Recipe courtesy of Emily Weinberger for Food Network Kitchen

Vegan Pastitsio

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  • Level: Easy
  • Total: 1 hr 45 min (includes cooling, soaking and resting times)
  • Active: 45 min
  • Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Pastitsio is Greece’s answer to lasagna. Traditionally, the dish boasts three layers: First, a deep layer of tubular pasta, in this case bucatini, but other versions use ziti, penne or macaroni. Second, a rich aromatic ragu. Third, a velvety layer of bechamel. For this vegan version, we mimic the beef ragu by simmering umami-rich mushrooms with hearty lentils in a rich tomato sauce. Our creamy bechamel is made with soaked cashews plus our secret ingredient: a whole head of roasted garlic, which gives it the depth and heartiness found in a traditional bechamel. One key item for success is to undercook the pasta just slightly. As the assembled dish bakes, the steam from the other two layers will finish the cooking process, resulting in pasta that's perfectly al dente instead of overcooked and mushy.

Ingredients

Cashew Bechamel:

Lentil-Mushroom Sauce:

Directions

  1. For the cashew bechamel: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Cut 1/4 inch off the bottom of the head of garlic. Place it cut-side up in a piece of foil large enough to cover and seal the whole head. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper and seal tightly. Bake on the oven rack until the garlic is very soft and golden brown, 40 to 45 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, soak the cashews in 4 cups hot water until softened, about 30 minutes.
  4. Use tongs to remove the foil packet of garlic and carefully open the foil. Let sit until cool enough to touch, about 10 minutes. Squeeze the garlic cloves out of the peel into a blender. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
  5. Drain the cashews and add them to the blender with the nutritional yeast, nutmeg, remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt, a few grinds of pepper and 1 1/2 cups water and blend until completely smooth. Set aside.
  6. For the lentil-mushroom sauce: Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, garlic, onions, 1 teaspoon salt and a generous amount of pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is just starting to release and the mushrooms begin to soften, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until it turns a dark brick red and is toasted, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the red wine and cook, stirring a few times, until completely evaporated, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, lentils, cloves, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, 3/4 cup water, 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the lentils are softened and the mixture is reduced and saucy, about 20 minutes. Discard the bay leaf, cinnamon stick and cloves.
  7. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add the bucatini and cook until softened but not quite al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain, add the pasta back to the pot and toss with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil.
  8. Brush a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with olive oil. Lay the bucatini in the dish so the noodles are all in a straight line. Top with the mushroom-lentil sauce. Pour the cashew bechamel on top and bake until the bechamel starts to bubble and turn golden brown in spots, about 25 minutes. Let rest for 20 minutes, then slice into squares to serve.

Cook’s Note

While most dry pastas are vegan, many fresh pastas are not, so read the ingredients list carefully. The cashew bechamel and lentil-mushroom sauce can be made 3 days ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Gently heat both items on the stove top before assembling the casserole.