Zagat explores vegan Italian food! Fancy that.
As [Sarma Melngailis, founder of One Lucky Duck and Pure Food and Wine] put it, she’s not trying to replicate the typical Italian experience—rather, she’s creating a new tradition with her food. All the usual Italian flavors—tomato, garlic, herbs—are there, but the dishes are decidedly different from what you might find at the average red-sauce joint in Little Italy.
“Our food stands on its own,” she said.
[Raw, vegan lasagna at Pure Food and Wine. Photo courtesy of One Lucky Duck via Zagat]
Vegan MoFo: Caponata, for all your eggplant-devouring needs »
Vegan hero Kittee posted her family’s caponata recipe last month and I have been dying to make it since. Unfortunately it’s been too hot for serious cooking since June, and only in the last couple weeks has it cooled down enough at night to even open the windows. And this week? Another heat wave.
Last weekend, though, I had plenty of time and cooler evenings to do some serious stove work, and I whipped up a big cast-iron pot full of Kittee’s caponata. I have eaten it for lunch every day since Saturday and every day it tastes amazing; you will love it. Thanks, Sicily, for inventing possibly the best way to eat vegetables of questionable textures.
Guest post: Vegan exploration in the Eternal City of Rome! »
Organic plate at Cavour 313.
Cheese-laden pizzas and an emphasis on meat-based pasta sauces, with plenty of veal and offal thrown in too? On initial impressions, Rome is any vegan’s nightmare.
When I trundled off on a solo trip to the Eternal City in spring this year, it was my first time as vegan. And lo and behold, it wasn’t nearly as difficult to eat well here as I anticipated.
Let’s start with the bad, and go on to the good.
The bad bit was breakfast. I love my breakfast, I really do. But wherever I stayed, usually the most I was able to eat was some packeted dry toasts, and jam, with maybe a banana or an apple. There were, however, always plenty of cheese, eggs, croissants and other non-vegan things to choose from at breakfast.
There were two mornings that I relished, though. This was when I was staying at vegetarian eco-hotel The Beehive for a couple of nights. What a gem this place is. One morning I enjoyed apple cinnamon oatmeal made with soy milk, and another morning I was delighted to be cooked a tofu scramble.
Yes—tofu scramble! In Rome! The Beehive was also the only place that was able to provide me with soy milk to take in my tea (I am English, after all), and the owner said they were due to hire two vegan chefs this year. So they may be able to offer even more to vegans from their cute café now.
Eating at other meal times was mostly fine, as long as I studied menus well and hunted around. It is good to be prepared and have an idea of some places to go to and what to eat or not – but I don’t have to tell you that, do I?
As a rule, you’re fairly safe with the vegetable contorni dishes: eggplants, artichokes, bell peppers, and so forth. They will be cooked in olive oil and you can order several and make a meal from them, with some delicious fresh bread and olives.
You will often see potato croquettes, chickpea salads, hummus, and other vegan-friendly items on menus, too. Gnocchi in tomato sauce is another possibility, as well as the ubiquitous pizza marinara, which is simply pizza base with tomato sauce. Order some vegetables and top it yourself.
Rome does have a few vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and if you’re here for a week, theoretically you could go to one each night (I think).
The best experience for me was Il Margutta. Gourmet vegan cuisine at its finest, where my meat-eating companion also claimed it was the best food she’d eaten during her trip to Italy. It’s not a budget option, by any means, but if you’ve come all the way here on holiday, then treat yourself.
Fresh imaginative flavors abound; my vegan antipasti was a delicate combination of tofu-stuffed zuchini flowers deep-fried in a tempura batter, an Asian wok salad topped with pickled ginger, a wild berry salad drizzled with balsamic dressing, and a home-made ketchup, tasting of tomato, and not sugar. Oh vegan heaven.
My other great vegan discovery was Bibliothè, not far from Piazza Venezia. Here, they do a different set lunch menu each day that you can have, and they will take out any vegetarian elements that may be involved. They also have several vegan stand-alone choices, as well as vegan cakes.
And then there was also the originally named Taverna Vegetariana, close to Vatican City. It wasn’t the most inspiring food that I have ever had, but it is cheap, cheerful, and you know what you’re getting. They have color-codes on the dishes to denote whether they are vegan or vegetarian; very handy when you don’t speak Italian.
Though not exclusively veggie, another place I ate at a couple of times was a bar in the cobbled streets of Trastevere. At Art Two, you can buy a drink, and for only 2€, help yourself to the aperitivo buffet, which has several vegan options (eggplant, potato croquettes, salad, etc).
I also had a scrummy vegan meal at an Ethiopian restaurant called Africa (Via Gaeta 26), just north of the main railway station. There were not many vegan options, but this one meal of a selection of foods was filling and delicious, and made all the better by the fact I had to eat with my hands.
There were a number of other eateries that I sadly didn’t manage to experience on this visit, including a vegan restaurant called ReWild Cruelty-Free Club—funny little name, but it does what it says on the tin, which is offer cruelty-free dining as well focus on animal rights events in Rome.
If you’re going to Rome anytime soon, I hope this article has given you some vegan food for thought. One other tip: Watch out for risotto. It may appear vegan, but it almost always contains parmesan, which isn’t even vegetarian.
Andrea Wren is a U.K.-based freelance journalist and has a passion for vegan baking and food blogging. She ditched dieting years ago and loves to create interesting and imaginative dishes that tempt non-vegans as well as vegans. On her blog, you will also find her free ebook, Wot, No Eggs?! The Beginner’s Guide to Becoming an Expert Vegan Baker, packed with tips and advice. You can also reach Andrea on Twitter.
Divino, the restaurant that replaced Fellini, posts menu »
So, we loved Berkeley’s Fellini but it’s long gone so we just have to go get used to that and get over it—which is very hard for us as WE HATE CHANGE. Anyway, the replacement, Divino, has posted their menu and it looks like a bunch of slow food hoo-hah but I’m thankful they’ll still have some vegan options, and the brunch looks especially good.
I don’t know, I love that they still have vegan pizza but I’m bummed that it’s all made with fancy grilled vegetables and not ten pounds of vegan meat. I loved that Smiling Cow pizza—that stuff was ridic! But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, maybe the roasted kumquat and tutti di frutti will be delicious?? I’m willing to give it a shot! Maybe this will finally be the amazingly authentic vegan Italian food that we’re missing in this area? Maybe they’ll make a gnocchi to rival Portland’s Portobello? Maybe I’ll win the lottery and ditch you all to yacht around the world with Jay-Z, Beyonce, and little Jay-Z-Beyonce? THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS.
I don’t think they’re open yet but people have been seen inside doing tastings but we don’t care about them because they’re not us. Anyone tried anything yet?? Anyone excited about them opening?? WHAT’S THE WORD LET’S EAT!
Thanks Jennifer Chen for the heads-up!
Vegan MoFo: Margherita toast! »
More often than not, my easy vegan recipes come from a random craving that needs immediate satisfaction. Margherita toast is no exception: One autumn afternoon in 2010 I had a serious hankering for pizza—not greasy, drippy, stringy-cheesy pizza, but hearty, rich, and healthy: whole grains, chunky veggies, fresh greens, and tons of flavor. With no vegan pizza options in the vicinity, I rolled up my sleeves, opened my refrigerator door, and decided I’d have to get creative. Margherita Toast was soon born, and has become a simple staple in my household ever since.
Depending on the portion, it can be a snack or a full meal, and the flavors are full and rich enough to satisfy cravings for the not-so-super-healthy pizza varieties. Read on, and drool accordingly!
A couple slices of bread (whole grain is obviously best; sprouted is even better!)
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh ground salt and pepper
Fresh greens (I like arugula, but spinach, mizuna, broccoli rabe, etc. all work too)
vegan cheese alternative (I love Daiya, any flavor)
Fresh or dried Italian spices (basil, rosemary, oregano, etc.)
Get creative! Maybe some olives? Mushrooms? Artichoke hearts?
Preheat oven to 350 F. Place one or two (or more!) slices of bread on a baking sheet or sheet of tinfoil. Spread a spoonful of sauce on the bread if you like, or just leave it plain. If you have a taste for cheese, sprinkle a little handful of Daiya (whichever flavor you like) on each piece of bread.
Then lay three or four tomato slices on each piece—slice ‘em thick if you like it hearty, or thin if you prefer a more subtle tomato flavor.
After the oven has preheated, put your creation on the middle rack and let it toast for about 12 minutes, depending on your oven—it may take as little as 10, or as much as 15.
Yank those bad boys out of the oven before they burn, and sprinkle some finely chopped fresh or dried herbs if you’re into it, then toss a good handful of greens on top of the whole mess. Follow that up with a dash of salt and freshly ground pepper, then a drizzle of olive oil over everything. Let it marinate for a minute or two—be patient!—and then feast.
With all the fresh, real, simple ingredients combined, you’ve created a serious taste of Italy. Win!
Vegan MoFo PLUS: Tofu Xpress makes amazing antipasto! »
The cool dudes over at Tofu Xpress were kind enough to send over a unit for review, and I was so pumped about using the nifty gadget that I decided to incorporate it into my Vegan MoFo recipe. Talk about slicing two carrots with one knife!
The Tofu Xpress is a fully dishwasher-safe, easy-to-use, gourmet kitchen tool. Though it was created to remove moisture from a traditional block of tofu, it can be used for other foods that need pressing as well. To use, place a block of firm or extra-firm tofu into the container, attach and lock the lid, and let it do its job. Most of the water will be gone after an hour or so, but you can leave the Tofu Xpress in the fridge overnight, or however long you’d like.
Once pressed, tofu becomes easier to grill, marinate, stir fry and bake and results in richer flavors and increased versatility. After food prep, the machine is easy to clean and store, with only two, corrosion-resistent parts. Miraculous! After searching for some relatively simple pressed-tofu recipes, I was thrilled to find the perfect project: Marinated Tofu Cheese.
After pressing a block of extra-firm tofu for 48 hours (I wanted to be sure!), I chopped it into small blocks and tossed it with sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, fresh basil and rosemary, extra virgin olive oil, and a little salt and pepper. After making sure it was well combined, I packed the whole mixture into a Mason jar, topped it up with more olive oil, and let it sit in my fridge—patiently—for almost four days to soak up all the goodness.
Today, I picked up an Italian loaf at a local market and packed it, along with about half of my ready-to-devour mixture, and headed into work. After tasting the antipasto goodness myself, and gathering feedback from my foodie coworkers, the consensus is that my first Tofu Xpress experience was indeed a GREAT success!
Next time I’ll add a few whole cloves of garlic to the marinade, but aside from that it was truly delicious and rich. One of my coworkers said she’d even love to serve it at a party! Win! Can’t WAIT to try another recipe!
[Tofu Xpress image via Rollin’ Oats Market]
San Francisco: How not to starve in Fisherman’s Wharf! »
I recently spent a weekend staying at Fisherman’s Wharf with some out-of-state relatives who wanted nothing from this city of ours but to stroll the tourist-packed length of Pier 39, to watch dolphins frolicking in the waters of the bay just off Alcatraz, and to eat repeatedly at the Best Western Tuscan Inn’s Café Pescatore. They apparently do some kind of bitching Italian that my parents couldn’t get enough of, and after a few meals of rather sub-par minestrone, the server and chef took pity on the two vegans and served us up a lovely saute of summer vegetables topped with a fried polenta cake. It was freaking gooooooood.
If you find yourself starving to death on Fisherman’s Wharf, and you can’t figure out how to take the F-Line to the Ferry Building, or the Ferry Building is closed because it’s the apocalypse, or your relatives are just super-focused on getting themselves some chicken parmesan, you could do way worse than landing here. At the Café, tell them you heard through the grapevine (aka, the special vegan mafioso rumor mill) about a special meal they can make for especially pretty vegans. Then smile really nicely and say please and thank you. Then maybe, just maybe, you’ll get to eat this.
Marla Wick lives in a small town in Sonoma County with one lucky fella and two cats. When she’s not reading speculative fiction or applying for jobs, she blogs about veganism, popular culture, and politics at Vegan-Squared and Bully Pulp.
Want to show off your pretty food on Vegansaurus? Let me know.
[UPDATED] My grandpa used to say the best-looking t-shirts always feature a vegetable.* That’s probably why I’m so enamored with the organic cotton sexy vegan propaganda t-shirts on a site called Chiaralascura. They’re made by an Italian designer called Chiara who’s just the cleverest gal, because these are some of the first vegan propaganda shirts I’d be psyched to wear. Mostly because they’re kinda subtle and in foreign languages and stuff.
But here’s the best part: Vegan Cuts currently has a deal on said sexy t-shirts: $25 for $50 worth of shirt.
That includes UPDATE: They just changed the deal to include FREE SHIPPING, which is key because these babies are coming all the way from Europe, so shipping is hella expensive. Now you get $50 to spend all on shirts!
The deal STILL expires Saturday-ish, so get on it. Or just giggle at the shirts.
*That’s a total lie, my grandpa hated vegetables as far as I could tell and let me eat Cool Whip on my cereal.
Product review: Lucini Cinque e’ Cinque, a.k.a. Tuscan frittata! »
Laura heard of this vegan Frittata mix by Lucini and she showed it to me. Your friend Megan Rascal was like about to die: I LOVE QUICHES AND FRITTATAS and all that eggy crap! So I wrote Lucini, my new best friends, and they sent me frittata mix, gratis. When I email people, they send me free shit. And when I dance, orphaned children find new homes.
How does it taste? It’s a little odd, but once you get used to it, it RULES. I’m obsessed with it and keep thinking about it ever since we made it. Like, for real.
The mix is essentially chickpea flour. First, I made one of the mixes straight-up, no veggies or nothing, and it was a little strange. It kind of has a custard-like texture? I don’t think you should make it and serve it plain . The pack even says to serve it on baguette or with tomatoes or something.
So I gave it another shot! My brother and I made it totally frittata-style and it was so great! We made the rosemary mix with broccoli, mushrooms and garlic. We had it with some kind of hearty toast my brother had. At first it was a little odd, but then once we got used to it, it was awesome! We BOTH had a slice for breakfast the next morning. I still thought it had a custard-y texture but my brother said it was like eating mashed potatoes with a bunch of veggies in it. We both agreed that it’s more frittata/egg-like when you eat it with toast. Also: I needed to add a serious amount of sea salt, but that’s me.
The other great thing about this frittata mix, it is SO EASY to make! But I have some tips for you: if you don’t know, generally when you make a quiche-type thing, all the fillings are pre-cooked. So we steamed the broccoli and sauteed the mushrooms before we put them in the batter. Something that is served raw, like tomatoes, you might not cook, but do pre-cook most other veggies. Also, we had to cook it for quite a while longer than it said but we got some extra water in it when we added the mushrooms. Lastly: halfway through, you are supposed to open your oven a little and let it cook for the rest of the time with the oven door a jar. This lets all the extra moisture out. My oven does not just stay open so a little thing you can do is stick the end of a wooden spoon in between the door and the oven just to keep it open a bit. The end of your spoon will probably blacken a bit but it’s not a big deal, unless you are a crybaby brother. This is also a great tip for when you are making biscotti. Got to dry them mofos out!
Here’s a pic out of the oven:
You can see it’s a bit moist in the middle but it had stopped giggling when we wiggled it so we took it out and it was fine. Oh, another bonus: it’s pretty healthy! Go health!
Moral of the story: two thumbs up, but you have to be open-minded at first bite. Go forth! I want someone to make it in a crust like a real quiche. Do it!