For those of you unfamiliar with nutritional yeast, it's a deactivated, flaked yeast, often fortified with extra B vitamins, that vegans appreciate for its nuttiness and ability to substitute for cheese in cooking. (Its nickname: nooch.) I've used it in sauces, and it's fabulous on popcorn.
As a purist, however, I have a tough time swallowing its use as a substitute for one of the great cheeses, Parmigiano-Reggiano. And I knew there'd be no substitute for the crowning touch: the pure-white ricotta salata, with its slight brine and uniquely firm yet slightly spongy texture that makes it perfect for shaving and crumbling onto vegetables that could use a little kick.
They relented. Actually, it didn't take much persuading. They already had been making exceptions here and there, mostly for eggs, prompting me to coin the term "vague-an."
They appreciated the pasta that night, nodding and smiling, but, if they make it themselves, they'll be reaching for the nooch.
Pasta With Lettuce, Peas, and Ricotta Salata
Makes 3 or 4 servings
Kosher or sea salt
8 ounces dried cavatappi, farfalle, or other pasta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 small onion, thinly sliced
One 8-ounce head romaine lettuce, cored and cut crosswise into thin ribbons
3 cups freshly shelled peas (may substitute frozen/defrosted peas)
4 scallions, trimmed, cut crosswise into thin slices
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup chopped mint leaves, for garnish
2 ounces ricotta salata, shaved, for garnish (may substitute crumbled feta cheese)
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions, leaving it slightly undercooked (just shy of al dente). Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.
2. Meanwhile, pour the oil into a large skillet fitted with a lid, over medium heat. Once the oil starts to shimmer, add the garlic and onion, cover and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in the lettuce, peas and scallions; cover and cook until the lettuce has fully wilted, 5 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Reduce the heat to low, keeping the vegetables warm until the pasta is ready.
3. Uncover the vegetables and pour the pasta into the skillet, tossing it with the vegetables. Add some of the pasta cooking water as needed to moisten the vegetables. Transfer the pasta and vegetable mixture to a large, shallow serving bowl, toss with the Parmigiano-Reggiano, then sprinkle with the mint and ricotta salata. Serve immediately.
- From the forthcoming Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook (Ten Speed Press, August 2013).
Per serving (based on 4): 420 calories, 17 g protein, 62 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 210 mg sodium, 9 g dietary fiber, 10 g sugar