On Sunday nights we often spend a bit of time in the kitchen, cooking up something that'll both serve us as dinner and set us up for a few packed lunches early in the work week. On this occasion we had a cool change and some leftover sage leaves; this had me thinking of gnocchi and pasta dishes dressed with sage and brown butter. Veganomicon offered me a recipe in this vein that was a little more nutritious and far more practical - a pumpkin sage pasta bake. Pasta gets coated with a sauce made from pumpkin puree, cashew ricotta and warm spices, then topped with crunchy herbed breadcrumbs.
We made a few changes to suit us, the main one being that we roasted and pureed our own pumpkin instead of buying it canned (that's just... really not a thing in Australia). Then we reduced the dried sage quantity in the crumbing and fried our fresh sage leaves as a crispy garnish.
This recipe was a thorough workout for our brand new food processor (yay!) - the breadcrumbs, cashew ricotta and pumpkin all went through it at some stage. Even with those rotating blades doing their share, this was a labour intensive recipe and I was glad to have Michael's assistance throughout. We were rewarded with many hearty meals throughout the week. Michael liked this best with a shake of Tobasco sauce, while I'll be looking to replace a little of the pasta with bake-friendly veges in future.
Pumpkin sage pasta bake
(adapted slightly from Veganomicon, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero)
5 tablespoons olive oil
375g penne pasta
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup vegetable stock
5-8 fresh sage leaves
salt and pepper
1/2 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
600g tofu, drained
1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 cups bread crumbs
1/3 cup walnut pieces, ground to coarse crumbs in a food processor
1 teaspoon sage powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Remove the pumpkin's skin and chop the flesh roughly. Place the pumpkin chunks into a baking tray, stir through 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake the pumpkin until soft, about 30 minutes. Set the pumpkin aside.
While the pumpkin is baking, bring a medium-large saucepan of water to boil and cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet. When it's done, drain the pasta, rinse it with cold water and drain again. Set the pasta aside.
While the pumpkin and pasta are cooking, you will probably have time to prepare the onions. Slice them into thin rings then fry them on low heat in a tablespoon of olive oil. Cook them until they're very soft and sweet, 10-40 minutes, stirring them occasionally. Be sure to take them off the heat before they burn.
Next up, make the cashew ricotta. In a food processor, blend together the cashews, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic until thick and smooth-ish. Crumble in the tofu, sprinkle over the basil and salt, and process further until the mixture is smooth. Transfer the mixture to your largest mixing bowl.
Hopefully by this time your pumpkin has cooled a little. Place it in the food processor (doesn't matter if there's still ricotta dregs in there) and blend it to a smooth puree. Transfer the pumpkin to the bowl of ricotta, adding the brown sugar, nutmeg, white pepper and cayenne to taste, and stock. Stir it all together until well mixed. Fold in the pasta and onions.
Get the crumb topping going whenever you have a spare moment. We used the frypan that had cooked the onions and didn't bother to clean it out in between. Heat the olive oil then add the remaining crumb ingredients. Fry the crumbs for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring regularly, until they're golden and crunchy.
In a large baking tray, spread out the pasta mixture evenly. Sprinkle over the breadcrumbs and bake the casserole until the crumbs are well browned, about 30 minutes. Allow the pasta bake to rest 10 minutes before serving. In this time, heat a tablespoon of olive oil on high heat and fry the fresh sage leaves until crisp. Serve the pasta bake garnished with the fried sage leaves.