Monday dinners have become synonymous to swift solutions in our household. Since the after-school time period on that particular weekday is filled with the occasional quick library visit with the children and, after that, their weekly swimming class (this combo is only possible because the library is next door to the sports facilities), I always make sure that I have something at hand that can either be quickly prepared on the spot, like this Pasta Galberto, or something – and that is most often the case – a pre-made dish that can be popped into the oven as soon as we arrive home. A shepherd’s pie, for instance, or the good old favourite lasagne, or, on occasion, these cannelloni with a tofu ricotta and spinach-basil filling, which have become a family favourite too, and which are totally easy to make, even more so if you have a simple food processor.
I made several versions of this dish, each time making subtle variations, until I finally arrived at this one, which I am now fully satisfied with. You don’t need any specialty ingredients (firm tofu, basil, spinach, cashews for this creamy cheese (which you can make in advance), some nutritional yeast, tomatoes,..) – except if you would add a vegan cheese topping, which is totally optional, but which I mostly do, mostly for optical reasons. You could sprinkle the marinara sauce on top with homemade nut parmesan, for instance, or use storebought vegan cheese. Many vegans are not fond of the regular vegan cheeses that supermarkets or health food stores carry, whether it might be because they often are highly processed food items, or because they might not meet their pre-vegan tastebud standards. Be it as it may, there are actually some good vegan cheeses out there, even if it might take you some time to figure out which are appealing to you. And moreover, not all are highly processed either. For the cannelloni dish in these photo series, I used MozzaRisella, a rice-based vegan mozzarella, which does not contain any odd ingredients and which actually melts really nicely as you can see.
This is what the cannelloni looked like before baking (and still during daylight):
Cannelloni with tofu ricotta and spinach
Tofu ricotta with spinach and basil
- 400 g firm tofu, straight from the package (only drained, not pressed)
- 100g spinach (for me that means the equivalent of 4 frozen – and thawed – spinach ‘nuggets’)
- 15 g or a very dense handful fresh basil
- 3 TBSP nutritional yeast
- 3 TBSP cashew cheese (or another soft cheese of your choice, like vegan cream cheese or vegan mozzarella)
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 tsp salt
- crushed black pepper
- 1 TBSP olive oil
- 1 onion
- 1 can crushed tomatoes
- 2 TBSP tomato paste
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tsp crushed red chili flakes
- 1 tsp Italian seasoning
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- 2 tsp agave syrup
- some salt and black pepper
Optional: grated vegan cheese for garnish.
And of course you’ll need cannelloni.
For the tofu ricotta
Add the tofu to the food processor and give it just a few whizzes, just enough for the tofu to get crumbly (or just crumble it with your hands in a bowl). Remove from the food processor, add to a bowl, and set aside.
Add all the other ingredients to the food processor and mix until finely chopped (but not until it is a thickish paste). Add to the bowl and gently fold it under the tofu.
Take a piping bag or a ziploc bag with a cut-off corner (the same diameter of the cannelloni), fill it with the tofu-spinach mixture, and you’re set to go to fill the cannelloni.
For the marinara sauce
Sauté the onion until translucent in some olive oil, then add the garlic, and all remaining ingredients. Simmer for a couple of minutes and then pour over the cannelloni. Garnish with vegan cheese if you like. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 200 degrees C.