I want to win a week in one of your Tuscany villas!
My friend forwarded me the link to this competition for food bloggers and I just had to step up to the challenge with a vegan entry - especially as the rules stipulate that you need to use parmesan in your recipe, and parmesan isn't even vegetarian, never mind vegan.
Please do click on the link and vote for my dish, which I think has most originality even if I do say so myself :)
So what I have done? Made a vegan version of parmesan of course. I also had to use olive oil and tomatoes within the dish (no trouble there). The masterpiece that emerged from my kitchen today ended up being a Walnut-Stuffed Ravioli with a Creamed Spinach Sauce, with home-made pasta to make the ravioli, but of course. I really did impress myself.
For the ravioli itself, I made the dough with ground semolina, plain flour, olive oil and a pinch of salt - easy peasy. The stuffing is walnuts blended with herbs, garlic, nutritional yeast (which can be readily obtained from health food stores like Holland & Barrett, or from online stores like Real Foods) and other ingredients.
And for the sauce, I've used huge, sweet, vine tomatoes, fresh baby spinach leaves and a touch of vegan cream cheese (which was in Tesco's 'Free From' range) to add the creaminess.
The final touch on the dish was the vegan parmesan (oh so simple to make, using ground almonds and nutritional yeast - otherwise you can buy a brand like Parmazano), and some fresh rocket leaves that I've been growing in a pot in my bijou backyard.
I have to say, the whole meal turned out to be pretty damn gourmet - and much better than it looks in my photograph! It serves about four people with six pieces of ravioli each. A nice portion for lunch, or for dinner, where you could serve with a starter such as soup as well.
So what did I do?
First I whizzed up the vegan parmesan, as it is super-easy to make, and put that aside for later. This is how to do it:
75g / ¼ cup ground almonds
75g / ½ cup nutritional yeast flakes (I used Marigold)
¼ tsp salt
1. Take the ingredients, and whizz in the blender!
2. Store in a jar for whenever you need to use.
Having got my vegan parmesan ready, I then set about making the spinach sauce, as I wanted the onions to saute for a while with the tomatoes. I thought the sauce would work better well-cooked.
I needed to reheat when it came to serving, but that wasn't a problem.
Creamed Spinach Sauce
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
4 large vine tomatoes, chopped
Approx 100g / 3 packed cups baby spinach leaves
75g / 1/3 cup vegan cream cheese
2 cloves chopped garlic
125ml / ½ cup of vegetable broth
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp salt
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Rocket leaves (for garnish at final stage)
1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed frying pan and fry the onion on a low heat for around 5-8 minutes until softened.
2. Add the chopped vine tomatoes and the whole rosemary sprigs, and continue cooking on a low-medium heat for around 10 minutes. Then add the garlic and about half of the broth, and cook for a few minutes more.
3. Add the rest of the broth , salt and oregano, and allow to simmer for about 5 minutes (you may add the broth earlier if the pan looks like it is drying out too much).
4. At the very end of the cooking - add the baby spinach leaves and turn off the heat. There will be enough heat in the sauce to soften the spinach. Just stir well and keep mixing until the spinach is wilted into the pan.
5. Remove the rosemary sprigs from the mixture.
6. In a food processor, blend the tomato and spinach mixture with the vegan cream cheese, and some black pepper. Set aside for later use.
Next I made the walnut stuffing for the ravioli, although I tell a lie, I did make this while I was also cooking the spinach sauce. If you are a multi-skilled domestic goddess like myself (I wish), you could have a go at being an octopus in the kitchen too!
(But don't blame me if something burns or you chop your fingers off in the food processor).
Walnut Ravioli Filling
250g / 1½ cup walnut halves
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp dried tarragon
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp ground flaxseed
¼ tsp salt
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
1 tsp lemon juice
1. Put the blender on full speed and drop the garlic in so it cuts into tiny pieces. Then switch off, put all the other ingredients as listed into the blender, and blend!
2. You may have to keep stirring down - but just keep whizzing it until the walnut mixture is finely ground down and a bit sticky.
3. Put aside, then make your ravioli.
Home-Made Vegan Ravioli Dough
200g / 1½ cups of semolina (make sure it is the fine flour kind, not pearls!)
200g / 1½ cups of plain flour
1 cup / 225ml water
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp soya milk for sealing the ravioli
NB. I used CUPS (8 oz) when I made this recipe and forgot to check the weight of the flours on the scales, so 200g is just approximate. If you can, use measuring cups too, or use a see-through measuring jug and fill to the 8oz level! If not, be more careful when adding the water.
1. Sift the flours into a large mixing bowl then add the salt and olive oil and stir well.
2. Gradually add the water until you have a fairly firm dough. Take a bit of time to knead it together rather than add more water, if it seems too stiff (only if there are many dry bits, add a bit more water).
3. Roll out the dough onto a floured surface in two halves (unless you have a really big surface to work on), until a few milimetres thick (so quite thin, but not where holes appear).
4. Using a 3.5inch pastry cutter, cut fluted circles of dough. You should be able to get 24 pieces of dough shapes from this amount, possibly with a bit left over (which you can use to make another pasta shape if you like!).
To make the stuffed ravioli:
1. I placed a large piece of parchment paper over a dinner tray, and as I cut my shapes, I placed the dough circles on the tray while turning them the other way up (so the 'nice' side was lying downwards).
2. I used just less then a teaspoon, or thereabouts, of the walnut stuffing in each circle. See how you go - you need to spread it between 24 pieces and not over-stuff the ravioli.
3. Brush the soya milk around the edges of a few circles at once to save time. Then gently fold the circles in half, over the stuffing, and press the edges so they are sealed.
4. To cook the ravioli, boil a large pan of water and add a few ravioli. Turn the heat down slightly, but let the water stay on a rolling boil (cook in batches if need be - the ravioli need space to bob around and cook, so don't put too many in the pan).
5. The ravioli only need about 2 minutes cooking until done. They will start to come to the top of the pan more. Use a slotted ladle or spoon to gently lift the ravioli from the pan, and place in a colander to drain a little.
6. Reheat the sauce if need be. Spoon onto your serving plates or in large bowls, then place the ravioli on the top.
7. Finish off by arranging some fresh rocket leaves over the pasta, then sprinkle a tablespoon or so of the vegan parmesan over the whole thing.
8. Pour a nice glass of red wine, and enjoy!