I recently had my world completely interrupted by a book. (And if you want to know he name of the book, I’ll tell you later.) One particular dinner scene in that book haunted me as I planned this week’s video. It was August, in Rome. A large, drunken group of literati leave a poetry reading and decide to meet for dinner at a restaurant across town. They pile into cars and arrive at the restaurant just before closing. The are served what food remains in the kitchen. They are treated to antipasti, bread, and wine. Their first course was then tortellini in cream sauce. Their second, a pot roast with peas and salad. They continued on with cheeses and grappa, and then the meal was finished with a flan for dessert. All the while, they are treated to a poetic tale about life’s “layers and secret passageways and interlocking chambers…”

I wanted this meal. I wanted this moment. And I needed it to be vegan. So, I made it.

Components:

  • Antipasti platter (suggestions below)
  • Focaccia or ciabatta bread
  • 1st Course: Mushroom tortellini (recipe below) with Cauliflower cream sauce(recipe below)
  • 2nd Course: Roman Style Portobello Pot Roast with Peas
  • Salad
  • Vegan cheeses (optional course)

Antipasti:

A simple antipasti platter can consist of a number of fresh, grilled, or pickled vegetables, and olives. I really wanted to keep this vegetable centered, so I just grilled some vegetables on the bbq, drizzled them with olive oil, and served them alongside marinated artichoke hearts, roasted bell peppers, pappadew peppers and olives. Hint: Hit up the olive bar at your local supermarket. Aside from the grilled vegetables, most of what you need can be found there.

Don’t forget the fresh bread.

Mushroom Tortellini:

  • 10 dried shiitake mushroom caps
  • ½ cup cashews
  • 2 cups of  boiling- hot water
  • 1 teaspoon miso
  • 2 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • wonton or gyoza wrappers* or handmade pasta**

*If you are using wonton or gyoza wrappers, make sure they are vegan. I have found the Dynasty brand at Asian markets in my area, and they are vegan.

**If you want to make your own pasta, use this handmade pasta recipe.

In a medium sized bowl that can be lidded, add the dried shiitake mushrooms and cashews. Pour the hot water over them, stir, cover, and let sit for 20 minutes.

When the mushroom are hydrated, squeeze the water out of each mushroom, and then add the mushrooms to a food processor. Drain the cashews, but reserve the liquid. Add the cashews to the food processor along with the miso, garlic powder, and nutritional yeast. Pulse to get things moving, and then turn the processor on to full speed and process until it forms a creamy consistency. If it refuses to break down, add some of the hydrating liquid a tablespoon or two at a time. Scrape down the sides as you go.

Plan for about 10-15 tortellini per person. Fill each dough circle or square with about ½ to ¾ teaspoon of filling into the direct center. With a bit of water, wet the outer rim of the dough. Fold the dough in half, over the filling, and pinch the two sides closed, making sure to get any air out. Fold the far side of the dough over the filling pocket, and then with our finger pressed against the filling, make the two ends meet around your finger, pinching them together with a bit of water. (This is way easier to show than it is to write. You should watch the video. It’s easy.)

Cook the finished tortellini in salted water for exactly one minute. Immediately move the tortellini into a warm pan of sauce and lightly toss before putting onto the plate.

Cauliflower Cream Sauce:

  • ½ head of cauliflower, stem and all, chopped up into slightly larger-than-bite-sized pieces or 2 cups frozen cauliflower.
  • ½ cup cashews
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon miso paste
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 3 to 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoons italian seasoning
  • Pinch of red pepper flake
  • Fresh ground nutmeg
  • Salt and lots of black pepper to taste

Add everything down to the chili pepper flake (do NOT add the nutmeg) into an Instant Pot. Set for 4 minutes at high pressure. When the time is up, unplug the Instant Pot, and carefully release the pressure manually. If you do not have an electric pressure cooker, you can cook everything on the stove top. Just add everything to a pot, and simmer for about 10 to 12 minutes, covered, until the cauliflower is very tender.

Pour the contents of the Instant Pot (or pot) into a high speed blender, and blend until creamy. Note: A high speed blender, like a Vitamix, is optimal for this recipe. A low-powered blender may not produce the same creamy texture, or if it will, it may take a few minutes.

The sauce hang just hang out until your pasta is ready. Add about ½ to ¾ of a cup of sauce for each serving to a pan. Warm. Add cooked pasta to the sauce and lightly toss just before serving.  

Roman Style Portobello Pot Roast with Peas:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 1⁄2 medium yellow onion
  • 4 portobello mushroom caps, gills scraped, stems trimmed but still intact
  • 1 cup vegan friendly red wine
  • 12 whole cloves (Not a fan of cloves? Leave them out)
  • 1 tomato can of water (about a cup and a half)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 dried shiitake mushroom caps
  • 1, 14.5 ounce can of whole peeled roma tomatoes in juice (or diced tomatoes)
  • ¼ to ½ cup of frozen peas, thawed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Clean the mushrooms by spooning out the gills. Cut the tip off of the stem, but leave it intact. Lightly rinse the mushrooms off in running water and pat dry. Set aside.

Roughly break down the celery, garlic, carrot, and onion. Add them to the food processor, and pulse until they are even chopped into very tiny dice.

In a pot or a pan big enough to fit 4 portobello mushroom caps add the olive oil and the diced vegetables. Add a bit of salt if you would like. Cook on medium for about 15 minutes, until the vegetables are browned, sticking to the bottom of the pan, and getting really caramelized.

Add the red wine, and deglaze the pan, allow the wine to come to simmer and reduce by half. Add the tomatoes and their juice, breaking them up with your hands as they go in. Continue adding the water, cloves, bay leaf, and shiitake mushrooms. Stir.

Bring everything to a simmer, and then add the portobello mushroom caps on top. Nestle the caps down into the liquid. Sprinkle to caps with a bit of salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low, so that just a few bubbles come up from the center. Allow it to cook for about an hour and a half, lightly moving things around and scraping the sides down occasionally. It’s done when the liquid is quite reduced, and resemble a very thick bolognese sauce.

Remove the mushrooms to a serving plate. Taste the sauce, and season to your liking. Add the peas and stir. Pour the sauce on top of the mushrooms just before serving. Garnish with fresh parsley.

Service:

Traditionally, an Italian meals starts with wine or cocktails, antipasti, and some bread. The first course if often the pasta course, and the second course is often the protein. Meals are usually coursed out like this, last hours, and are served family style. This meal could be served the same way, or prepared to be served all at once. The pot roast makes a great pasta dish on its own, just cook up your favorite pasta shape, and serve the sauce and mushrooms over the top. The tortellini is also an awesome dish on its own, and could easily be the main course.