ITALIAN MAC & CHEESE
Tortiglioni pasta cooked with garlic and black pepper, then layered with a garlic, ginger, mushroom and sweet onion tomato sauce and a blend of three veg cheeses. Baked till steaming hot! Taste the pleasure!
Serves 12 and makes 9 cups sauce
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
1 lb. tortiglioni dried pasta – if not available, use lg. penne or ziti
1 T. garlic powder
1 t. black pepper
Cook pasta in sufficiently sea-salted boiling water with 1 T. garlic powder and 1 t. black pepper till tender. Drain, rinse under cold water till chilled, then leave in colander to dry, shaking now and then to empty water from tubes.
7 T. margarine
7 lg. garlic cloves, peeled and cut into strips from end to end
1 thumb-size segment fresh ginger, peeled, cut into thin very slabs, then stack and cut from end to end into very thin sticks, then cut in half crosswise
1/3 c. fresh parsley leaves, coarsely cut
1 lb. fresh, white button or crimini mushrooms, washed and diced
1 lg. sweet onion, lg. dice
sea salt and pepper
28 oz. can petite diced tomatoes, including liquid
28 oz. can tomato puree
1/4 c. Kalamata olive brine from jar
2 t. ground fennel seed
2 t. smoked paprika
1/2 t. dried oregano
1/2 t. ground sage
1/4 t. ground allspice
1/4 t. red cayenne pepper
In extra-large skillet, over low heat, melt margarine.
Add garlic, ginger and parsley, and cook a couple minutes till you can smell the garlic.
Add mushrooms and onion. Raise heat to medium , salt and pepper as desired, then saute till wilted.
Add tomatoes including liquid, tomato puree, and Kalamata olive brine. Stir well.
Add fennel seed, smoked paprika, oregano, sage, allspice and red cayenne pepper. Stir well, then cook, uncovered, stirring as needed, 30 minutes on medium-low heat. Set aside.
14 oz. pkg. extra firm water-packed tofu, rinsed then squeezed till dry in tofu towel or several layers paper towels
1 t. sea salt
8 oz. container veg cream cheese – I used Follow Your Heart brand Vegan Gourmet Cream Cheese
8 oz. pkg. daiya mozzarella style shreds, at room temperature
1 t. smoked paprika
2 t. garlic powder
Place squeezed tofu and salt in large bowl. Mash till crumbly and salt is evenly distributed.
Add veg cream cheese. Stir and mash with back of large spoon till incorporated.
Add daiya mozzarella shreds, smoked paprika and garlic powder. Stir to evenly distribute. This will take a few minutes. Set aside.
Assembly and baking:
Spread 1 cup sauce into bottom of 9 x 13 inch baking dish.
Top as evenly as possible with 2/3rds of the pasta (wait till the last layer to line up the tubes).
Place 4 cups of sauce evenly over the pasta – being sure to cover all pasta.
Top the sauce evenly with all the filling. Pat it down.
Now, starting from one end, place 4 tubes across the dish, then continue all the way down – like 4 ladders – to the other end, lining them up and packing like sardines. Pat down again.
Top evenly with remaining sauce, being sure to cover all pasta.
Bake in preheated 400 degree oven on middle rack, uncovered, 45 minutes or till very hot throughout and cheese has melted. More than 1 hour should not be needed.
Wait 10 minutes before cutting or spooning to serve.
Notes: When served directly after baking this casserole textures and flavors like traditional mac & cheese with an Italian slant. If reheated the next day, it textures and flavors more like lasagna.
If making the day before, remove from refrigerator about 3 hours before baking.
If reheating individual servings, the cheese melts better when using a skillet. Place 2-3 tablespoons water per serving in skillet over medium heat. Place square(s) of casserole in skillet. Cover tightly and cook till water evaporates (3-5 minutes). The steam will reheat all ingredients perfectly.
You can also microwave the serving, but it’s not as creamy as when reheated in a skillet with the steam method. It still tastes and textures great – just different.