Vegan Eggplant Baked Rigatoni | A Hearty, Homemade Baked Pasta
A cross between Pasta alla Norma and baked ziti, this baked eggplant rigatoni is a #plant comfort food at its best! This baked vegan eggplant rigatoni is the most perfect pasta dish for early fall. It is a cross between Pasta alla Norma and baked ziti, and it's a delicious way to exhaust your eggplant […]

A cross between Pasta alla Norma and baked ziti, this baked eggplant rigatoni is a #plant comfort food at its best!

This baked vegan eggplant rigatoni is the most perfect pasta dish for early fall. It is a cross between Pasta alla Norma and baked ziti, and it's a delicious way to exhaust your eggplant while also satisfying your comfort food cravings.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit how tired I feel from cooking right now. During the first weeks of quarantine last spring, I worried that the time to stay at home would inspire me to be especially creative in the kitchen.

It didn't happen at all. 100% of the dishes I dreamed of in 2020 fall into the comfort food category. About 50% of them are desserts. The other 50% is a mixture of pasta and bread, with only a handful of other foods thrown into the mixture.

It is what it is. I've learned that I can't force myself to get excited about food that I really don't want. It never works, and if I force myself to cook dishes just for the sake of variety, I usually end up making a mess of it. Better to follow the flow, until the flow changes!

Comfort food, fast

Baked pasta dishes are usually a business. This one is pretty understated, all things considered. Using a store-bought marinara sauce makes a big difference. I like to make marinara this time of year, but I think the tastier batches take time. I've also noticed that my best homemade marinara is generally no better than store-bought versions, and honestly, it is often worse.

So I was counting on Rao lately, and a few other local brands (I like Michael's from Brooklyn, as well). The time saved is usually well worth it for me, and that's certainly true in this recipe. Using store-bought marinara will allow you to focus on making a homemade vegan ricotta - which I think is worth it - and assembly.

An overhead view of a pan full of homemade vegan and vegan baked eggplant rigatoni "ricotta" cheese.

Vegan Eggplant Baked Rigatoni Ingredients

Vegan ricotta

The vegan "ricotta" in this baked rigatoni is essentially a hybrid of my favorite cashew cheese and the tofu ricotta from Feed plates. The cashews give the richness of the ricotta, while the tofu helps keep the texture light. Regular cashew cheese is a bit too dense to replace ricotta, while tofu is not creamy enough. Together they are perfect.

Marinara

Use your favorite brand in the recipe or, of course !, use your own. You will need a little more than 3 cups, the same as a 25-ounce jar of sauce.

Eggplant

I used a decent sized eggplant in this recipe, roughly 1 1/2 pounds. You can also use two smaller eggplants.

As I mentioned recently when I posted Stewed eggplant tomatoes lentils, I am a strong supporter of salting eggplant. I know this isn't everyone's preference, so if you'd rather skip the step, go for it! If you have the time, I think it's worth it for the texture and flavor.

Pasta

Sure, this is baked eggplant rigatoni, but any tube-shaped pasta will work well in the recipe. This includes rigatoni, ziti, penne and reginelle. I think it might also work well with larger shells or macaroni.

Prepare and store the baked eggplant rigatoni

Baked rigatoni will be easier to prepare if you have the tofu and cashew ricotta prepared ahead of time. I have made the dish twice now, and this is how I chose to prepare it each time.

Once the rigatoni is cooked, you can store any leftovers for up to five days in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Like many baked pasta dishes, this one also lends itself well to freezing. You can freeze single servings (or as much as you want to freeze) for up to six weeks.

Overhead view of a bowl of vegan baked rigatoni, made with tomatoes and ricotta with tofu and cashew nuts.

A small bowl of baked vegan rigatoni eggplant

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 35 minutes

Total time: 55 minutes

Yields: 6 portions

For the pasta:

  • 1 large or 2 small globe eggplants
  • ten ounces ounces (285 grams or about 3 1/2 cups) ziti, rigatoni or penne
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 25 ounces (3 cups) your favorite store-bought or homemade marinara sauce

For the ricotta:

  • 2 ounces (60 g, or 1/2 cup) raw cashews, soaked for several hours and drained
  • 2 soup spoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2-3 soup spoons water
  • 14 ounces (1 medium block) extra firm tofu, gently squeezed to remove excess moisture
  • 2 1/2 soup spoons nutritional yeast
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Preheat the oven to 350F and lightly oil a 2.5 or 3 liter rectangular casserole dish.

  • Cut and cut the eggplant into 1 inch cubes. Place it in a colander. Sprinkle it liberally with salt, then let it sit for 25 minutes. Rinse the eggplant well, then dry it firmly.

  • To make the ricotta, place the cashews, lemon juice, and two tablespoons of water in a food processor equipped with the S blade. Process the mixture for about a minute, stopping once to scrape the bowl. . When the cashews are broken down (they don't need to be smooth at all, just crushed), add the tofu, nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper. Continue the treatment for 2-3 full minutes, several times to scrape the food processor bowl. Stop when the mixture is smooth and looks something like ricotta, but thicker. Add an additional tablespoon of water if needed to achieve a creamy consistency. Reserve the ricotta.

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions, until al dente. Drain.

  • While the pasta cooks, heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant. Let it sizzle for 4 to 5 minutes, until it begins to brown. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Continue to cook the eggplant for another 8 minutes (approximately), until it is tender. If it doesn't cook quickly enough, try covering the pan for a minute or two.

  • When the eggplant is cooked, add the pasta and marinara sauce to the pan. Mix and reheat everything.

  • Layer a third of the pasta mixture in your casserole dish. Sprinkle with a third of the ricotta, using a knife to spread the ricotta a little. Cover with another third of the pasta and ricotta. Finish with a layer of pasta and lightly sprinkle the top with the rest of the ricotta. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until hot and bubbling. To serve.

Close up of cooked vegan rigatoni, with cashew tofu ricotta and juicy tomatoes.

Normally when I make vegan pasta or lasagna, I top them with grated vegan cheese or a homemade alternative (like a cashew cream sauce). The good thing about these baked rigatoni is that the tofu and cashew ricotta is substantial, and there's a lot of it in the recipe. It adds so much creaminess that you don't really have to worry about a processed cheese.

I always struggle with the ambivalence of the kitchen here, hoping that my sense of inspiration will return to me soon. Until it does, it's nice to have meals that soothe my mind and make me feel at home. It is one of those. Hope this gives you the same feeling.

xo


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