This is my second time participating in Food Network Friday (FNF), a cookalong event where participants veganise a chosen Food Network recipe. This month I got to choose the recipe (responsibility, OMG!), a stuffed shells dish by Emeril Lagasse, and it did not disappoint. Hint: this is a good dish to trick eggplant haters into consuming what’s actually one of the best vegetables on the planet (fact-don’t argue). If, however, you’re one of those people who in spite of all reason opposes aubergine, I’m pretty confident you could use courgette (zucchini) or pumpkin/squash in its place.
Believe it or not I escaped the entire preparation unscathed. I wasn’t even wearing an apron and I walked away in moderate tidyness. I didn’t get a single drop of the lemon juice in my eye (which, odd as it may sound, might be a first as citrus appears to have an extreme affinity for my eyes).
I halved the recipe and took note of my changes and replacements this FNF, so I’m happy to provide my notes. If you have access to such a thing, use a crumbly sausage substitute. Otherwise dice the sausage up into tiny pieces so you don’t later fight to mash it all into the shells.
I roasted my eggplant first (ridiculously hot oven, stab the aubergine a few times, pop it in for 20-30 minutes, cool, remove flesh, chop), so that aspect of the filling was more of a mash. I toyed with adding some liquid smoke (it goes so well with eggplant), but decided in the end to follow the recipe more accurately.
Last but not least, I cut the cream down immensely. The original recipe called for three cups, but I couldn’t bring myself to add that much (even having halved the recipe), and it worked fine with just the 1/3 cup I opted for. Besides, tomatoes are in season here right now and don’t need any help boosting their awesomeness!
Vegan Sausage and Aubergine Stuffed Shells
- Heat 2 tsp of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Sauté the sausages for a few minutes and then tip in half of the onions and all of the aubergine/eggplant. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of the salt over the contents of the pan and a pinch of the red pepper, stirring it all together and cooking for a further 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium and add half of the garlic. Cook for just a minute so the garlic doesn’t burn, then transfer the mix to a large bowl to cool.
- Meanwhile preheat the oven to 175 c (350 f) begin preparing the sauce by heating the remaining teaspoon of oil in a saucepan to medium high, and sauté the other half of the onion for 3-4 minutes, or until translucent. Chuck in the last bit of garlic and cook another minute before adding the tomatoes, 1/4 tsp salt, and the remaining red pepper flakes. Stir together and cook for 5 minutes. Mix the cream through the sauce and leave to simmer over medium heat for around 20 minutes, or until it reduces by a third and thickens a little.
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil and cook the pasta shells until al dente, generally around 10 minutes, but check the package instructions to get a more accurate idea. Lightly oil a medium casserole dish.
- Stir the okara, nutritional yeast, parmezano, lemon juice, and spinach into the sausage and aubergine jumble. Pack the pasta shells with as much as you can get in (you may still have a tiny bit of mix left, which serves as an appetiser since you still have nearly an hour to wait until dinner). Place the prepared shells in the casserole dish.
- Stir the basil through the tomato sauce and pour it evenly over it over the shells. Sprinkle with the grated cheese and cover the whole lot with foil. Pop in the oven for 35-40 minutes, then remove the foil and cook for a further 15 minutes to crisp the top a bit.
- Remove from the oven and leave to sit for a few minutes, but I’m only saying that because other recipes do. Who really waits that long for their dinner? Christ, get real.