At ZisBoomBah.com, we’ve been writing a lot lately about featuring tasty vegetarian meals your whole family will love. We honestly have no agenda to try and convert everyone into vegetarians—I’d go nuts without my mu shu pork, but rather to offer recipes and techniques that will help your family feel comfortable about the occasional meal without meat. MarkBittman of the NewYorkTimes coined the perfect phrase for this mindset: TheTemporaryVegetarian.
From tiny ditilani to fat ribbons of biang biang rice noodles, pasta is the happy blank canvas to soups, sauces and stews from Bangalore to Baltimore. And some of the heartiest, most flavorful pasta meals are vegetable based. How do these delicious dinners satisfy without containing a scrap of animal protein?
For starters, pasta is a carbohydrate-rich source of energy. Creating an entree is simply a matter of adding protein-rich legumes, hearty vegetables and enticing, flavorful sauces. Finishing with a sprinkling of cheese or chopped nuts not only adds an attractive garnish but adds additional richness.
The recipes below showcase Italian flavors, as these are the comfort foods I favor in the midst of the late winter chill. But come warmer temperatures, my pasta favorites head East with Pad Thai, Singapore Noodles and coconut-lime rice sticks. Summer pastas are cooling one-dish salads featuring the fresh harvest of local farmer’s markets and our home garden.
No matter the season, vegetarian noodles are delicious one-dish meals that are simply satisfying. No meat required.
Cavatelli with Spicy Winter Squash
This sweet and spicy dish is sure to warm bellies and hearts.
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
- 2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-inch cubes
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1½ pounds cavatelli or small shells
- ¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic, onion and crushed red pepper and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic and onion are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the squash and thyme, season with salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender, about 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, add the cavatelli to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Add the cavatelli to the squash mixture in the skillet; stir in ½ cup of the pasta cooking water and toss gently to combine. Add the ¾ cup of Parmesan, season with salt and pepper and stir gently; add a little more pasta water to thin, if necessary. Serve the pasta right away, passing more cheese at the table.
Linguini with Pesto. Beans and Potatoes
Though simple, this recipe is incredibly delicious!
- ¾ pound baby red potatoes, halved
- ¾ pound French green beans (haricots verts), trimmed
- 1 pound linguine
- ½ cup prepared pesto
- ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- In a medium saucepan, cover the potatoes with water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and let cool slightly.
- Add the green beans to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beans to a colander and rinse under cold water to stop cooking process.
- Add the pasta to the pot and cook over high heat until al dente. Drain the pasta and transfer it to a large bowl. Add the cooked potatoes, beans, pesto and Parmigiano-Reggiano and toss well to coat. Season with salt and pepper and serve, passing additional Parmigiano-Reggiano at the table.
Orecchiette with Greens, Mozzarella and Chickpeas
Full of family favorites, such as fresh mozz and crunchy chickpeas, this recipe is sure to bring smiles and sate tummies.
- ½ pound orecchiette
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- 1 cup drained canned chickpeas, patted dry
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cumin
- ⅛ teaspoon ground coriander
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
- ½ pound Swiss chard, stemmed and leaves coarsely chopped
- 4 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into ½-inch cubes
- 8 large basil leaves, torn
- In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the orecchiette over medium heat until al dente. Drain, reserving ¼ cup of the cooking water.
- Meanwhile, in a medium, deep skillet, heat ¼ inch of vegetable oil until shimmering. Add the chickpeas and cook over high heat until crisp, 4 minutes. Transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate, sprinkle with the cumin and coriander and season with salt and black pepper. Discard the oil and wipe out the skillet.
- Add the olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper to the skillet. Cook over moderately high heat until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and cook until softened, 3 minutes. Add the chard and cook, stirring, until wilted, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper.
- Add the pasta and reserved cooking water to the skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring until incorporated. Add the mozzarella and basil and toss. Spoon the pasta into bowls, sprinkle with the chickpeas and serve.
Pasta Alla Norma
This creamy pasta dish, named after a Belini opera, gets its rich sauce from ricotta salata, a tangy, salty cheese.
Based on a recipe by Judith Liebman
- 1 large eggplant (1 ½ pounds), peeled and sliced into ¼-inch thin slices
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
- 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 28-ounce can large-dice tomatoes, undrained
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 6 ounces dried pasta
- 3 to 4 ounces ricotta salata, grated using the large holes on a box grater
- 10 to 12 large basil leaves, stemmed
- Lightly salt the eggplant slices and stack, weighted down in a colander, for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 425oF.
- Rinse off the salt and squeeze the eggplant slices in a clean towel until dry. Brush each side of each slice lightly with olive oil, place on a nonstick cookie pan, and bake for 10 minutes or until tender and lightly browned.
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, sauté garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil for 1 minute or until garlic starts to lightly color. Pour in the canned tomatoes with their juices and season with the red pepper flakes and black pepper. Simmer over low heat until slightly thickened, about 20 to 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to the package instructions. Drain well.
- To assemble, in a large raised glass serving dish layer ½ of the pasta, ⅓ of the sauce, 4 basil leaves and ⅓ of the ricotta salata. Repeat for 2 more layers. Top the dish with the eggplant slices and the remaining sauce, cheese and basil. Serve immediately.