When it comes to personal habits, I'm seeing more and more that approaching change with an incremental and exploratory mindset suits me quite well.
I really like food (is that really surprising at this point) and part of the fun is it can feel like a low-stakes experiment, where at the end you get to eat it. Sounds pretty simple, but it's oddly quite a relief after a long day managing "stakeholders". I've been exploring ways to replace some of my favorite foods with some more plant-based versions. But not versions that give semblance to the original, but rather versions that can carry their own character and weight.
Many nut-based ricotta recipes online lean into the grainy aspect of ricotta by keeping the solids in the recipe. I couldn't seem to get over the fact that the ricotta I've had in Europe actually leans rather smooth and the grainyness of the almond solids jut didn't sit quite right.
In doing some research, I stumbled on a video for making ricotta, much in the same way, cows-milk ricotta is made - by curdling the milk and straining out the liquid. It kind of reminded me of those unhappy accidents of putting almond milk in coffee and seeing it curdle...it's like that but in a happy way.
And so then I was left with this incredibly creamy ricotta and was thinking of ways to use it up. I know zucchini is often seen as a low-carb pasta replacement, and yes, to some degree this dish is inspired by stuffed shells and my grandmother's cannelloni. But, I wouldn't think of this dish as a vegan-low carb version of a baked shells dish (although if that's what convinces you to make it, by all means justify it to yourself that way). I genuinely think it holds its own. Garlic, basil, and zucchini pair incredible well and that's where this dish was actually inspired from. I was thinking of ways to pair these ingredients and stumbled on these baked zucchini and almond ricotta rolls.
1 cup almonds, soaked overnight
2 cups cold water
2 tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp chile flakes
1 15oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper
1/2 cup fresh basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lemon, zested
1 pinch nutmeg
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 zucchinis, sliced thinly on a mandoline
For the almond milk ricotta, place the almonds and the cold water into a blender. Blend on high until a very smooth liquid forms, around 2 minutes on a non-high speed blender. Place a clean dish towel over a very large pot and strain the solids from the liquid. Set the solids aside (you can make crackers with them if you'd like) and turn the pot with the milk to medium-low heat. Stir continuously and season the milk with some salt. You'll want to help evaporate some of the water so the milk is quite thick. Then you can take the pot off the heat, add the lemon juice, give it one good stir and then don't touch it for around 1-2 hours until it all curdles.
Once you've let the almond milk sit, you'll want to grab another clean dish towel and a large bowl or pot and a large-holed colander. Place the dish towel inside the colander, and pour the curdled milk into the dish towel. You'll want to let it drain for a couple hours to overnight depending on how thick you want it. You can gently press it down, but be very gentle so as to not push out the curds.
For the tomato sauce, grab a medium pot and heat the olive oil on medium heat. Sauté the garlic in the pot a little and let it cook until it's softened. Then add the chile flakes and let it infuse the oil for a minute. Before the flakes burn, pour in the crushed tomatoes, herbs, and season with salt and pepper. Let it cook down for 10 minutes or so until the sauce looks like it's thickened a little.
For the ricotta filling, you'll want to use the ricotta you made (or use regular store-bought ricotta) and mix it with all the other filling ingredients. Season to taste.
Set the oven to 180°C fan-forced (400°F). In a heat-proof baking dish, place about 1/3 cup sauce, or enough to barely cover the bottom of the dish. This will help prevent any sticking. Then on a flat surface, take the zucchini strips and lay them side by side with a little overlap so they almost form a sheet of paper. Spread a layer of the ricotta filling across the sheet, and roll tightly. You'll find that it's easier to roll them from the stem side of the zucchini rather than from the long edge. Repeat this process but put the first roll inside the second sheet you make. You can repeat this as many times as you'd like, but I did it 3 times per roll.
Place the rolls on the lightly sauced baking dish. Pour the remainder of the sauce over the rolls and place in the oven to bake for 15 minutes or until the zucchini looks cooked through and is starting to brown along the edges. Remove from the oven and plate.
Every Sunday evening, I send out a newsletter with the following week's dinner menu, and the seasonal produce featured. The newsletter is free, and I won't share or sell your email address.
If it turns out it's not the content you're looking for, you can easily unsubscribe with a link at the bottom of the email. This project was originally a way to wrap my head around the evolving seasonal produce in the supermarkets.
I'm so excited to share the journey and learn from you as I go along!
- Julia Feld