It’s been unseasonably wet and cold here in the UK – summer seems to have gone elsewhere and we’ve been fast forwarded to autumn. Fighting the urge to put the heating on, it seemed a good idea to turn to some comfort food, using one of my favourite seasonal veggies, aubergine (eggplant).
I am a big fan of aubergine for both flavour (or rather it’s ability to absorb it) and texture – I love how the flesh goes all gooey and soft when cooked but the skin stays firm. It’s packed full of nutritional goodies like B vitamins and manganese, but more importantly it’s purple! That means glorious phytonutrients that act as anti-oxidants and support cell processes to keep us healthy. One specific one, nasunin, is thought to help protect the fats found in cell membranes from being damaged; this is particularly important in the brain, so aubergine really is brain food!
Two fat bulbous aubergines arrived in the veg box this week; my daughter is also finally home for the summer, so of course I’m smothering her in mummy-love via her stomach! So this dish is perfect as it contains many of her favourite things – gnocchi, aubergine and cashew cheese.
If you’ve not made cashew cheese sauce before, then it’s really worth it! We have given up buying dairy free cheese as, to be honest, they generally taste unpleasant and are packed full of altered fats and flavourings – not good for anyone with food intolerances as you just can’t tell what is in there! This recipe does contain nutritional yeast, although it can be omitted if you cannot tolerate it. As yeast is one of my food intolerances, this is quite a new (and welcome) introduction to my diet. Even though it contains inactive yeast, I can only tolerate a little from time to time, but that is progress! It adds a lovely cheesy flavour and acts as a source of vitamin B12 which can be lacking at times in a plant based diet. If you do omit it, just add a bit more salt to enhance the flavour.
This dish really hit the spot; it’s rich, it has depth and just ticks all the boxes for comfort. It also contains surprising few ingredients for the flavour – the richness comes from roasting the aubergine and garlic, as well as adding a little tamari (use coconut amines if you cannot tolerate soy). I confess I am yet to perfect the art of making home made gnocchi – mine turns into tough, heavy lumps – so I used shop bought. Make sure you check that it’s dairy free, as many brands add in milk powder, and doesn’t contain a huge long list of additives. There are some good gluten free ones around too in the supermarket, but again make sure they are completely plant based.
This is definitely a multi-tasking recipe – the gnocchi, roasting and sauce making can all go on at the same time so it doesn’t take all day to make! The recipe serves 3 good portions, just double if you’re cooking for more, or want left-overs – and you will because it’s just so tasty! Enjoy – and don’t forget to let me know how you get on!
Tomato and roasted aubergine gnocchi with cashew cheese sauce (serves 3)
1 large aubergine, cut into small chunks
1 clove of garlic
dash of olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried Italian herbs
1 tablespoon tamari (or coconut amines)
For the cashew cheese sauce
80g/1/2 cup cashew nuts, soaked for minimum 1 hour
125ml/1/2 cup water
2 heaped tablespoon nutritional yeast
Bring a large saucepan full of water to the boil, add the gnocchi and bring back to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes until it’s bobbing at the top of the pan, then drain well and transfer to a baking dish.
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas mark 4. Cut the top off the bulb of garlic and peel off some, but not all of the outer layers. Place the chopped aubergine into a baking tin with the garlic bulb in the middle. Drizzle over a dash of olive oil, or water if preferred, and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the aubergine is soft and gooey. Remove from the oven and cool slightly.
Whilst the aubergine is cooking, heat a few tablespoons of water in the bottom of a saucepan and sauté the onion for a few minutes until it starts to soften – do not let it burn. Add more water if needed. Pour in the tomatoes, herbs, tamari and tomato puree, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer with the lid off (this allows some of the fluid to evaporate and concentrates the flavour). Once the aubergine is roasted, add it to the pan. Careful cut the roasted bulb of garlic open and squeeze a few of the squidgy cloves into the sauce – I used four cloves to really enrich the flavour. Save any left over in the fridge for another recipe. Leave the sauce to simmer for a few more minutes whilst you prepare the cheese sauce.
Drain the soaked cashew nuts and place them in the bowl of a small blender. Add the remaining ingredients and blitz until smooth. Add more seasoning, nutritional yeast or water as need to get the flavour and a good pouring consistency.
Pour the tomato sauce over the gnocchi and stir carefully to combine. Spoon the cashew cheese sauce over the top and bake in the oven for 15 minutes until everything is piping hot and the sauce starts to brown. Serve with a green salad and a big smile!