Friday 13 July 2012

Pumpkin sage pasta bake

There are some recipes that impress as they come out of the oven and land on the dinner tables.  Others feel like a huge mistake but, by the time we finish them days later, I am sad to part with such deliciousness.  This pumpkin sage pasta break is one of the latter.  I take the blame for my ambivalence, which is a result of my tinkering with the recipe.

The great success of the bake was the tofu cashew ricotta.  I've made vegan dairy substitutes before with nuts and they are very rich.  I've made vegan dairy substitute before with tofu and they are lacking some of the substance of dairy.  Combining nuts and tofu meant it was light but with enough substance to stop it floating to the ceiling.  I even loved the little chunks of cashews that my food processor struggled to blend completely.  I only had pesto, not basil, so mine wasn't technically vegan but I tried a similar mix since without pesto and loved it just as much.

My big mistake was to substitute dried breadcrumbs for fresh ones.  It seemed a reasonable shortcut in a dish that required lots of components and saucepans.  It was also all I had on hand.  However, I underestimated just how much the dish relied on the breadcrumbs.  Too many dried breadcrumbs made it taste like a mouthful of sawdust.

I also found the bake incredibly savoury and regretted leaving out the sugar.  I added a few sliced tomatoes on top and squeezed lime juice over it the second night.  It was much improved.  Maybe more lemon juice in the mix and more tomatoes on top would address the savouriness, in future.  More testing the taste of the mixture would also help.  And a salad on the side and dollop of good chutney would have been great.

I made this pasta bake some weekends ago on a day of baking bread, making decorative paper dolls, supermarket shopping and watching the Mabo telemovie (very beautiful and sad).  Sylvia was in the mood for tipping out everything on the floor and not eating dinner.  At least the pumpkin could roast while I was at the supermarket (being directed by Sylvia to pick up any stray packets she spied on the floor)!

This pasta bake goes to Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes for Bookmarked Recipes, an event founded by Ruth's Kitchen Experiments.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
One year ago: Easey Cheesey Scones
Two years ago: NCR Zucchini Bread
Three years ago: They Who Dare: Masterchef and Ricki’s Tagine
Four years ago: Pumpkin soup and history
Five years ago: Full Moon Cupcakes

Pumpkin sage pasta bake
Adapted slightly from Veganomicon, via Where's the Beef?
Serves 8 (6 dinners and 2 lunches)

600g pumpkin, peeled and diced
4 tablespoons olive oil
375g pasta pieces
2 onion, sliced (I only had 1)
1 tablespoon brown sugar (I didn't use but will next time)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp bush pepper mix
1/4 cup vegetable stock
5-8 fresh sage leaves, chopped
extra seasoning
Sliced tomatoes for topping (optional)

tofu cashew ricotta
1/2 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
600g firm tofu, drained
1 tbsp pesto (or 1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

crumb topping
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs*
1/3 cup walnut pieces, crushed with a fork
6-8 sage leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon mild paprika
1 tsp nutritional yeast flakes
1/2 tsp French lavendar salt

- Toss pumpkin with 2 tbsp olive oil and seasoning in a roasting dish.  Roast at 180 C for 30 minutes or until soft.  Mash roughly with a fork.  Set aside.
- Cook pasta according to instructions on the packet.  Drain and set aside.
- Gently fry onions in 2 tbsp olive oil for about 30-40 minutes until soft and caramelly.  Stir frequently to check they aren't burning.  Set aside.  (I think I would add the sugar while frying onions next time.)
- Make cashew ricotta.  Blend cashews, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic in food processor.  Add tofu, pesto (or basil) and salt.  Blend again until mixture is smooth.  Set aside.
- Mix pumpkin, pasta, onions, ricotta, nutmeg, pepper and stock in a large mixing bowl (or in the baking tray if you don't have a large enough bowl).
- Make the crumb topping by frying the breadcrumbs with other ingredients in oil for 3-4 minutes until golden and crunchy (I skipped the frying because I only had dried breadcrumbs but I dry fried the walnuts and drizzled some oil through the mixture - see note*). 
- Tip pasta and pumpkin mixture into a large baking tray (I used the same dish I had used to roast the pumpkin but can't remember if I washed it out or not!) and scatter with crumb topping.  Arrange sliced tomatoes on top if using.  Bake at 180 C for about 30 minutes (or in my oven about 40 minutes) or until crisp and golden brown on top (and if using tomatoes, until they are soft)

*Note: I substituted 1 and 1/2 cups of dried breadcrumbs for the fresh ones.  It was far too much when the bake was fresh out of the oven.  Neither crispy nor soft.  Once the bake has sat for a couple of days and the breadcrumbs had soaked up the moisture it was fine.  The solution?  Maybe if I used dried breadcrumbs again I would maybe sprinkle some of the dried breadrumbs in layers through the pasta bake.  Or maybe I could have lightly fried the dried breadcrumbs.  Seems the fresh breadcrumbs are ideal.

On the stereo:
Quiet Revolution - Various Artists


  1. Chutney! I think you're right, that is exactly what this recipe needs.

    1. Thanks Cindy - I think my kitchen needs a good chutney right about now

  2. Given my adoration of all things pumpkin, I know I would totally adore this. I'll be making in come pumpkin season, that's for sure!

    1. Thanks joanne - I think you will love this - pumpkin and pasta - can't go wrong!

  3. Interesting recipe with lovely flavours. When I lived in California I was in love with this tofu cashew spread that I found in a health food shop. If that spread is anything like your tofu cashew ricotta, I'm pretty sure that I'd love this!

    1. Thanks Hazel - tofu cashew spread sounds delicious - when I made this ricotta again E was spreading the leftovers on toast so maybe it is similar

  4. This sounds like a delicious recipe, dried breadcrumbs and all.

    1. Thanks Cakelaw - even with the dried breadcrumbs it worked (just)

  5. I must say, traditional pasta bakes are close the macaroni cheese in my 'most hated' dinners - but that is largely due to the cheese, so I am wondering if this would convert me. I love the look and sound of the tofu cashew ricotta and think I'll have to try that out soon.

    1. Thanks Kari - I loved pasta bakes but the only one I remember my mum doing regularly is tuna casserole which I disliked because of the boiled egg (I got a special one without) - I have tried a mac and cheese style dish recently and wondered how this ricotta would go in it

  6. Gosh, I don't know that I've ever used sage! Or ever made a traditional pasta bake, what with all the wheat, dairy, tomato, and EVERYTHING allergies in our family. I'd tentatively try this... :P

    1. Thanks Hannah - sage is lovely - esp with pumpkin but I often don't get through a bunch and I have been in the habit of losing any dried sage I buy! sigh! Pasta bakes are even better - I love them because they usually last for ages and are great comfort food - though if your family could never eat them, maybe not - wonder if this gf one with the above ricotta would work for your family???

  7. I've made this a few times based on the Veganomicon version, but instead of the cashew ricotta I've just used ricotto (unveganising a vegan recipe seems so wrong!). I just chucked some sliced pumpkin in with the pasta to cook (to save on pans + time), and added more onion + leek + garlic + a bit of soy sauce to oomph up the flavour. Definitely definitely it needs fresh breadcrumbs though, I just chucked some raw onion, olive oil and some herbs and stuff into my blender when I was making the breadcrumbs. It was all about less dishes when I made it! Anyway I've made it a bunch of times lately, it's become my new favourite dish to take to lunches/dinners at other peoples houses.

    1. Thanks Penny - you make it sound far easier than I found it - I am not a huge fan of ricotta so I preferred this vegan one but I like the idea of putting the pumpkin in to cook with the pasta - I do that occasionally so it makes sense - I like your idea of making the breadcrumbs even more substantial with added extras - in fact I had a hunt in my freezer for something and found lots of ends of bread and though I should have used these for the breadcrumbs - next time I will take the right shortcuts :-)

  8. Oh, dear. Funny, I made one of these (my own recipe) last winter and found it also needed extra moisture after baking. I did like the flavor combination, though.

    1. Thanks Ricki - it is a great flavour combination - I must check out your version


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