My Papa and I are a lot alike. We both like hot weather, we’re both smart cookies (and, yes, we’re quite modest about it!), and we both like pasta. We want to enjoy life, and live it to the fullest – well, who doesn’t, really? But one way we differ is in our philosophy about enjoying life, especially when it comes to food. Dad feels that he won’t enjoy himself unless he’s drinking a Manhattan, smoking a cigar, and eating lots of heavy, rich food. He refuses to compromise and think about his health, because, goddamn it, he’s enjoying himself. Me, I want to enjoy life too, and one way I do that is by eating delicious food (and sharing a drink with a friend). The difference is that I want to continue feeling my best, in order to do all the other things I enjoy. I know that I have a great yoga practice when I eat lots of greens, but that when my belly has been overstuffed with too much animal food my thinking gets foggy. One of my main goals in life is to help people, and I (usually) eat to support my body and brain, so I have energy for the challenge.
Good thing we were able to agree on this dish. I made a variation of it for him while I was visiting. Papa loves hot Italian sausage, so I flavored the tempeh with red pepper and fennel, and crumbled it up for a topping to the pasta. The cherry tomatoes got squashed in the pot, so that all their juices would release and thicken the sauce. Then at the last minute, I snuck in some baby spinach, chopped small and evenly distributed so that you never get a bite with a big hunk of wilted spinach on your fork.
This recipe was inspired by the great vegan cook Isa Chandra Moskowitz. Her Tempeh Orzilla was on heavy rotation when I was trying REALLY hard to eat vegan. Well, since then I’ve realized that my body does better with a little animal protein here and there, and slowly my nutritional yeast stash dwindled, to be replaced by cheese. So, sorry Isa, to de-vegan-ify one of your already delicious dishes, but understand, it was all for love.
Smashed Tomato Penne with Crumbled Tempeh
8 oz. whole wheat penne (or other short pasta)
2 T. olive oil, divided
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp. fennel seeds
2 T. shoyu (natural soy sauce)
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 T. fresh thyme, or 1 tsp. dried
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1 c. white wine
1/4 c. grated fresh parmesan
a few big handfuls of baby spinach, chopped
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add pasta and cook according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.
Heat 1 T. of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Tear up tempeh and add to skillet. Use a wooden spoon to break up tempeh chunks into crumbles. Stir it occasionally for about 10 minutes, until it turns golden brown, then add the pepper fakes, fennel and shoyu. Stir to coat and cook for a few more minutes. Mine always sticks to the pan, and I throw 1/4 cup of water in the pan and swirl it around to scrape all the bits of stuck food from the skillet.
Once the pasta is done, use that pot (or while it’s cooking use a separate saucepan) and heat the other tablespoon of oil over medium. Cook the onion for 10 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, thyme and salt, and let cook for one more minute. Stir in the tomatoes, crushing them with the side of the spoon when they get soft. After about 3 minutes, when the tomatoes are starting to break down, pour in the wine. Simmer until the liquid has reduced by half. While it’s cooking, use the back of your wooden spoon to crush the tomatoes on the side of the pan/pot.
When you have a thick, crushed up sauce in the pan, turn off the heat. Stir in the cheese, then the pasta (you may have to rinse it in some hot water if it’s been sitting and all stuck together). Finally, while it’s still warm, stir in the spinach, making sure it gets evenly distributed.
To serve, transfer the pasta to a bowl (they’ll be lots of saucy stuff at the bottom) and top with the tempeh.