Monday, January 24, 2011
Eggplant Manicotti with a Creamy Pesto Filling
I love the flavors of Italian cooking, but I am not a huge fan of bland pasta or hyperbolic cheese. This is my version of manicotti that utilizes the texture of eggplant to hold a lusciously thick and satisfying pesto-spiked cashew cheese. I served it several weeks back alongside a much more traditional dairy-based filling and the overwhelming consensus favored this version. Since the filling is nutrient-packed and filling on it's own, this dish stands up well as a main course. Today I served it alongside roasted spaghetti squash with a brown-butter sage drizzle and sauteed broccolini and shallots. Not a bad little Monday.
Soaking the cashews and sunflower seeds neutralizes their phytic acid, an anti-nutrient found in whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, which can inhibit proper digestion. Luckily, in this recipe, it also softens the nuts and produces a much creamier filling. Try to plan ahead and set them out to soak the morning before you make the dish, but if you forget and it becomes a last minute project, no worries. If you have a half an hour to let them soak, great. If not, the dish will work without any soaking at all.
For this recipe, I love Heidi Swanson's Five Minute Tomato Sauce. I make it with Muir Glen's Fire Roasted Crushed Tomatoes, which is a wonderful line of canned tomatoes. The generous olive oil carries ample fresh garlic and a hint of spicy pepper flakes, resulting in a rich and pungent sauce. You don't need more than a few spoonfuls to be completely in love.
1 large eggplant
2 tbs. olive oil
1/2 cup cashews, soaked for at least 4 hours
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, soaked for at least 4 hours
1/4 cup water, plus more as needed
2-3 tbs. pesto
1 tbs. lemon juice
2 tsp. nutritional yeast
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
1 cup chunky tomato sauce
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Slice eggplant into about 12 thin slices lengthwise. Drizzle baking sheet with olive oil. Line up eggplant slices in a single layer on sheets (may take two trays) and drizzle the tops with oil as well. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until eggplant is very tender and golden brown.
Meanwhile, drain cashews and sunflower seeds from their soaking water and rinse again. Add cashews through black pepper through to a large food processor and blend until smooth. Add additional water as needed to reach a ricotta-esque texture. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper if necessary.
Taking an eggplant slice, spread 1 tbs. pesto filling
along the fat end vertically. Starting at that end, carefully roll eggplant into a small (but plump) cigar. Repeat with remaining eggplant slices. Place rolls back on a baking sheet and stick back in the oven for 5-10 minutes, until warm. Remove and plate (3 rolls per plate), topping with your favorite chunky tomato sauce.
Relax. Eat Well.