Yes to Yummy

Spinach Cannelloni (gluten-free + vegan)

July 6, 2014 1 Comment Print this page

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Do you see all of that cheese in there, from the ricotta inside to the mozzarella on top?! There is no way this thing is vegan.

But it is.

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That’s right. I made not one, but two different kinds of vegan cheese for this recipe. Sheer madness. And you don’t miss the dairy or regular pasta at all in this cannelloni: it’s just as cheesy, indulgent, and flavorful as its heavy Italian counterpart. The best part is that after you’re done with dinner, you’ll feel full, but not greasy or sluggish like after sitting down to a decadent ristorante meal. That’s the magic of cashew cheese: tastes great and feels great going down.

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Originally, I wanted to make stuffed shells…but I couldn’t find gluten-free or even whole wheat ones anywhere, and I looked at three different supermarkets! Sure, there were brown rice shells on Amazon, but I wasn’t willing to shell out $11 for a meager box of pasta when it would cost a third as much in the store.

Instead, I re-strategized and picked up a box of brown rice lasagna at Whole Foods and sought out to make cannelloni, one of my mom’s favorites when she and my dad go out for Italian food. I haven’t eaten the “real thing” in years, so I thought it would be fun to try.

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A word of caution: this recipe does take some time to assemble. There are lots of components, and proper timing is crucial. I recommend making the two vegan cheeses and the tomato sauce beforehand for quick assembly on a weeknight; if it’s a weekend or you have some free time, by all means do this all in one sitting.

But I promise you…the result is so worth it. Yum.

Ready to become an Italian-yet-vegan god/goddess? Let’s get started.

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We’ll first start off with this simple tomato sauce: in a medium saucepan, heat up 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add 1/2 of an onion, diced finely. Saute until slightly browned, about 5 minutes, then add 1 large clove of crushed garlic. Stir to incorporate and add 1 tablespoon of dried basil, 1 tablespoon of oregano, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of thyme, along with a generous pinch of salt.

To the onion, garlic, and herbs, pour in 1 14 ounce can of crushed tomatoes, 1 14 ounce can of fire-roasted crushed tomatoes, and 1 6-ounce can of tomato paste. I love the combination of regular and fire-roasted because it gives the sauce a little heat without it being overwhelming, and it nicely compliments the tomato flavor.

Bring the tomato sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cook until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes, then taste. Chances are, your sauce might taste a little acidic; I recommend adding a pinch of unrefined cane sugar or coconut sugar just to balance it out. Sounds weird, but it really works!

In the blender or with an immersion blender, blend the sauce until few bits of onion remain. Set aside until ready to use.

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Meanwhile, rinse and dry off the equivalent of approximately two cups of spinach. If you got big leaves, chop it up a bit–if you got baby spinach, don’t bother.

Heat up 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small saucepan, and when hot, add the spinach. Saute just to slightly wilt, only a minute or so, then immediately remove from the heat. Transfer to a bowl or plate and let cool to room temperature–you can speed up the process by putting it in the fridge.

While the spinach cools, make the ricotta “cheese” inspired by this recipe: in the bowl of a food processor, blend 1 3/4 cups of soaked raw cashews with 1/2 cup of water, 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast, 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Pulse until everything is well-blended but NOT smooth, about 1 minute. It should be the texture of “real” ricotta cheese and there should be no big pieces of cashew. (That’s just gross.)

Once your spinach is cool, place it over a fine mesh strainer in the sink and squeeze out as much water as you possibly can. Then, transfer it to a cutting board and chop into smaller pieces. Stir the spinach into the ricotta “cheese” and set aside.

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Now is a good time to bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once bubbling, add in 12 gluten-free lasagna noodles–I used brown rice because I tolerate it well and there are just three ingredients (rice, rice bran, and water). Use whatever noodles float your boat–or substitute thinly sliced zucchini, if you’d like.

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Here’s the trick: cook your pasta for ONLY five minutes. This ensures that it’s pliable but still not cooked on the inside. Your cannelloni will be spending 30 minutes in a hot oven, so you want to leave the pasta very al dente to prevent it from becoming a mushy mess later on.

Once the five minutes are up, strain the pasta and rinse well with cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside for now.

If you want to, make some vegan mozzarella “cheese.” You can follow my recipe here with step-by-step photos here.

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It’s now time to assemble! Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Take out a 9 x 13 dish and pour (approximately) 1 cup of your prepared tomato sauce on the bottom. Use a spatula to spread it out.

To roll the cannelloni, take one lasagna noodle and lie it flat on a clean surface. Add a large scoop (about 2-3 tablespoons) of the prepared vegan ricotta “cheese” and use the back of a spoon to spread it out. It should cover 3/4 of the noodle, not the entire thing.

Then, using a good amount of torque, roll up the noodle with the filling inside. Place it seam-side down in the dish with the tomato sauce and repeat with the rest of the lasagna noodles.

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Please ignore the iPad in the back.

The cannelloni should fit snuggly in the dish. That’s what you want! Cover the top with another cup and a half of tomato sauce, then use a small spoon or ice cream scoop to put the vegan mozzarella “cheese” over the top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until the pasta is cooked through and the sauce is bubbling. To get the cheese on top to be golden-brown, brush it with a little olive oil and put it under the broiler for a few minutes.

Voila! Hard work, but oh my gosh, INCREDIBLE.

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What is your favorite Italian dish? Leave me a comment here or on Facebook and let me know!


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