Basic Manicotti with Tomato Sauce

Saturday night marked what is probably somewhere near the one year anniversary of Vegan Dinner Club. Mark and I initiated this with our veteran vegan friends Pete and Betsy as a way to hang out that didn’t require us to go to bars or expensive vegan restaurants. Also I think we were kind of curious about what we’d end up eating, and it’s not like having a meal of just vegetables from time to time is going to kill you. 

I for one was especially skeptical of their choice to become vegan–it seemed so extreme, inconvenient and time consuming–and on one occasion ostentatiously brought giant t-bone steaks to a barbecue that they were hosting. (Guys, sorry for that.)
Betsy’s cooking turned out to be really freaking good, and I happened to really enjoy coming up with hearty, satisfying meals that didn’t require meat or dairy. Depending on what I cooked, I realized that, first of all, it didn’t have to be more inconvenient or time consuming at all, and given the precautions I take when cooking with raw meat, it was actually kind of easier. Secondly, it was a lot more affordable than buying the organic, grass-fed, humanely and sustainably produced meat that I like to buy when I buy meat. Also, as Mark eloquently remarked at this most recent dinner, we can feel like we’re eating a whole bunch of cheese but not be afraid of what will happen later. 
So, what started as an innocent flirtation with vegan cooking has blossomed into a plant-based romance, one that we intend to continue forever and ever. Thank you, Pete and Betsy, for introducing us. 

Basic Mannicotti with Tomato Sauce
written by Betsy Shilling and inspired by Lasagne Marinara with Spinach from Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook.

Time commitment: about an hour
Makes: 4-6 servings


Ingredients
Ricotta “Cheese”

  • 2 12-oz. packages firm tofu
  • 1/2 cup cashews, raw
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 teaspoons basil, dried
  • 1 teaspoon parsley, dried
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • about 10 oz. fresh greens, steamed and chopped (or frozen, thawed and drained)

Tomato Sauce

  • 2 jars tomato sauce (whatever basic kind you like)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons agave nectar
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil), chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 2 teaspoons basil, dried
  • 1 teaspoon oregano, dried
  • 1 teaspoon thyme, dried

Other ingredients

  • 12 manicotti shells, dry
  • 1/3 cup Mozzarella Daiya

Directions

  1. Combine all sauce ingredients in a large sauce pan. Let simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. If sauce comes to a boil, reduce heat.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Process lemon juice, cashews, and garlic in a food processor till ingredients form a thick paste. Gradually crumble tofu into this mixture, pulsing until smooth and combined. Add salt, basil. and parsley and blend. Transfer to a bowl and stir in greens. 
  3. Cover the bottom of two 9″x11″ glass baking dishes with 1 cup of sauce each. Stuff manicotti shells with ricotta and place in the sauce about a half-inch apart. Ladle remaining sauce over the top of the shells. Sprinkle Daiya on top.
  4. Cover with foil and bake on middle rack, 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake 20 more minutes. Let sit 5 minutes before serving. 
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