough for a cozy fire.

I went outside to try to find any scratch of this great Holiday going on. Any cars gathering for visits, the scent of roasting goodness traveling through a window screen, a football cheer, or the screech of a fork on a plate, but nothing. Nothing but cyclists, lawn mowers buzzing, the summer smell of the backyard grill, fans blowing and kids giggling with their dad on his day off.

I made soup last night, with feast leftovers, two kinds! This time of year, mind floods to comforting, feel good, stick to your ribs meals. But today, as I’m about down to my skivvies, I just can’t imagine any more hot and sticky.

Together with a little roasted pumpkin and grilled tofu, left over from yesterday, I whipped up a creamy spinach pesto to go over some quick, brown rice fettuccine. It was perfectly satisfying and didn’t add heat to the house.

Oh well, shouldn’t complain, it could have been snowing.
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Hearty Autumn Hello


As the weather begins to get a chill on, thoughts of rustic, comfort food are the first to come to mind. To mine at least. I also couldn’t think of a better way to warm up and still enjoy what remains of the farmer’s markets in our area.

Pasta and beans are a classic Italian peasant dish and for good reason. Thick and satisfying, this vegetable based pasta and bean stew uses up what you have on hand and is substantial enough to feed a crowd. Served up with a freshly baked, herbed focaccia, will make welcoming Autumn a little bit easier.
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Sweet Potato Ravioli


I’m not sure when I first had a sweet potato with tomato, but I do know I’ve always liked it.
The sweetness combined with the slight tang of tomato sauce creates such a delicious balance.

When I first decided I was going to make this for presto pasta night, I was dreading the idea of laborious ravioli when I remembered a gift from my cousin in Poland. Years back, she was here for a visit and in my typical, true form, I wanted to learn whatever she’d share about her favorite traditional and classic meals from home.
Upon her return, she sent me a gift. In it contained a cookbook of tripe, boiled potatoes, battered pork chops and borscht and a set of pierogi makers.

Not one to throw anything away, yes I still have the book – it is a conversation piece after all, I dug out the pierogi maker, rolled my dough and set to seal some sweet potato.
It was so easy and quick, honestly, I was finished making the ravioli faster than my pot of water could boil. And, as expected, homemade pasta wins again!

SWEET POTATO RAVIOLI

1/2 Cup Unbleached Flour
1/2 Cup Semolina Flour
1/3 Cup Hot Water
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Tomato Purée, Optional
1 Sweet Potato

Bring a pot of water to boil; peel and dice the sweet potato and add to the water.
Once the sweet potato is softened, drain, mash and set aside.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flours and salt.
With the motor slowly running and the feeder tube removed, add the oil, tomato purée and slowly drizzle in the hot water.
At this point the dough should come together into a ball, if it doesn’t add more water, 1 teaspoon at a time.
Remove the ball of dough from the food processor and divide in half.
Roll each piece as thinly as possible and using the pierog/ravioli maker, cut as many rounds as possible from the dough.
Place one circle of dough into the maker and add about a teaspoon of the mashed sweet potato.
Seal and repeat with the remaining dough.
Bring another large pot of water to boil and add the finished pierogi.
Cook to al denté. Remove when they begin to float, after about 3 – 4 minutes.
Serve with a primavera tomato sauce or a fresh tomato sauce.

FRESH TOMATO SAUCE

2 Tomatoes, skinned and seeded
1 Clove Garlic, Puréed
pinch of salt
1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Bring a large pot of water to boil.
Prepare a bowl of ice water.
Score the bottom of the tomatoes and drop them into the boiling water for about 1 minute.
Remove and plunge them into the cold water.
Core the tomatoes and remove the skins; slice and remove the seeds.
Mash the tomatoes with a fork and add the puréed garlic, salt and olive oil; mix well.

Spinach & Beet Lasagna



I may have insulted one of the growers from the farmer’s market once. She was explaining how she has an heirloom variety of beets and how they had tasted different than regular beets, although she wasn’t able to fully articulate how. Apparently I wasn’t able either when I asked if the difference was this variety tasting any less like earth. She was notably speechless. I didn’t choose to buy the beets and she didn’t pursue it. Yet somehow, either by guilt or curiosity, I’ve ended up, a few weeks later, with a bunch of fresh beets in my crisper.

With this surplus of beets and an urge to make pasta, I set forth to make one of the prettiest pastas most people get a chance to see. Beet pasta is an unmistakable, vibrant pink which even for those who aren’t crazy for beets, and I know you’re out there, must be tempted to try. The beets tend to lend more colour than flavour to the pasta, but that’s alright, that’s what all those layers of the lasagna are for.

I wanted to keep this Presto Pasta dish to the point and make it quickly. Surprisingly the preparation didn’t take all that long at all. Using a food processor everything, except the dishes, was a breeze.

The recipe’s got it’s layers, but it really did only take about 30 minutes to prepare.

FRESH BEET PASTA

1 Red Beet, Medium Peeled
1/3 Cup Hot Water
3/4 Cup Unbleached, All Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Semolina Flour
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon Salt

Peel and roast or boil the beet. Add it to a blender or a food processor along with the hot water.
Purée the beet an strain, reserving the hot liquid.
To the bowl of a food processor, add the flours and the salt.
With the feeder tube open and the motor running, add the oil and the hot water.
Stop the food processor when the dough comes together to form a ball.
If the dough doesn’t come into a ball quickly, you may need to add very small amounts of water, 1/2 teaspoon, at a time until it does.
Remove the ball of dough. It should be moist and pliable but not sticky. Cut it into quarters and cover.
Using a pasta maker or a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface, roll each quarter as thinly as possible.
Trim into long workable strips or leave whole.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil and drop the pasta sheets in for about 1 -2 minutes. Drain and lay flat until ready to use.

TOFU RICOTTA

1 Package Firm Tofu
1 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon thyme, dried
1/2 teaspoon Onion Powder
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast Flakes, optional
2 Cloves Garlic or 1 teaspoon, minced
Small Sprig of Oregano (about 8-10 leaves), finely chopped
4 – 5 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A good grinding of black pepper

Place the tofu into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to mash the tofu until it is small and evenly crumbled. To it, add the nutritional yeast, garlic, oregano salt and pepper.
Drizzle over the olive oil making the mixture come and hold together when held or pressed with a fork.
Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.

BÉCHAMEL SAUCE

2 Tablespoons Margarine
3 Tablespoons Unbleached All Purpose Flour
2 Cups Soy Milk
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Garlic Powder
Pinch of nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon Fresh Black Pepper

In a large saucepan, melt the margarine on a medium heat. Add the flour, stirring well to incorporate and cook.
Once slightly paste like and golden, remove from the heat and whisk in the soy milk.
Return and reduce heat to low. Add the salt, pepper and garlic, stirring occasionally to incorporate and thicken the sauce.
Adjust seasoning as necessary and remove from the heat. Set aside.

SAUTÉED SPINACH AND BEET GREENS

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 White Onion, finely diced
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 Bunch Beet Greens
4 Cups Baby Spinach leaves, packed
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash and trim only the brightest and crispest stems from your bunch of beets; chop into 1/2″ lengths.
Heat the oil over a medium high heat in a large sautée pan.
Add the onion and garlic, cook until soft and transparent.
Add the trimmed beet greens, cooking until tender, about 3 – 5 minutes.
Rinse and add the spinach leave; tossing occasionally until bright and wilted.
Remove from heat and set aside.

ASSEMBLY

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Spoon a thin coating of the béchamel over the bottom of a shallow baking dish.
Add one layer of the pasta and top with an even layer of the tofu ricotta.
Add another layer of the pasta, topping it with another thin layer of the béchamel, followed by the spinach and beet greens mixture.
Cover everything with a thin layer of the remaining pasta and top with what is left of the béchamel.
Thinly sprinkle over nutritional yeast flakes, if desired and bake for about 30 minutes or until the top has evenly browned.