There is nothing more satisfying than eating a big plate of manicotti and never feeling that pasta bloat. The fresh basil, beautifully sweet tomatoes, and creamy bechamél sauce makes this holiday dinner party-worthy. You’ll win anyone over with this dish!
1 28-ounce can of no-salt-added, whole, peeled tomatoes
1 14-ounce can diced, no-salt-added tomatoes
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 Medjool date or 2 deglet noor dates, pitted (or date paste)
½ tablespoon dried oregano
Cashew béchamel ingredients:
1 cup raw cashews
½ yellow onion, diced
1¾ cup salt-free vegetable stock
1 garlic clove
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
½ tablespoon onion granules
pinch of fresh ground nutmeg
pinch of ground white pepper
Eggplant noodle ingredients:
4 Japanese or Chinese eggplants
Spinach tofu ricotta ingredients:
1 12-ounce block of the firmest tofu you can find, very well-drained
2 tablespoons tahini
2½ tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 shallot, minced
¼ teaspoon finely grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 8-ounce pack frozen, chopped spinach, defrosted and drained well
1 handful of fresh basil leaves, torn
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- To make the marinara: Add the tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, dates, and oregano to a food processor or blender. Blend, and adjust balsamic and dates to taste. Transfer to a large sauce pan and allow to simmer 30-40 minutes to concentrate the flavor and thicken the sauce.
- To make the cashew béchamel: Place the cashews in a blender. Preheat a large skillet. Add the onion to the pan, reduce the heat to medium, and continually stir the onions, adding a splash of water if the onions begin to stick. Once browned, add the onions to the blender with the cashews along with the vegetable broth, garlic cloves, nutritional yeast, onion granules, nutmeg, and white pepper. Blend until creamy. Transfer to a bowl or container and set aside.
- To make the eggplant noodles: Cut off the top and bottom of each eggplant and slice them vertically in 1/8-inch strips. These will be your noodles. Place the slices on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. When the oven is ready, bake for 15 minutes, then flip and bake another 7-10 minutes or until they begin to brown just a little. You don’t want them to crisp up as you will not be able to roll them. Set aside and allow to cool.
- To make the ricotta: In a medium bowl, crumble the tofu with your hands. Add in the tahini, nutritional yeast, and shallots; mix well. Add garlic, nutmeg, lemon juice, and zest. Mix again and season to taste. Fold in the chopped spinach and basil, and mix again until well combined. Mixture should hold together well in your hands, indicating the tofu and spinach were drained well. Chill in fridge until ready to be used.
- Assembly: Spread some of the marinara in a 9”x13” baking dish. Lay out a slice of the baked eggplant with the small end closest to you. Scoop some of the ricotta on that end and roll. Place the roll-up, seam side down, in the baking dish. Repeat. Spoon the remaining marinara over the rolls.
- Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until it starts to bubble. Allow to cool for a few minutes to firm up a little. Turn the oven to broil.
- Pour the béchamel on top and broil for 3-4 minutes, until it begins to slightly brown. Garnish with fresh basil.
Caryn Dugan adopted a plant-based diet in response to tragedy: in 2008, cancer took her father at an early age and, ten weeks later, tried to take her. In response to her diagnosis, she searched for an answer and found one in the growing body of literature supporting a whole-food, plant-based diet to bolster our natural immune system.
In her 15 years advocating for more plants on plates, Caryn, known as the STL Veg Girl, has spearheaded many successful plant-based events in St. Louis. Most recently, she opened the nation’s first plant-based nutrition and culinary education center, the Center for Plant-Based Living, near St. Louis, MO. The Center also serves as the studio where she and her medical director, Dr. Jim Loomis, film episodes of the popular YouTube series, The Doc and Chef. Find more at CPBL-STL.com.