Baked Ziti

baked zitiWe’ve been watching a lot of Sopranos lately. I’ve never seen it, so it’s completely new to me. Sometimes the people are hard to understand with their heavy New Jersey accents and weird slang even though they’re speaking English. There are two things that watching the Sopranos makes me crave: whiskey and baked ziti.

I hadn’t really thought about ziti much before watching the Sopranos. I think I had it once before I knew what it was at the BF’s parents’ house a while ago. The characters in the show are always talking about baked ziti this and baked ziti that. I finally decided to try my hand at making some, since I doubt there’s anywhere around that makes vegan ziti.

baked ziti

I hope any genuine Italian Americans don’t take offense to my vegan ziti. I couldn’t find actual ziti shapes at the market, so I used rigatoni instead. For the topping/sauce, I used:

  • jarred marinara sauce
  • half a package of soy ground meat
  • a handful of cremini, sliced
  • a medium onion, diced
  • a lot of red pepper flakes

I cooked the diced onion till translucent, threw in the red pepper flakes and cremini, let those brown, and then threw in the crumbled soy meat. I let that all brown in the cast iron pan while I got started on the tofu cheese. The tofu cheese was just crumbled firm tofu, about 1/4 cup nutritional yeast, a handful of chopped fresh basil leaves, and salt to taste.

After the pasta is cooked al dente, I drained it, threw in the topping, stirred it, threw in some marinara sauce, stirred some more, and put it in a baking dish. I then topped it with the tofu cheese and spread more marinara sauce on top to coat, and stuck it in the onion at 350F for about 20 minutes.

The BF said it even tasted like a ziti. But what does he know, he doesn’t even eat cheese =(

Dinner: Orechiette & Pizza

Dinner: home-made orecchietteTonight, the BF made orechiette from scratch! Sure, it’s probably a lot more work than just boiling dry pasta, but man, they were 10x as good. They were thick and chewy without being too hard. The funny thing is, they looked a lot more like ears than the dry pasta does. Their chewiness also added to their ear-like quality. If I closed my eyes, I could imagine that they’re baby ears.

The pasta sauce was made from some leftover white bean and tomato spread I made last night (more on that below), and sauteed rape plant that we had leftover from a few nights ago. I love it when we can make use of leftovers because I hate wasting food and throwing out old leftovers.

Dinner: Homemade pizza

The night before, I made pizza dough and baked a pizza for dinner. I don’t really like pizza sauce, so I usually make my pizzas sans sauce. This one had carmelized onions, even if the onions went way past carmelized in the oven, leftover sauteed rape plant (it’s the leftover that keeps on giving!), chopped olives, and some minced garlic.

Dinner: white bean spread

Thinking that I was missing some sort of protein element in dinner, I also whipped up this white bean and tomato spread. It’s just white beans (from a can), canned tomatoes, chopped garlic, and some spices simmered until most of the liquid is reduced.

Vegan Pizza at That’s Amore!

Thats AmoreAfter reading about That’s Amore from QuarryGirl a few days ago, the BF and paid them a visit despite it being all the way in Cerritos — almost 30 miles away from our place.

That’s Amore is a pizza restaurant in the same plaza as the Korean Farmer’s Market at the corner of Carmenita and Artesia. When we got there, a woman, whom I assume is the owner greeted us warmly and told us to take a seat at one of the many tables.

The menu lists not only pizzas, but also lasagna, meatball subs, wraps, and pasta. Almost all of the items on the menu can be made vegan with vegan cheese from Follow Your Heart and everyone working there seems knowledgeable about what’s vegetarian and what’s vegan.

Thats AmoreWe had a hard time deciding what to get as an appetizer because several things sounded good. The caprese with tofu ricotta, broccoli gratinee, or garlic bread? In the end, we chose garlic bread. The bread was soft on the inside, crunchy and garlicky on the outside. I really like their vegan take on the parmesan cheese shakers. It’s their special blend of almonds, nutritional yeast, and other stuff. A half order of garlic bread, a few shakes of the vegan parmesan cheese, and a few shakes of red pepper flakes and I’m happy.

Thats AmoreOf course, we couldn’t stop at just garlic bread, so we ordered a 14″ pizza with marinara sauce, vegan cheese, pepperoni, and red onion. All of their pizza toppings are vegan, which makes picking toppings very easy. When the pizza came, the vegan cheese was all melty and looked great.

I thought the crust was good — a nice balance of crunchy bottom with soft top. The BF, the self-proclaimed New York Style Pizza Expert (he thinks he has a PhD in pizzaology) thought it needed work.

The cheese was good at first, but ended up tasting a big bland as it cooled down. It lacked that savory cheese taste that real cheese has as well as stringiness. I think next time, I’ll have to order my own pizza with real cheese, or just go without. As soon as it cools down, it gets hard, so you’d better eat that pizza fast if you order it with vegan cheese.

I usually complain about pizza being too heavy on sauce, but this time I’m complaining about the opposite. That’s Amore went really light on the sauce. I couldn’t even tell it was there until I looked carefully. According to the owner, they do that on purpose because too much sauce makes the pizza too doughy.

The vegan pepperoni topping was actually quite good. The taste was similar, but the texture was slightly off. It was a bit too crunchy and dry. If they had brushed the top with some olive oil to keep the pepperoni moist, I would have liked it better. When I commented about this to the owner, she admitted they had done that before, but customers complained that it was too oily and were blotting the pizza with napkins. I don’t mind that — blotting pizza with napkins is a pizza-eating ritual.

Thats AmoreEven though the BF and I were both stuffed from the huge order of garlic bread and pizza, we had to try the vegan cannoli. While it may not be authentic cannoli filling, I thought the filling in That’s Amore’s cannoli was quite good. It wasn’t too cloyingly sweet and it didn’t taste like pure oil like some vegan renditions do. The crispy shell was also really good; it was crispy with a slight give, and just the right amount of crumbly.

While we were waiting for our order, the owner came by to chat with us. It seems That’s Amore used to be a regular pizza place, but the owner realized that times were changing and wanted to serve something more healthy. They talked to several customers and asked if they should offer vegetarian pizza; a few of them said it would be great if they could do a vegan pizza, which is how they turned into a vegetarian and vegan pizza place. Once That’s Amore gave up meat and turned vegetarian, the Indian population in Cerritos took notice, which explains why many of their customers are Indian. It’s also worth noting for super strict vegans that That’s Amore has separate cooking and serving utensils for vegans. We noticed that the word “vegan” was etched into our pizza pan.

The pizza at That’s Amore wasn’t the best that we’ve had, but we’re definitely going to return. Chatting with the owner was nice because she seemed very open to our comments and suggestions. The BF says that it’s worth coming back just because it’s so vegan friendly and there’s no risk of accidentally eating something he shouldn’t. I want to come back to try their meatballs. They were huge. One of the omnivore customers sitting by us said it tastes just like a real meatball.

For what the two of us ate, including a bottle of beer, the bill came out to be about $26 including tax. Not bad for a satiating dinner. The only negative thing I can say about That’s Amore is that it’s so far from our place.

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That’s Amore
13349 Artesia Blvd.
Cerritos, CA 90703
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