Sooner or later the day will come when you have to feed a vegetarian. It may be a neighbor you're entertaining, or a colleague from the office. Maybe one of your children brought a vegetarian friend home from college. If you’re lucky, the vegetarians in your life are willing to eat dairy products or fish. Then it's no big deal. The real problem comes when you find yourself providing dinner for a true vegan. But don't worry, I've got you covered.
If you're a regular reader of this blog then you know I'm a confirmed carnivore. I thrive on high protein and the meals I prepare usually contain some kind of meat, fish, poultry or seafood. If it walks, crawls, flies or swims, I'm good with it. Nevertheless, I sometimes eat a vegetarian meal simply because I like it. I love angel hair pasta with freshly made basil pesto in the summer. I also have a spinach lasagna recipe I like to make. Eggplant Parmesan is one of my very favorite meals. Unfortunately, all of these entrees contain cheese, so if you're having a true vegan over for dinner, they simply won't do.
Never fear, I'm going to share one of my very favorite recipes that just happens to qualify as vegan. It's Pasta with Red Pesto. I love this recipe so much, I bet I make it at least once a month. It's perfect for the night when you're too busy to cook, but need something truly delicious. Best of all, it's made mostly from pantry ingredients, so if you replenish your stock regularly, you will always have the ingredients on hand. It's so simple that the only component that actually requires cooking is the pasta. The pesto is prepared by simply dumping all of the ingredients in the food processor and pulsing till it's all finely chopped.
Although I almost know it by heart, I still refer to my ancient yellowing newspaper clipping when I make this dish. According to Betty Rosbottom, author of the article I clipped, the recipe first appeared in a cookbook entitled Trattoria by Patricia Wells. I can't link you to the recipe, so I’m reproducing it for you here:
Red Pesto Sauce
10 sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil (drained)
1 plump fresh garlic clove minced ( I like a lot of garlic, so I use three. And I don't mince them)
½ teaspoon crushed hot red pepper flakes
6 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
20 salt cured pitted black olives ( I use Kalamatas)
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves or 2/3 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves or 1 teaspoon dried.
Process all of the ingredients in your food processor until it is “lightly emulsified but still quite coarse and almost chunky.” I know that sounds odd, but trust me you will know it when you see it. Just be sure to stop the processor every 20 seconds or so and take a peek, especially the first time you make it.
Now, I'm going to give you a few tips that makes this already ridiculously easy recipe even easier. When I make it, I use Alessi brand sun-dried tomatoes. I have found that one jar contains the perfect amount of tomatoes and olive oil needed for this recipe. So, I just dump the whole jar in the food processor. I've used other brands, but I prefer this one, especially since it does not require me to get my fingers all greasy pulling tomatoes out of the jar so I can count them.
Next, add the garlic and herbs. I do not find it necessary to do all of this mincing that Ms. Rosbottom wants us to do. I just halve or quarter the garlic cloves depending on size and throw the herbs in unminced. Works fine. We have to leave something for the food processor to do, right? It needs to earn its keep. Next, count out your olives and dump them in the food processor as well. Don't forget the crushed red pepper. Process the ingredients and presto: Pesto!
Cook 1 pound of spaghetti as the package instructions dictate. When I made this recipe earlier this week, I used Barilla Veggie Spaghetti because I liked the idea that a serving of pasta contained a serving of vegetables. We always need more veggies!
Combine the cooked pasta with the pesto. The recipe calls for ½ cup of pesto for the entire pound of pasta. We always use more than that. In fact, we usually use most if not all of the pesto we've made. When you toss it with the pasta, use two large forks. Work it, work it, work it! The pesto has a tendency to clump up and if you're not vigilant, you will wind up with a lot of the good stuff in the bottom of your bowl. Add ¼ cup of parsley. You can add it when you toss the pasta or leave it out to sprinkle on top.
We always crown our pasta with Parmesan cheese and I'm not shy about it either. While some people are happy to settle for a snow flurry, I want a blizzard. I want to taste that cheese! And please don't disappoint me by using the kind that comes in a cylinder at the grocery store and begins with a “K”. You know what I'm talking about. One thing I consider splurge worthy when it comes to food is really good Parmesan cheese. The kind you buy at the fancy food store that comes in big uneven chunks and costs so much you have to consider taking out a second mortgage to buy it. Actually, you will probably spend around $12 for a good sized block of the real thing. Depending on how often I cook Italian, it can last me a month or more. So it's really not such a bad investment, especially when it tastes so freaking good. You have to grate it yourself, but I have a little hand cranked gizmo that does the job very nicely. Or, if you have a microplane grater, that works well too. Good Parmesan cheese is definitely worth the extra effort and expense and we don't get to say that about everything in life.
Of course, if the Vegans are coming, the whole cheese issue becomes academic because Parmesan cheese is a dairy product, which a true Vegan will not eat. Never mind, that lovely block of cheese I made you buy will just last that much longer.
Serve the pasta with a simple green salad dressed with a vinaigrette, and some good Italian bread.
There now! You've provided your Vegan friend with a great meal and they will leave feeling happy and blessed that they have a wonderful pal who was thoughtful enough to take their preferences into consideration. You will be happy because you did not have to invest much time or effort to make a delicious new recipe. Keep those sun-dried tomatoes on hand because from now on you'll be making Red Pesto again and again.