As the weather grows colder, I grow hungrier. I’m not sure if it’s some primordial instinct (good band name), or just an excuse to eat more. Either way, with the promise of upcoming holiday feastsuses comes the undeniable craving for comfort food.
What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “comfort food”? By nature, the foods we find comforting come with a bit of a stigma. They are usually rich and filling and calorically dense. They also tend to come slathered with cheese, drowning in gravy, or swimming in sauce, and almost always with a supersized side of guilt. But just what is it about these qualities in foods that draw us in like… like… like similes and metaphors?
For some, it’s a memory connected to past comfort. Just one whiff can take you back to those Sunday dinners around Grandma’s table. The region of our brains responsible for our sense of smell is closely connected to the part that handles memories and emotions. These are called “smemories” by people who are me.
Other times, we seek comfort in food the way we would a friend. After all, a true friend is always there for us. I’ve seen people take out their stress and frustration on a poor unsuspecting bag of Oreos (Brian), and I’ve witnessed a woman scorned practically bankrupt a Chinese buffet, all because the guy she’d been seeing for the last three months wasn’t actually the Gunnar Nelson, just a drifter selling blonde hair extensions out of the back of his 1989 Dodge Caravan/”small living space”. I’d have to call that discomfort food. I know it made me uncomfortable.
Each of us has a favorite comfort food. Even within the same household, it can be diff’rent strokes. For example, Mr. Drummond might have had a bad day at his nondescript wealthy New York businessman day job, and all he can think about is getting home to Mrs. Garrett’s meatloaf and mashed. After her harrowing encounter with the creepy photographer who picked her up hitchhiking, Kimberly turns to chocolate to calm her shattered nerves (Why, 70s television, WHY???). Willis and Arnold, on the other hand, are talkin’ bout ice cream. Moral of the story: The world don’t move to the beat of just one drum. What might be comfort food for you, may not be comfort food for some.
On a very special episode, they all sit down around a candlelit table and enjoy a lovely Italian dinner of salad, garlic knots, and deliciously comforting lasagna roll-ups. Spoiler alert: IT’S ALL VEGAN!!
I wasn’t sure I could veganize one of my favorite comfort foods, but by gum, I’ve done it! These lasagna roll-ups are filling, satisfying and yes, comforting. The meal pretending to be enjoyed by the fractured 70s sitcom family above is actually the perfect meal to feed your family on a “meatless Monday”, or to serve to guests you really, really like. J
12 lasagna noodles prepared according to package directions, drained and laid flat to dry (I use either parchment paper or a cookie sheet)
1 recipe Master Marinara (or 3 cups of your favorite vegan sauce, which this should be!)
Optional: Sauteed vegetables (onions, peppers, zucchini, mushrooms) to add to sauce for more substantial comfort)
1 recipe Cashew Ricotta
1 ½ cups raw cashews
Zest of one lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 garlic clove
¼ tsp each kosher salt and black pepper
¼ cup non-dairy milk, unsweetened
Water as needed, for consistency
¼ cup (about half a bunch) Italian parsley, chopped
Preheat oven to 350.
Put your cashews in a medium bowl. Bring a small saucepan of water (I use my tea kettle) to a boil and cover the cashews well with it. Let them soak while you make the marinara and/or boil the noodles, at least half an hour. Alternately, you can soak them overnight. I’ve almost always got cashews soaking in the fridge. Drain and place in blender or food processor. Add the other ingredients, except for the water. You’ll have to scrape down the sides a few times to make sure everything’s smooth and creamy. If needed, add water a teaspoon at a time until your desired consistency is reached.
By the way, this makes a really great dip for crackers or crudité!
Place ricotta in a bowl and mix in the chopped parsley.
If sauteeing vegetables, now is a good time to do that and add it to your sauce. When sauce is finished and cooled a bit, pour about a cup in the bottom of a 9×13” baking dish.
Now comes the fun part! Put about 1/4 cup of the ricotta mixture on each noodle (I always make 12 but lose a couple along the way, so really it’s 10 noodles I use. Just be sure to distribute the ricotta evenly betwixt noodles). Leave a little room along both ends and carefully roll up. Place seam-side down in prepared baking pan and cover with remaining sauce.
Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes.
Oh! I would be remiss to not include a recipe for quick vegan parmesan. It’s a really nice addition to so many things, but especially here. Before you pop these babies into the oven, just take:
1 cup raw cashews
¼ cup nutritional yeast, or “nooch”, as we call it
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¾ teaspoons sea salt
Put all ingredients in a blender (or food processor fitted with the S blade) and pulse until it’s the consistency of parmesan cheese. It’s super important to use the pulse button, because if you go too far, you will have cashew butter!
We put this beep on EVERYTHING! Even popcorn.
Sprinkle on enough to cover each rollup and then put it in the oven. Store any leftover parm in the fridge.
A cibo consolatorio de vegano… To Italian vegan comfort food!