I’m not one of those people who won’t turn on the oven all summer long. It could be sweltering at over a hundred degrees, but if I want cookies, I will make some cookies. However, that doesn’t stop me from getting super excited about the first chilly day of fall and using it as an excuse to pop something tasty in the oven. If summer baking is tolerable, fall and winter baking is magical, if for nothing else but the aromas that swirl through the house.
Garlicky Italian food is among my favorite aromas to fill the house with on a cool day, and while I generally think of tomatoey pasta dishes as being a summer thing, they instantly become cool weather food when you load them up with cheese and bake them.
I went a few extra steps with this vegan manicotti to make it fall appropriate, adding some hearty sautéed kale to my vegan ricotta mixture and spiking the sauce with some red wine to give it an extra rich flavor.
If you have any doubts about vegan ricotta being less indulgent and comfort-food worthy, fear not. Raw cashews blend up to create an incredibly creamy and deceptively cheesy base, while tofu adds just the right texture to mimic dairy-base ricotta. When you first blend this stuff up, you probably won’t be able to tell it’s vegan, and you might just have to stop yourself from polishing it all off with a spoon. Once it’s stuffed into manicotti shells and smothered in tomato sauce, you’ll be glad you held back.
- 8 ounces dried manicotti shells about 14 shells
For the Tomato Sauce
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ onion diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ½ cup dry red wine
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon white sugar (organic for vegan-friendly)
- 1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes optional, or to taste
- ¼ teaspoon salt or to taste
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
For the Vegan Ricotta and Kale Filling
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ onion diced
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 4 cups stemmed and finely chopped lacinato kale about 1 small bunch
- 1 ½ cups raw cashews soaked in water 4-8 hours, drained and rinsed
- ¾ cup unflavored soy or almond milk
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon salt or to taste
- 1 pound firm or extra-firm tofu
- Chopped fresh parsley optional
Cook the Manicotti Shells:
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the manicotti shells and cook according to package directions. Drain the shells and return them to the pot, tossing with a few dashes of olive oil to keep them from sticking together.
Make the Tomato Sauce:
- Coat the bottom of a large saucepan with olive oil and place it over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Add wine and bring to a simmer. Cook until reduced by half, about 2-3 minutes.
- Add crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, sugar, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Stir a few times to incorporate. Bring to a simmer and lower heat. Allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes, until thickened slightly.
Make the Vegan Ricotta and Kale Filling:
- While the sauce simmers, coat the bottom of a large skillet with olive oil and place it over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Add kale and continue to sauté until fully wilted, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Place the cashews, milk, lemon juice and salt into the bowl of a food processor fitted with an S-blade. Blend until smooth and creamy, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the tofu and pulse a few times until a chunky, ricotta-like texture is achieved.
- If you have room in your food processor bowl, add the kale mixture and pulse just until blended. Otherwise, you can transfer the ricotta mixture to the skillet to mix (if the skillet is cool), or transfer both to a mixing bowl, and mix with a large spoon or spatula.
Make the Baked Manicotti:
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Pour half of the tomato sauce into the bottom of a large baking dish, or divide it among two smaller baking dishes.
- Using a pastry bag (or a zipper bag with a corner snipped off), pipe the ricotta mixture into manicotti shells. Arrange the filled shells in the baking dish. Pour the remaining sauce over the shells and cover with foil. Bake until the sauce is bubbly, 20-25 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes before serving; garnish with fresh parsley, if desired.