Fatta In Casa–Italian From Scratch

<i>Fatta In Casa</i>–Italian From Scratch

This little Italian girl always loved lasagna. Even though lasagna uses the same basic ingredients as other Italian dishes (noodle, sauce, cheeses), it’s the structure of lasagna I love.  It is organized.  And I am a big fan of things being organized.  I always was. As a child I remember examining the cross-section of a my lasagna portion, trying hard to keep it tall and neat while penetrating it with my fork.  I liked when there was a stark contrast, deep red sauce and white ricotta, and not a mix of orange.  These are the things I recall well; I was a budding food aficionado concerned about food aesthetic and an admirer of things organized neatly.  What is missing from this picture is what developed through the years. A appreciation of quality and authenticity above all, especially with food.

Nowadays, I savor the effort and dedication that quality demands, especially in this superficial age of instant gratification. The important things in life require your whole heart and whole head–the best parts of you.  And there is the problem with this time we’re living in: the diminishment of standards of quality… in all avenues. So in rebellion, I maintain my high standards.  And I endeavor to make lasagna in casa.  Because great things deserve my time, my effort, my heart and soul.

Lasagna, In Parts

All recipes adapted from Miyoko Schinner’s The Homemade Vegan Pantry unless noted otherwise. 


Prep: Rejuvelac

Rejuvelac is a fermented grain juice whose cultures, along with the protein in the nuts, time and other related chemical reactions, create the cashew mozzarella. Just like how dairy cheese is made… just different cultures and different proteins.  Though you may use the liquid from a jar of sauerkraut in place of this, I was excited to make the Rejuvelac from scratch.

1/2 cup quinoa (not “pre-sprouted”)

1 and 1/2 cups of water, then
1 quart of filtered water (4 cups)

  1. Put quinoa in a mason jar, at least quart-size and one you have the lid for.  Cover quinoa with the 3 cups of water and cover.  Allow to sit for 8-12 hours. (Picture 1)
  2. After 8-12 hours, you should see that quinoa has grown little sprouts and that water is a bit cloudy (Picture 2).  At this point, cover the top of the jar with a few layers of cheesecloth. (I used a canning lid, which helped with securing the cheesecloth.) Rinse and drain quinoa through the cheesecloth.  Once drained, fill the jar with 1 quart (4 cups) filtered water and cover.  Allow to sit for a day or so away from sunlight.
  3. Once water is cloudy and seems slightly effervescent (see pictures 3 & 4), drain the liquid (which is now Rejuvelac!) into another glass container and store it in the fridge until you’re ready to use.

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After the final step of draining and storing Rejuvelac, I covered the remaining fermented quinoa with more water to make another batch, as the book suggests. I wanted to try having it sit longer as an experiment.  Mostly because I wasn’t sure if I had jumped the gun in Step 3?  But after another day, it had spoiled to the point of terrible smelliness.  So don’t forget to do the smell test!  The Rejuvelac (above in the green jar) has a uniform cloudiness and is lightly bubbly.  It smells fermented but is not gag-inducing.


Cashew Mozzarella

Makes 2 pounds
(keeps for 2-3 weeks)
2 cup of Rejuvelac
2 cup raw cashews
3 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons nutritional yeast
2 teaspoons miso
1 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 and 1 cups water
2 tablespoon agar powder
1/4 cup tapioca starch

  1. Purée first group of ingredients until smooth. Pour into a glass container and cover. Let sit out at room temperature 1-3 days, thickening and increasing tang. Things get active pretty quickly, as you can see below. By the end of Day 1 there was already curdling and air pockets. By the end of Day 2 the mixture was very thick and cheesy. I took a whiff and was satisfied with its tang. I went to step two after the second day because I didn’t want the flavor to be too assertive.
  2. Once your cashew mixture is ready for the next step, get yourself ready for the  final step. In a small bowl mix the tapioca starch and 1/4 cup water until it’s dissolved.  Set aside near your stovetop.PicMonkey Collageu
  3. Whisk 1 cup water and the agar powder* in a saucepan. Cover and bring to a simmer over low heat, leaving it alone for the first couple of minutes. Once you see some bubbling, lower the heat a bit and move to the next step. I wound up almost scorching it thinking it was not yet ready.*Make sure you are using agar powder and not agar flakes.  There is a big difference in potency.  I thought that they were interchangeable, but I was wrong, leading to previous recipe failure.  I see agar-agar flakes in the Asian aisle in the supermarket often, but not agar powder. I found it at my favorite Asian grocer, V & T Supermarket, for $1.69 for about 2 tablespoons.  Not Italian, I know.  I will have to stray from this theme again later in this post in order to make the tofu from scratch. It’s the whole texture thing that requires… seaweeds, algae, seawater, mother liquids, etc.  Lest you think this is “weird,” remember that dairy cheese establishes its texture and hardness level based on the stomach enzymes of the mammal that made the milk.  That, my friend, is weird.PicMonkey Collageg
  4. Pour cashew mixture in saucepan when agar is fully dissolved. Whisk immediately. Add the tapioca starch mixture to the pan and mix. Cook until mixture is thick, gloppy, and a bit shiny.  Pour in a glass container and refrigerate until set. Once set, wrap in wax paper and store in refrigerator. Now you’ve got vegan cheese!PicMonkey Collagef

V.V.’s Basic Pesto

Makes 2 cups
(keeps for 2 weeks refrigerated)
4 cups fresh basil, loosely packed
2 cups raw pumpkin seeds
3 small cloves of garlic
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt

I used basil from my garden for this basic pesto. I picked leaves from a variety of plants at a variety of stages so I would have a blend of basil strengths.

  1. Place all ingredients in blender and process until all ingredients are well incorporated. Make sure to stop and scrape the sides.
  2. Taste and adjust seasoning, if need be. Add more olive oil if it’s too thick.
  3. Set aside or store in an airtight contain in the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble the lasagna.IMG_2732

Marinara

4 pounds of fresh, ripe tomatoes
3 tablespoons Olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 sprig fresh rosemary, minced

In a perfect world, the tomatoes in my garden would be ready to go and I would use them in the his recipe.  But they’re not ready yet, as you can see.PicMonkey CollageBut I could use some of my rosemary… which you can barely see within the green, weedy chaos. The truth is that I don’t stick around outside for upkeep as much as I should. If I am out for more than 30 seconds (and not slathered in tea tree oil), the mosquitos wage a vicious assault on me and I start cussing like the father in A Christmas Story while slapping myself all about.IMG_2188

So, I bought the tomatoes. I bought a variety. But I should have solely focused on ripeness level.
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  1. Wash tomatoes, even if they are organic. These are the star of the show here so pamper them.
  2. Put them in a large bowl and squeeze and smash them with your hands. Try not to grit your teeth as you pierce each juicy piece of fruit with your fingers. I wasn’t able to do so. Wasn’t that fun? Sure there are other ways to get them ready for cooking, but why wouldn’t you want to take the opportunity to squeeze a whole bunch of tomatoes.
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  3. Heat a large, wide pot with the olive oil. Miyoko suggests a pan that is longer length-wise… and not deep pot. This will allow sauce to cook more quickly.  When the pot is hot, put in the garlic. Let’s stop and admire one of the most simple and magical culinary pleasures? Olive oil & garlic. IMG_2741
  4. Then just cook, watch, stir. About 20-25 minutes. Finally, add the rosemary. Taste for salt and pepper, though it should taste spectacular already.PicMonkey Collage5
  5. Set aside or store in an airtight contain in the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble the lasagna.

Let’s review what we have so far 🇮🇹 … fresh made pesto, homemade cashew cheese, homemade marinara:
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Tofu Ricotta

I’ve never made my own tofu.  Some things just sound intimidating.  Looking over Miyoko’s recipe, I was surprised to see just how easy it was, requiring only 3 ingredients! Now, I didn’t make the soy milk from scratch. 😐 In fact it is the only ingredient I used in this endeavor that was a branded product containing more than one ingredient.  Because soy milk is ubiquitous, I made an exception just here when it came from my “from scratch” mission.  I hope that you will forgive me.

So yes, 3 ingredients. However, I had trouble with finding Nigari in my go-to Asian markets.  It wasn’t in my beloved V & T in Hempstead and the Japanese grocer in Plainview (H & Y Marketplace) didn’t even know what it was. And since my car is in for repairs, I wound up having to order it from Amazon.  Though, admittedly, a quick trip to Flushing, Queens would have surely solved the problem.  Anyway, tofu: let’s do this.

Supposed to make 2 pounds
8 cups Soy milk
1 teaspoon Nigari (magnesium chloride)
1/2 cup water

    1. Gather your ingredients and get ready to go. Dissolve Nigari in a small bowl of water and set near your stovetop. Put a sieve in a bowl that has enough space for drainage. Put that into the sink and layer the sieve with several layers of cheesecloth.PicMonkey Collaged
    2. In a saucepan bring 8 cups of soy milk to a boil. Don’t jump the gun. Wait until soy milk is boiling well, then…
    3. Add 3/4 of the water/Nigari mixture to the saucepan and stir. It may take a few minutes of stirring and watching, but the soy milk will begin to curdle. Add the remaining water/Nigari mixture as things get active in the pan. Curdle size will increase (see below) as the Nigari reacts with the heat. Now is where I may have gone wrong. Miyoko’s recipe didn’t note how long the process should take. She mentions to that clear whey with a yellowish tint means it is ready to hit the sieve. However, with my doubling the recipe it just didn’t seem like enough curds to be 2 pounds of tofu.  But I moved on to step 3 because it did fit the description of done.PicMonkey Collaget
    4. Pour the curdles and whey into your cheesecloth/sieve/bowl that’s in the sink. Cover the top with the cheesecloth overhanging the sides and put some kind of weight on top to press it. This will increase its firmness.  After a few minutes, peel it off the cheesecloth and put into a container and feel good that you just made tofu!  As I expected, it wasn’t 2 pounds. I will have to try the recipe again (with fresh made soy milk!) and see what I did wrong.PicMonkey Collagee

Now you can turn the tofu into Riccota. I winged this recipe based on other times I have made tofu riccota.
Make 2 cups
1 pound of your fresh made tofu
1 garlic clove
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons olive oil

Blend all ingredients in a food processor, stopping once to scrape down the sides. Blend until all is creamy. Taste for added seasonings to your liking.IMG_2282


Ground Seitan

Seitan is sometimes called “wheat meat.”  It’s made from vital wheat gluten, which is the protein that is in wheat in powder form. Vital wheat gluten is the main ingredient for creating seitan, a vegetarian protein source with a hearty texture that you can impart a lot of flavor into.  I just thought I’d explain that.  Because vegan food is not as scary when you understand what the heck it is. And I don’t want you to think vegan food is weird.

(Recipe adapted Viva Vegan by Terry Hope Romero)
from Makes 2 cups

(keeps for 2-3 weeks)
1 and 1/2 cups vegetable broth, minus 1 teaspoon
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
4 garlic cloves, microplaned
2 tablespoons olive oil

1 and 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup chickpea flour
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt to taste

soy sauce, optional
smashed cloves of garlic, optional

  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Fill a large saucepan with water.  You are going to steam the seitan for 30 minutes, so let that guide your water level. Feel free to add some flavor enhancements to the water, some soy sauce or some smashed cloves of garlic. Get that going but keep an eye on it as you prepare the dough.
  2. Mix the first group of ingredients (vegetable broth, liquid smoke, garlic and olive oil) in a small bowl.
  3. In a large bowl combine wheat gluten, chickpea flour, nutritional yeast, dried seasonings, and salt. Form a well in center of dry ingredients and stir in broth mixture with rubber spatula until all ingredients are incorporated and dough forms. It shouldn’t be too wet. If it is, add a little bit more wheat gluten.
  4. Knead the dough for 2-3 minutes, then let the ball of dough rest for 10 minutes.
  5. Cut the dough in half, then cut each half in half making 4 equal pieces.
  6. Wrap each loosely in foil and put in steaming basket over the now boiling water. Let that steam undisturbed for 30 minutes. Once finished, take seitan out and let it cool down.
  7. Cut or rip a seitan loaf into for and pulse in a food processor.  If you have a large food processor you can do several loaves at a time. Pulse until it looks like “ground round.”
  8. Arrange seitan ground round on a baking sheet with some parchment paper. Try to make a thin layer so it cooks evenly. Use two sheets if you need to. Let this cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring once or twice.
  9. Then, lower the heat to 225 and let it cook another 10 minutes. The goal is to get some texture on it… without burning it.  But you’ll have to watch as some pieces will be tiny and ready to burn.
  10. Set aside or store in an airtight contain in the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble the lasagna.PicMonkey Collagef

Pasta

Now… the pasta.  It is hard to believe that something so versatile and delicious has such minimal ingredients. Especially in the case of minimal ingredients, the quality of each is pretty darn important. I have plenty of good all-purpose flour in the pantry, but needed to venture out for the semolina. For quality, authenticity and to counteract my visit to the Asian grocer, I headed to an established Italian grocer (Iavarone Bros. in Wantagh) for the semolina flour.  But you can buy semolina in mainstream markets pretty easily.

As far as tools, a food processor and a good rolling pin is all you need. If you have strong hands, then you don’t even need the food processor really.  Oh and, optionally, you can use a pasta cutter for that nice squiggly edge. I have one so I used it, but I wouldn’t make a special trip for it.

Makes 1 1/2 pounds
2 cups semolina flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup hot water

  1. Get your tools ready to go.  A rolling pin, a ruler so you can pretend you’re going to be really precise, and a pasta cutter.
  2. Put flours in food processor. While it’s running slowly pour hot water in. Flours will come to together and rather quickly form a ball of dough. Don’t stop the food processor until all of the dough is in one ball. Take out the dough ball with floured hands as it might be a bit wet. If it is wet and sticky, knead it for 30 seconds with a bit of flour. Quarter it, cover it with a dry dish rag and let it rest for 10 minutes.
  3. While the dough is resting, get a pot of water boiling. Since this is lasagna, I used a wide but shallow pot. Remember the rules of cooking pasta: salt the water!! I also put parchment paper all over the place like a pasta parking lot.
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  4. After dough has rested, roll out to about 1/8 an inch. Use the pasta cutter to cut your beautiful lasagna. They are looking good!  This might be a good time to preheat the oven–350 degrees, please.IMG_2767
  5. Next, cook them up carefully. It wont’s take more than a couple of minutes. Transfer them to the parchment paper.
  6. Assemble everything! This was the whirlwind. And I tried my first time lapse video to document it.  Afterwards, you’ll bake it covered tightly with foil at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Then take off the foil and bake another 25-35 minutes. 

    After all of the effort and prep work and my lasagna was complete! My homemade lasagna–with ‘from scratch’ pasta, marinara, cashew cheese, tofu ricotta, pesto, and ground seitan. A true feat! IMG_2775

    I couldn’t wait to try a slice of my gorgeous lasagna. It was absolutely delicious!
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    Want some lasagna? Hit me up–I got plenty!
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    Why would I put this much time and effort into a meal?  Because I do it better.