The Gateway Tofu Recipe

Tasty Tofu Guaranteed

Back when I was in high school, there was lots of talk about marijuana being a “gateway drug.” You smoke a little weed then, before you know it, you are plunged into a scene from “Sid and Nancy.”

If you try this recipe, I doubt you will find yourself curled up in front of a PETA headquarters on a Saturday morning after a protest of an industrial farm complex in Oklahoma. I do think you will see (if you don’t already know) that tofu can be tasty. You may even commit to eating one meatless meal a week as the Meatless Monday campaign suggests.

Why?

The amount of evidence that eating less meat is better for you and the planet we inhabit is overwhelming. Michael Pollan has extensively researched and written about our food system and came to the following simple recommendation: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” He explains further, “populations that eat like modern-day Americans — lots of highly processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of refined grains — suffer high rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. But populations that eat more traditional diets don’t. Our great-grandmas knew what they were doing.”

Mark Bittman is another advocate of what has been called the flexitarian “diet” (I put diet in quotes because this is not a weight loss plan, but rather a way of eating).  He, along with Pollan, has written extensively about the effects of  factory farming, a deeply flawed system that gobbles up resources in the name of widely available cheap meat. “Growing meat (it’s hard to use the word “raising” when applied to animals in factory farms) uses so many resources that it’s a challenge to enumerate them all. But consider: an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation.”

Even chicken came under fire recently. Nicholas Kristof recently wrote about “new scientific studies suggesting that poultry on factory farms are routinely fed caffeine, active ingredients of Tylenol and Benadryl, banned antibiotics and even arsenic.” So along with eating local, ethically raised meat, why not incorporate some meatless options into your cooking repertoire? It isn’t painful, I promise. This particular dish earned A ratings from everyone in my family – the picky 4 year-old, the 8 year-old food critic, and the meat and potatoes vegetarian spouse. Even cattle-raising Pioneer Woman has posted some tofu recipes this year.

Try this  . . . or any other recipe I have shared here. I promise you won’t find yourself in a Vegetarians Anonymous meeting any time soon. You will, however, be taking steps towards creating a healthier family and planet.

Spicy Basil Tofu and Noodles

adapted from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen

Serves 4 generously

1/4 cup low sodium tamari or soy sauce

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon brown sugar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (You may need a little more.)

1 serrano chile, seeds and ribs removed, then minced

1 pound extra-firm or firm tofu, cut into slabs, blotted dry with paper towel and crumbled

4 medium garlic cloves, minced

2 small heads broccoli broken in small florets

12 ounces Chinese noodles

1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh Thai or Genovese basil (I prefer the Thai basil for this dish.)

Put a large pot of water on high heat on the cook top to boil the noodles.

Combine soy sauce, water, and brown sugar in a small bowl, stirring occasionally to help the sugar dissolve.

Heat the oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until shimmers. Add the crumbled tofu, seasoning with a pinch of salt. Resist the urge to stir the tofu. Let it fry for at least 5 minutes. Stir when you see the edges of some of the crumbles brown. Cook until most of the tofu bits are light to medium brown. The key here is not disturbing too much. After the tofu is cooked, toss in the garlic and chile and cook until fragrant – less than a minute. Transfer the tofu mixture to a bowl.

Heat about a teaspoon of vegetable oil in the skillet over medium high heat. Add broccoli florets and a pinch of salt and stir fry until bright green and brown in spots. Put 1/4 water in the frying pan and cover. Steam broccoli to desired tenderness.

When broccoli is done, put a few tablespoons of salt into the boiling water. Put noodles in and cook until al dente, about 3 minutes. We found out the hard way that Chinese noodles cook fast. Overcook them and they are a gloppy mess. I start tasting them 2 minutes in. You could also try this with linguine pasta if you can’t get your hands on Chinese noodles. The linguine takes longer to cook – about 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the tofu mixture and cooked noodles into the skillet with the broccoli. Add the soy sauce-brown sugar mixture and carefully stir to combine. Incorporate the basil. Serve immediately.

Ratings:

Me:  A+  (One of my favorite tofu dishes. I love, love the basil.)

Scott:  A (He wasn’t here for dinner, but said “I love it!” after eating leftovers for lunch.)

Luca:  A (Just an A, not an A+)

Alia:  A+, B+ (“The best rating I give.”)

Spagittata

Spagittata - frittata with a backbone

Luca asked me what we were having for dinner last night. “A frittata with pasta,” I informed him. “We could call it a spagittata,” he suggested. (I am heartened by the fact that he likes to make up words as much as I do.) Luca then went on to tell me how excited he was because he is not crazy about frittata, but add some pasta and he may be sold on the concept. I could toss some pasta with sliced shoe leather and he would be sold on the concept. The kid loves his pasta.

In its first morph, the spagittata did not live up to expectations. When trying a new recipe, I attempt to stick to the original as much as possible the first time around. Then, I rate it (out of 5 stars) and note possible changes for next time. This time I made three changes out of necessity and prudence . . . I should have listened to my gut and made two more for the sake of flavor. The recipe calls for arugula, which excited me because I love arugula and I happened to be at Kroger when the produce people were marking it down drastically. A good sized container went from $5 to .75. When I got home, I discovered it was too far gone to use. Into the compost bin it went. I had a bit of spinach in the fridge so I used that instead. The original recipe also calls for 2/3 cup of cream – copious amounts of cream the little, old German woman in me decided. So, I cut that down to 1/3 cup. And, there is the ONE cup of Parmesan. I reduced that to 1/2 cup.

The resulting spagittata made Luca imitate this commercial:

which brings me to what I should have done. I should have substituted basil for the mint because as is, the thing tasted like a not-as-strong egg version of a peppermint patty. It needed more salt as well. The thing with frittatas (or is it frittati?) is, it is difficult to check seasoning because it is mostly raw eggs. There have been times when I have under and over seasoned. This time was under. And, it doesn’t matter if you add salt when it is on the plate. It is too late to infuse the eggs with those precious little grains of flavor boost.

I’m not done with this recipe yet. I will try, try again – mostly because I can’t let a good, made-up name go to waste.

Spagittata
adapted from Fine Cooking
serves 6
Kosher salt
3 oz. uncooked dried spaghetti (or 1-1/3 cups cooked)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large or 2 small shallots, trimmed, peeled, and thinly sliced crosswise
2 oz. (about 2 cups lightly packed) fresh spinach, stemmed and chopped
8 large eggs (preferably at room temperature)
1/3 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (use the large holes on a box grater)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint (Next time I will use basil instead – see above.)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons sliced chives

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat.

Cook the spaghetti in the boiling water according to package directions. Drain well and let cool. Transfer to a medium bowl.

In an ovenproof 10-inch nonstick skillet, heat 1 Tbs. of the olive oil and 1/2 Tbs. of the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are softened and lightly golden, about 8?minutes. Add the arugula and toss with tongs until wilted, about 1 minute. With a heatproof spatula, scrape the arugula mixture and any fat left in the pan into the bowl with the pasta. Toss lightly to combine.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, cream, 1/2 tsp. salt (I will increase this to 1 teaspoon next time), and several grinds of pepper. Add the pasta mixture, Parmesan, mint, parsley, and chives. Mix gently but thoroughly.

Heat the remaining 1 Tbs. oil and 1/2 Tbs. butter in the skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted and is bubbling, add the egg mixture. Use the heatproof spatula to gently distribute the ingredients evenly. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook until the eggs have set just along the outside edge of the pan, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the frittata is puffed, golden, and set, 22 to 24 minutes.

Let the frittata cool in the pan for 15 to 20 minutes. Run the spatula gently around the edge and underneath the frittata, and slide it onto a cutting board. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve with pan-fried and steamed broccoli.

While the frittata baked, I broke two bunches of broccoli into bite-size florets and sauteed them in 1/2-1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan. I seasoned the broccoli with about 1/4 teaspoon of salt, a few grind of pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes. When it turned bright green and was brown in spots, I put a few tablespoons of water in the pan and put a lid on it and steamed to desired tenderness. This is my favorite way to prepare broccoli!  

Ratings:

Scott:  B (“It needs something.”)

Me:  B- (See above for explanation)

Luca:  B- (See above for explanation)

Alia:  A? (I am not sure she really thought it was an A. She ate it all, but it was a dessert night so that could explain it.)

Presto Pasta

A quick pasta for Monday night

Our dinners the past three nights wouldn’t go over well with the Paleofolks. Pasta and pasta and more pasta.

My excuse? The pantry is bare. We made our Easter trek to just outside of Hermann, MO where my mother-in-law has a house. Coloring eggs, egg hunts and the sacred Easter lasagna are standard out there. Another standard is coming home on Sunday night to a sparse pantry and funky smelling fridge. We made a stop at Trader Joe’s in St. Louis (Do you know Aldi owns Trader Joe’s? I kid you not!) and picked up a few things, but I have not been on a full-scale, farmers market + four store shopping trip yet.

This pasta doesn’t taste like a “cupboards are bare” type of dinner though . . . creamy, spicy, hardy and quick. Presto Pasta!

Farfalle with “Sausage,” Tomatoes and Cream

adapted from Epicurious

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup chopped onion, about 1 small

2 Trader Joe’s Sausage-less Sausage (The original recipe calls for 1 lb Italian sausage. You can also omit.)

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes with added puree (I use Muir Glen Fire Roasted)

1/4 cup whipping cream (The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup. I have found that 1/4 is plenty.)

1 pound farfalle (bow-tie pasta)

1/2 cup (packed) chopped fresh basil

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion with a pinch of salt and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add crumbled “sausage” and sauté until lightly browned. Add garlic and crushed red pepper cooking until fragrant, about 1 minute. Dump (not the most eloquent word, but I was getting tired of using ‘add’) in tomatoes and cream. Reduce heat to low and simmer until sausage mixture thickens, 3 minutes or more. I let it simmer for about 1/2 an hour while I worked on the rest of the meal. Season to taste with salt and pepper before adding the pasta. Make sure it is well seasoned because you are adding 1 lb of pasta that is dying for some flavor.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid. Return pasta to same pot. Add “sausage” – tomato – cream mixture and toss over medium-low heat until sauce coats pasta, adding reserved cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls if mixture is dry. Transfer pasta to serving dish. Sprinkle with basil. Serve, passing cheese separately.

Ratings:

Me:    A

Scott: A

Luca:  A

Alia: A

Fabulous Feta Comes to the Rescue

It was one of those days on which dinner ideas were eluding me. My mind was blank. I haven’t made a full scale trip to the grocery since we returned from our little Midwestern jaunt, so there are only odds and ends in the refrigerator as well as some things my mom sent home with us. Does your mom pack up her refrigerator for you to take with you when you visit? Mine does. It makes me feel like I am still in college or something. In the 11th hour, my mind zeroed in on the half a tub of feta in the cheese drawer. Had it gone bad? If not, it must be used immediately . . . but, in what? I could have made a frittata, but I had 7 ounces to use up. The only way I could think to use up that much was in some sort of pasta dish. Then, a favorite came to mind – Marcella Hazan’s goat cheese and chive pasta. I make this at least once or twice every spring when I have a lot of chives on my hands.

I had feta, not goat cheese so a tweak was in order. I thought I would just wing it and experiment with substituting the feta for the goat cheese, but I chickened out and did a search. I found a New York Times recipe from 1997 that looked promising. It still needed some tweaking because – first of all – everyone in this family but me detests olives. (Not long after Alia came home from Kazakhstan, I made a green olive gnocchi with green olive pesto for just the two of us and she gobbled it up. I was hopeful that I found an olive ally, but that was the last time she touched them.) Secondly, I didn’t happen to have some pappardelle lying about. Farfelle, yes, pappardelle, no. Finally, chives aplenty here, not thyme.

This improvisation was mostly a hit. And, thankfully, the feta did not perish, but triumphed in this unusual, but tasty sauce.

Farfelle With Grape Tomatoes and Feta Cheese Sauce

adapted from The New York Times

Yield: 6 servings.

1/2 to 1 Serrano chile, cut in half lengthwise, seeds and membranes removed

1 clove garlic, smashed and skin removed

1/4 pound Greek feta cheese

1/2 cup cottage cheese

3 tablespoons plain yogurt, low-fat is okay

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon chopped chives

1/2 a container grape tomatoes, quartered

fresh black pepper to taste

12-16 ounces farfelle or pasta shape of your choice (Next time, I will try linguine)

1/2 cup reserved pasta water

Bring water to boil in a large pot for the pasta.

With food processor running, put chili and garlic through feed tube to chop. Turn off processor; add feta, cottage cheese, yogurt and lemon juice, and process until smooth-ish. Put the cheese mixture in a large bowl (needs to accommodate ~1 pound of pasta) with chopped chives, quartered tomatoes and a grind or two of pepper. Taste for salt. I put a sprinkle in because you know I like salt.

By this time the water should be boiling. Add a tablespoon or more of salt. (Mario Batali says it should taste like the sea whatever that means.) Cook pasta to al dente. Don’t forget to scoop a little water out in case the sauce needs thinning. Drain pasta and toss with cheese mixture, tomatoes and chives. Add water a tablespoon at a time if the sauce is too thick. Taste and adjust seasonings. I added one more grind of pepper and the tiniest bit more salt.

I made some simple roasted broccoli as a side. I broke two heads of broccoli into bite-size florets and tossed to coat with olive oil on a cookie sheet. Then, I seasoned with salt and pepper. The cookie sheet went into a 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes (tossing once) until tender. When the broccoli was done, I put the zest of half the lemon I used for the sauce on top and tossed.

Ratings:

Me:    A- (The minus is because it was too saucy, but I adjusted the recipe here to take this into account. The flavor of the sauce is great though.)

Scott: A (He had the same issue with the sauciness.)

Luca:  A (“At first a B because the flavor was so surprising, but I got used to it.”)

Alia:    D (I am on a losing streak here. The tomatoes were particularly offensive.)

Pumpkin Seed Pesto Power!

Pasta with Pumpkin Seed Pesto

During the week, I try to keep it simple. On the weekends I may take two (somewhat) leisurely hours to cook. Towards the end of the week, I start daydreaming about more elaborate meals like Malai Kofta or gnocchiwith a mushroom ragout. Once Monday hits, I have an hour or less for dinner prep.

This one is done in less than an hour. And, when the 8 year-old comes sliding around the corner to ask what’s for dinner and responds with a “Oh GOOD!” upon hearing the menu, I can’t go wrong.

Some Kind of Tube Pasta with Broccoli and Pumpkin Seed Pesto

Adapted from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen

serves 6 generously

1/2 cup hulled green pumpkin seeds (Sometimes I find spicy pepitas (Spanish for pumpkin seeds) in the bulk section at our local co-op. If I use these, I omit the red pepper flakes because they are pretty spicy. Use your best judgement. Another spicy pepita bonus? They are already roasted so no need to bother with that.)
1 1/2 cups packed fresh parsley leaves (Make sure it is flat-leaf. The curly has very little flavor.)

1 small garlic clove, smashed and peeled

1/2 teaspoon (or to taste) hot red pepper flakes (omit if you are using spicy pepitas)

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for the table
sea salt
1 pound rigatoni or other tube pasta (orrechiete also works)
1 pound broccoli, stalks discarded and florets cut into bite-sized pieces
1. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot for the cooking of the pasta
2. Move an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread the pumpkin seeds out on a rimmed baking sheet and toast them in the oven, shaking the pan once or twice to turn the seeds, until lightly browned and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Keep an eye on them because they brown fast.
3. Process the cooled pumpkin seeds, parsley, garlic, and pepper flakes in a food processor, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, until the ingredients are finely ground. With the motor running, add the oil in a steady stream through the feed tube and process until thick and fairly smooth. Scrape the mixture into a bowl large enough to hold the cooked pasta. (the Pesto will be very thick.) Stir in the cheese and salt to taste. (Salt the pesto generously; it has to season a pound of pasta and the broccoli.)
4. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Scoop out 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, add the broccoli, and continue to cook until the broccoli is crisp-tender, 1 1/2 minutes. Meanwhile, stir 1/2 cup of the cooking water into the pesto to achieve a saucier consistency. Drain the pasta and broccoli. Add the pasta and broccoli to the bowl with the pesto and toss, adding more water as necessary to moisten the pasta and help spread the pesto. Serve immediately, passing the grated cheese at the table.
I served the with garlic-pepper bread. Bruschetta with Chopped Tomato and Parsley is another side I have considered.
Ratings:
Scott:  A (“This is excellent.”)
Me: A
Luca: A+ (“It is a super great way to combine vegetables with things I like.” (meaning pasta and cheese))
Alia: A (“100% plus a million!”)