Experimenting with Pumpkin Baked Ziti Pasta with Caramelized Onions and Sage Crumb Topping

When I began eating healthier in 2012, I looked for comfort food. My favourite recipe was this Pumpkin Baked Ziti with Caramelized Onions and Sage Crumb Topping dish by Post Punk Kitchen’s Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, originally published on page 194 of Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook. I wanted to taste something that reminded me and my family of bygone  lasagna nights. This was once dished out to convince my non-vegan dad that veganism is more than carrot sticks and green juice. It worked.

The cashew ricotta with lemon, basil and garlic creates a zesty filling that’s complemented by sweet pumpkin purée and savoury herbs. I prefer to use quinoa pasta and rice breadcrumbs to create an entirely gluten-free dish.

This recipe is the perfect comfort food for chilly autumn evenings filled with scents of wet leaves and wood-burning fireplaces. It’s quickly become one of our favourite Thanksgiving dishes. We made it again on Christmas day.

I felt the original recipe was a little dry for me. I added steamed spinach, kale and Swiss chard to the pre-baked mix of cashew ricotta and cooked quinoa pasta. I also cut the amount of breadcrumbs in half. I love it even more.

Cashew Ricotta | Ingredients

  • 1/2 cut of raw cashew pieces
  • 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 cloves of fresh or roasted garlic
  • 1 pound of firm tofu, drained and crumbled
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of dried basil
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of salt

Cashew Ricotta | Directions

  • In a food processor, blend cashews, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic until think and creamy.
  • Add crumbled tofu, working in two or more batches, if desired, until the mixture is thick and blended.
  • Blend in basil and salt.
  • Set aside.

Sage Breadcrumbs | Ingredients

  • 2 cups of breadcrumbs (I prefer 1 cup.)
  • 1/3 cup of walnut pieces, chopped
  • 1/4 cup non-hydrogenated vegan margarine
  • 2 teaspoons of dried, rubbed sage
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Sage Breadcrumbs | Directions

  • In a large frypan, melt margarine over medium heat.
  • Combine bread crumbs, walnuts, dried herbs, paprika, salt and pepper.
  • Stir until mixture is lightly toasted, about three to four minutes.
  • Set aside.

Pumpkin Baked Ziti | Ingredients

  • 3/4 pound of uncooked ziti pasta
  • 2 onions, sliced thinly
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
  • Dash of white pepper
  • Dash of cayenne
  • 2 cups of puréed pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup of vegetable broth

Pumpkin Baked Ziti | Directions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Boil pasta, then drain, rinse with cold water and drain again. Set aside.
  • In a large frypan, sauté onions in olive oil until caramelized, about ten minutes. Set aside.
  • In a large frypan, sauté spinach, kale or Swiss chard until wilted, about two minutes. Set aside. 
  • In a large bowl, combine cashew ricotta with pumpkin purée, brown sugar, nutmeg, white pepper, cayenne and vegetable broth.
  • Add cooked pasta and caramelized onions, stirring to coat pasta completely. 
  • Pour mixture into prepared baking pan and press lightly with a spatula to level.
  • Sprinkle breadcrumbs evenly over the mixture.
  • Bake 28 to 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown. 
  • Cool ten minutes before serving.