My grandma is a four-foot-ten firecracker. She’ll sass you so fast you won’t know what hit you, but if you’re lucky, she’ll make it all better with her famous spaghetti sauce. I’ve seen semi-truck drivers go weak in the knees for it—it’s 100 percent hater-proof. Grandma’s sauce is the star of the show in this homey baked pasta dish that holds up well as leftovers.
Serves 10 to 12
1 medium-size onion, peeled
2 cups (140 g) sliced baby bella mushrooms
½ to 1 cup (85 to 170 g) green or kalamata olives, pitted and halved
2 cloves garlic, minced
Oil, for pan
2 (15-ounce [425 g]) cans tomato sauce
1 (6-ounce [170 g]) can tomato paste
12 ounces (355 ml) water (use the empty tomato paste can to measure)
1 tablespoon (4 g) Italian seasoning
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon sugar
Pinch of black pepper
Pinch of salt
1⁄3 cup (48 g) raw cashews
1 (12.3-ounce [349 g]) package firm silken tofu
1 tablespoon (15 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup (28 g) bread crumbs
2 tablespoons (8 g) nutritional yeast
¼ teaspoon salt
Olive oil and bread crumbs to coat a 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33 cm) casserole dish
1 pound (455 g) spaghetti
My grandma’s secret is to cut an end off the peeled onion, leaving the other end round. Cut two or three slices into the flat end, but don’t cut all the way through. As the onion cooks in the sauce, it will open like a flower, flavoring the sauce without big chunks of onion. You can then decide if you want to break off pieces of onion and leave them in your final sauce, or toss the onion out.
Make the sauce: In a large saucepan, combine all the sauce ingredients, including the cut onion. Cover and simmer the sauce over medium-low heat for 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. When it is done cooking, remove the bay leaves from the sauce and discard.
While the sauce simmers, grind the cashews in a food processor until very fine. Add the tofu, lemon juice and salt and blend until well combined—some texture is good!
In a small bowl, mix together the bread crumbs, nutritional yeast and salt to make the topping.
Preheat your oven to 300°F (150°C) and coat your casserole dish with olive oil. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon (7 g) of the bread crumb mixture and set aside. Cook the spaghetti al dente, according to the package directions.
Drain, but don’t rinse the spaghetti and return the pasta to the pot you cooked it in. Stir in the cashew ricotta and 1 cup (235 ml) of the sauce.
Place the pasta in the casserole dish and top with about 2 tablespoons (14 g) of the bread crumb mixture. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake 15 more minutes. Cut the baked pasta into squares and serve with warm sauce poured over each slice. Sprinkle with additional bread crumb mixture or some Not-Parm (below).
Cut an end off the peeled onion, leaving the other end round. Cut two or three slices into the flat end, but don’t cut all the way through.
Party Tip: If you prefer a chunkier pasta sauce, throw a drained can of fire-roasted tomatoes in there!
Makes about 5 ounces (140 g)
1 cup (120 g) walnuts
1⁄3 cup (21 g) nutritional yeast
½ teaspoon seasoned salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until it’s the texture of Parmesan cheese. Flavor your Not-Parm by adding chili powder or curry powder, or what have you. Sprinkle on top.
Read RFT Vegan/Vegetarian Editor Teresa Bergen’s interview with Natalie Slater.