Saturday, December 15, 2018

Slow Cooker Vegan Stuffed Shells with marinara sauce, sweet potato, and spinach and tofu

This year for our work potluck, I wanted to make sure that Mame, who's vegan, had a proper main dish to eat. Nipps told me about putting mashed sweet potato instead of cheese in lasagna, and Stego told me how she does tofu for cheese. We only have a microwave at work, so I bring my slow cooker in and do my cooking in that. I fed all that into my homework machine along with one practice run, and it came out like this.

olive oil
an onion
two garlic cloves
two carrots
two celery stalks
two 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
four bay leaves

Heat a few glugs of oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Chop all the vegetables, adding them to the pan as they're chopped. When they're all in, turn the heat up to medium-high and sauté until translucent. Add the tomatoes and bay leaves, reduce heat back to low, and simmer for an hour until sauce is thickened; take out the bay leaves. I used my stick blender to blend the sauce into a rough puree, somewhere between chunky and smooth.

This can be made well ahead of time and kept in the fridge or I suppose even in the freezer until you're ready to put everything together.

Sweet Potato
enough small sweet potatoes to make four cups mash

Here's a thing I learned from Serious Eats: for the sweetest sweet potatoes, go low and slow. They actually recommend a sous vide, which I don't have, so I just bake at the lowest my oven goes, which is 265 degrees.

Put the sweet potatoes in a baking pan in the oven and then just forget about them for a couple three hours. When they're soft (they'll also be sticky and sweet), take them out of the oven and let them cool. I snipped off the ends with kitchen scissors and then cut them open from end to end, then scraped the insides off the skin into a bowl. Mash.

This also can be done ahead of time and kept in the fridge, probably not the freezer though.

Spinach and Tofu
1 lb frozen chopped spinach
1 box firm tofu
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk

Omg, still going... okay, cook spinach according to package directions, I do mine in the microwave. Let cool before squeezing as dry as you can with your hands. Break the tofu into pieces and squeeze that dry, too. Mix the spinach and tofu in a bowl and set aside for a sec.

Now you're just going to make a bechamel sauce: melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat, sprinkle flour over melted butter and whisk until smooth. Add milk a little at a time, whisking constantly until smooth. Cook until thickened, about five minutes, and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg; you want it to be almost overseasoned, because you're going to add the sauce to the spinach and tofu. You might not use all the sauce, just enough to make a thick paste consistency.

This also can be made ahead and kept in the fridge.

(Obviously since I was making this vegan, I used vegan butter and almond milk. If you don't care about that, just use regular butter and milk. Or for that matter, ricotta.)

a 12 ounce box of jumbo shells

Cook the shells for half the time on the package directions, I did mine for eight minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water, just so they're cool enough to handle them.

Stuff the shells first with the sweet potato, then with the spinach and tofu, assembly-line style.

This is another stopping point, you can keep the stuffed shells for a few days in the fridge too; that's how I did: I brought one container of marinara and one container of shells to work. Also my slow cooker, which I brought in over the weekend.

Putting it together!

Spread a layer of marinara on the bottom of the crockpot, arrange a layer of shells—I eventually figured out that in a ring works best—then spread a layer of marinara over the shells. Repeat until the crockpot is filled, ending with a layer of sauce. I have a good amount of marinara left, and spinach and tofu, that can be used up for something else.

Cover and turn the slow cooker on HIGH and let it all cook for about three hours.

That's it! A very good party dish.