three-course vegan Italian-inspired menu

If it’s one thing that I’ve learned over the years, it’s that casual persuasion is not for me. I spend a lot of time educating myself (read: getting distracted) on different topics, and I generally won’t discuss something unless I’ve formed a well educated opinion on it, unless I begin with the disclaimer, ‘Well, I really can’y back this up with any facts, but if you just wan my musings…’

This, coupled with the fact that I’m not a patient person, makes me a bitch in arguments. I recognise this, and sometimes I really do pity the less educated who happen to bristle me on a subject. I really do enjoy debating with better educated individuals, as it helps hone my opinion—or even change it—but the long point that I’m coming to is that trying to convert people to veganism through aggravated assault of facts hasn’t worked well for me in the past.

Cooking, however, has. Now, I’m not naïve enough to think that making someone a meal will instantly change his diet, but I’ve a few friends who have transitioned to vegetarianism/veganism over the past couple years, and I like to be egotistical and think that they thought that I was just too awesome not to emulate.

So I have this past-time of sorts of cooking three-course meals for friends, not only because of the whole covert/overt vegan agenda, but also because I really, really just love food. I love putting love into recipes; I love breaking bread with friends; I love taking the time to sit, sip, and enjoy a meal.

In the spirit of sharing, I’m posting this recipe from last fall, when I cooked for my friend Greg. I made an Italian-inspired meal, although the wine pairing was decidedly non-Italian. The pictures are so-so because Greg kept eating things before I could take pictures of them—I seriously didn’t even get a picture of the biscotti ready for serving.

So we have:

Serves: 2 (there will be 1-2 servings of pasta leftover, and the recipe makes 6-8 biscotti, so save some of those as well)


For the White Bean Dip:

1/4 to 1/3 c olive oil 

3 cloves garlic, minced 

1 15-oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed 

a few springs fresh thyme, picked from stems 

a few leaves fresh rosemary, picked from stems and chopped twice or thrice 

a few leaves fresh sage, picked from stems and chopped twice or thrice, or a few pinches dried sage 

salt and freshly crack black pepper, to taste 

juice of half a lemon 

1 fresh baguette or other simple bread 

For the Pasta with Delicata Squash, Crispy Kale, and Riesling Cream Sauce

1/2 lb pasta (I used penne, but something long and thin would work nicely) 

1 delicata squash, peeled, seeds removed, and cut in half 

1 head kale, de-ribbed (cut the leaf off the thick ribby guy running down the middle) 

1/2 c good Riesling (pair what you don’t put in the sauce with dinner) 

1 shallot (2 T), minced 

1 c soy creamer 

salt and freshly crack black pepper, to taste 

2 T Earth Balance 

For the Chocolate-Hazelnut Biscotti

The biscotti that I made were inspired by Double Chocolate Walnut Biscotti from Epicurious (Gourmet, Dec 1994). I read somewhere that real biscotti don’t have butter in them, so I’m sure that Epicurious has a non-butter recipe hanging around somewhere. I made some substitutions in addition to veganising the recipe.

1/2 c flour 

2 T unsweetened cocoa powder 

1/4 t baking soda 

1/4 t salt 

3 T Earth Balance, softened 

1/4 c sugar 

1/2 of an Ener-G Egg Replacer egg 

1/4 c hazelnuts, chopped 

3 T chocolate chips 

2-3 T powdered sugar 

This method is a little all-over-the-place, to as to allow you to cook a three-course meal and eat it within a reasonable time frame. Start by preheating the oven to 400ºF.

In a large pan over medium heat, add a few tablespoons of olive oil and the garlic. Just as garlic begins to sizzle, add the beans and a little more olive oil. Let simmer for a few minutes until the beans begin to soften.

Continue to let simmer, gently crushing the beans with the back of a wooden spoon. Add the herbs and spices sparingly, continuing to add more oil and seasoning as the beans cook.

Meanwhile, brush the squash with oil and bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes or so, until soft, but not falling apart.

When beans are soft and have enough oil to reach desired consistency, squeeze in lemon juice and serve immediately with fresh bread and your first glass of Riesling.

Italian White Bean Dip with fresh bread

Put on a pot of water to boil for the pasta.

For the Riesling cream sauce, I followed Zach Bigalke’s suggestions here, subbing soy creamer for real cream. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stir Riesling and shallot ‘until the shallots are soft and the wine is nearly evaporated.’

Add the cream and turn the heat down to low. Allow the sauce to reduce, whisking occasionally, until it coats the back of a spoon. Season with salt and pepper.

When the water for the pasta is boiling, add a few pinches of salt and the pasta. Cook until al dente, then drain, but do not strain.

While the cream is reducing and the pasta is cooking, stack your kale leaves on top of each other, roll from the bottom to the top, and slice across to create long, thin strips. Throw strips into a pan with a couple tablespoons of water and steam until just crispy, 3-4 minutes, shaking often so as to cook evenly. Remove from heat and set aside.

While all that’s going on, sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, cream the EB and sugar. Add the egg and beat until well combined. Stir in the flour mixture and mix until a stiff dough forms. Stir in nuts and chocolate chips.

On a baking sheet, form the dough into a log about 6″ long and 2″ wide. Dust with powdered sugar.

Remove the squash from the oven and set aside to cool. Turn the oven down to 350ºF and place the biscotti log in there and bake for 35 minutes, or until firm.

Check on the cream sauce. If done, remove from heat and add butter, stirring constantly. ‘This technique, referred to in French as “monter au beurre” – literally “to mount with butter” – provides a finishing sheen to the sauce.’ (Cue innuendoes.)

monter au beurre

Toss the pasta with the sauce until just combined, reserving a tablespoon or two. Cube the squash. Plate the pasta, drop some squash onto it, gently arrange some crispy kale on top, and drizzle a little more sauce over it all just before serving. Garnish with a little freshly cracked black pepper.

Penne with Delicata Squash, Crispy Kale, and a Riesling Cream Sauce

Now eat! And drink! Pour a second glass of Riesling to go along with your meal.

When the biscotti is firm, remove it from the oven and use a serrated knife to cut diagonally into 3/4″ slices. Place the slices cut-side-down on the baking sheet and bake for another 10 minutes. Flip and bake for another 5-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

The biscotti will crisp up as they cool, providing some prime time for your friend to do all the dishes and pack up leftovers.

Serve biscotti with red wine (a nice Barolo or Barbaresco) for dipping. Buon appetito!

Chocolate-Hazelnut Biscotti, ready for the bis cotto