Well, it was FEROCIOUSLY cold in Baltimore over this long weekend. I’m currently 4th on the waiting list for an ultramarathon on 2/28, aka less than two weeks away. I’m 80% sure that I’ll gain entry to the race, so I’ve kept up my training, but let me just say it is very hard to be motivated to go out for a 14 mile run when it’s 7 degrees Fahrenheit. By the time this post is published tomorrow morning we’re expected to have gotten another 4+ inches of snow. Hopefully the meteorologists are wrong, as they often are :). Either way, I have been all about the comfort food. Baked dishes, soups, tons of homemade vegan cream cheese on bagels, all of that good stuff. My yearning for a warm casserole reminded me of this pasta bake recipe that I’ve been saving for a few weeks: baked broccoli rabe and cauliflower stuffed shells. The pungent broccoli rabe (also known as broccoli raab or rapini); sweet and creamy cauliflower filling; and spicy, garlicky arrabbiata sauce, make for a perfectly warming pasta dish.
Lasagna (<- throwback alert) is one of my go-to meals. Making a huge lasagna might seem counterintuitive, since I’m cooking for one or two, but I actually prefer recipes that make as many leftovers as possible. I pack them up right away into individual portion-sized storage containers, and bring them to work for lunches (and occasionally dinners, if I need to stay late or go directly from work to an event). Anything left by week’s end goes into the freezer.
Another reason I love to make lasagna? It’s often an opportunity to use up any variety of vegetables in the fridge that need eating. I am totally guilty of those supermarket moments of “Oh, I love broccoli rabe, I’ll buy a pound of it” without having any specific plans for how to cook it. And that’s how it ended up in this pasta bake. We were lacking lasagna noodles, so this time around, I took one of our favorite “cheese”-style fillings – a mixture of cauliflower and tofu – and made cauliflower stuffed shells with it. Of course, there was way too much (is that a bad thing, though?), so I also dolloped it on top like you might do with ricotta. I actually rather liked how that turned out! So this recipe will work with any type of pasta that you like. Lasagna, shells, or even smaller shapes. If you make it into lasagna, you should cut the broccoli rabe smaller than I did for the shell bake.
- ½ head of cauliflower, cooked
- 2 tsp. white or yellow miso
- 1 tsp. olive oil
- 1 lb. extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed for 10 minutes to remove excess liquid
- 1 tb. nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1 and ½ tsp. white wine vinegar
- ¼ tsp. freshly-ground black pepper
- 2 tsp. lemon juice
- salt, to taste
- 2.5 c. (24 oz.) prepared arrabbiata or other spicy pasta sauce
- 8 oz. dry jumbo pasta shells (or 8 to 12 oz. dry pasta of choice)
- 1 bunch broccoli rabe (also known as rapini or broccoli raab), roughly chopped
- cauliflower-tofu "ricotta" (above)
- In a blender or food processor, puree the cauliflower, miso and olive oil until completely smooth. Crumble the tofu into the blender and pulse until the tofu is in very small chunks. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
- Stir in the rest of the "ricotta" ingredients and add salt (and other seasonings) to taste.
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, and add the dry shell pasta.
- Following the instructions for cooking your pasta to al dente, add the broccoli rabe 5 minutes before the pasta will be done.
- Remove the pasta and broccoli rabe from the pot and drain them both.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large rectangular glass baking dish, spread a thin layer of pasta sauce on the bottom.
- Fill each of the jumbo shells generously with the cauliflower mixture and place in the dish.
- When all of the shells have been filled, layer half of the cooked broccoli rabe on top of them. Sprinkle a pinch of salt onto the broccoli rabe. Pour half of the remaining pasta sauce over everything. Repeat with a second layer of broccoli rabe and the rest of the sauce.
- If any of the ricotta mixture remains, dollop it on top, and (optional) spray it lightly with oil (so that it will brown on top).
- Cover the dish with foil and bake for about 30 minutes, or until hot through. Uncover and broil (or bake at the oven's highest heat), for 5 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned.
- Serve hot.
This dish works best with a spicy and garlicky sauce to act as a counterpoint to the bitterness of the rapini.