An Italian Vegan Dinner

Pasta with Garlic Courgette and Spinach and Broccoli Balls

I visited Southern Italy a few years ago and have been left with dream-like memories of the landscape, olive groves, wine and food. Wonderful varieties of pasta, served in many forms, dependent on the region and beautifully prepared vegetables, dished up in salads, dips, grills and in sauces to accompany.

As a vegan, lots of Italian fayre can simply be prepared without cheese. This rule follows in restaurants in this country – many pasta sauces can be served without parmesan or anchovies for example and pizza without mozzarella. We never do without.

A week or so ago I found myself in possession of a couple of hundred grams of spare breadcrumbs – so I Googled breadcrumb recipes and came across one from Antonio Carluccio, for Pasta with Courgette Sauce and Spinach Balls. It looked divine and I knew even though the balls contained egg and parmesan, I could easily veganise the recipe using Nutritional Yeast Flakes instead, to give a cheesy flavour. I also tweaked the recipe to suit ingredients I had in my fridge, including using both broccoli and spinach to make the balls.

Bon appetite.

Pasta with Garlic Courgettes and Spinach and Broccoli Balls
Serves 4
Preparation/cooking time 40 mins

Spinach and broccoli balls

250g/9oz of spinach leaves, washed thoroughly, tough stalks removed
250g/9oz broccoli, broken into small florets
1 tsp cornflour, mixed with 2 tsp water
Pinch nutmeg
1 clove garlic, crushed
110g/4oz fresh white breadcrumbs
50g/2oz nutritional yeast flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 tbsp olive oil

Pasta sauce

8 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 chilli, finely chopped
2 courgettes, trimmed, finely grated
60g/2¼oz nutritional yeast flakes
salt and freshly ground black pepper400g/14oz rigatoni, cooked according to packet instructions, drained (reserve a few spoonfuls of the cooking water)

  1. For the balls, blanch the spinach and broccoli florets in a pan of salted, boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Then place a lid on the pan and allow the vegetables to steam until soft. Then drain well.
  2. When the veg have cooled, mash them together roughly using a potato masher, in a mixing bowl.
  3. Stir in the cornflour, nutmeg, garlic, breadcrumbs and nutritional yeast. Season, to taste. Mix well until the mixture binds together, adding more breadcrumbs or more water, as necessary, to bind the mixture.
  4. Roll the spinach mixture into walnut-sized balls and place onto a baking tray.
  5. Cover the base of a frying pan in a thin film of olive oil. Heat gently over a low to medium heat.
  6. When the oil is hot, add the spinach balls and fry for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until crisp and golden-brown all over. Remove from the pan using a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on kitchen paper. Keep warm.
  7. Meanwhile, for the pasta sauce, heat the oil in a separate frying pan over a medium heat. Add the garlic and chilli and fry for 1-2 minutes, or until softened but not coloured.
  8. Add the courgettes and continue to fry for 3-4 minutes, or until they have started to soften.
  9. Add the nutritional yeast flakes and season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix until well combined, then stir in the reserved cooking water from the pasta and the cooked, drained rigatoni.
  10. Divide the pasta into flour bowls and top with the spinach and broccoli balls to serve.

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