Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cheezy Tomato Pasta Bake: My (Vegan) Version of a Classic Hamburger Casserole for Food 'n Flix July: "Because I Said So"

Some degree of meddling is a given with mothers, but in Because I Said So, our Food 'n Flix July movie pick, Daphne Wilder (Dianne Keaton), makes it an art form. Unlucky in love herself, Daphne wants her three daughters happy and settled and for her youngest daughter Milly (Mandy Moore), that is turning out to be quite a problem.

Milly, a catering manger (the foodie part of the flick), has just broken up with her boyfriend and Daphne, convinced she won't find someone, places a personal ad for Milly and interviews and rejects potential candidates without Milly knowing. She finds an excellent catch in Jason (Tom Everett Scott) a well-bred architect. Rejected applicant musician Johnny (Gabriel Macht) goes around Daphne to meet Milly and Milly starts dating both of them. 

Does mother really know best?  

Because I Said So is a cute, chick-flick with some delicious looking food--chocolate souffles, quirky cakes, delicious dinners, tuna pasta salad in Milly's seniors' cooking class. The cast is and pretty to look at and mostly likable. Dianne Keaton manages to keep her overbearing mama character, although definitely very often exasperating, still appealing. Mandy more is cute/sweet/funny and of course Gabriel Macht and Tom Everett Scott are there for some good eye candy. It's fluffy, fun and light--perfect for July. Although I don't own this movie, I catch up with it whenever it is on and DVR'd it in June to watch it again this month. 
With all that food, especially the plethora of desserts, my choice of a dish may seem a little pedestrian. But this movie makes me think mostly of the mother-daughter relationship and makes me thankful that although my mom worries, nags, and more than freely offers advice in a variety of subjects--she recognizes that fact and it is nowhere near the level of Daphne. My mom has long since given up on being concerned by my love life and now focuses on the more mundane things to worry about. My health, finances, and especially since I stopped eating meat, poultry and dairy--my protein levels. "Do you think you are eating enough protein?" is a frequent question on our phone chats--if I dare to say I am tired, or stuffy, or angry, or have a headache, or didn't sleep well, or had a long day at work, or for that matter, any mention of any dish or meal I have cooked or eaten.  

I decided to pick a typical childhood dish and revamp it to make it fit into the way I eat today. Hamburger Noodle Casserole was on the menu fairly regularly when I was growing up--it was cheap, tasted good and everyone liked it. Think Hamburger Helper without the box--hamburger, tomato sauce, noodles, cheese all baked together. It's not glamorous, it's not pretty but it is comfort food and there is nothing wrong with that. ;-)

This is my vegan version--soy crumbles instead of meat and instead of a gooey cheese topping, my favorite cheeze sauce stirred into the tomato sauce and pasta and then a topping of crispy seasoned panko breadcrumbs. Reminiscent of home and childhood in taste and texture but much less saturated fat and cholesterol. You can have an extra large helping and not feel guilty and with the soy crumbles, quinoa pasta and almond milk--it has plenty of protein mom. Sometimes daughters know best! ;-)
Cheezy Tomato Pasta Bake (A Vegan Hamburger Casserole)
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 6)

1-2 Tbsp olive oil 
1 pound package soy crumbles/ground-meat alternative 
1 medium onion, chopped, 1 cup 
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp Italian salt-free, herb seasoning  
2 (14 oz) cans diced tomatoes 
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp tamari sauce or Bragg's 
1 (8 oz) package dried pasta of choice 
2 cups cheeze sauce (recipe below)
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup seasoned (panko preferably) bread crumbs

Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside. Make cheese sauce (recipe below), and allow it to thicken.

In a large saucepan brown ground meat alternative in 1 Tbsp olive oil. Remove meat with slotted spoon and set aside. Adding a bit more oil if needed, add onion to pan and sauté until tender and lightly caramelized. Add garlic and Italian seasoning and cook a few minutes more. Add the canned diced tomatoes, tomato paste and tamari sauce, along with the cooked soy crumbles. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes. Cook pasta following package directions, drain and rinse lightly with hot water and make cheeze sauce (recipe below). 

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil a 9"x13" baking dish.

Mix cheeze sauce into tomato sauce mixture, add cooked pasta and mix it together carefully but thoroughly. Pour into oiled pan and top with seasoned panko. Bake about 35 minutes or until casserole is bubbly and breadcrumbs are lightly toasted.


Vegan Cheeze Sauce
Adapted from Chloe's Kitchen by Chloe Coscarelli
(Makes about 2 cups
 2 Tbsp vegan margarine
1/3 cup all-purpose flour (or gluten-free all-purpose flour)
2 cups soy, almond, or rice milk
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 Tsp agave
In a medium saucepan, whisking margarine and flour over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes to make a roux. Add the nondairy milk, nutritional yeast, tomato paste, salt, smoked paprika and garlic powder to the pan and whisking briskly, bring to a slow boil. Reduce the heat to low and let simmer until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and agave and adjust salt and seasonings to taste.

Notes/Results:  Tasty, filling and hard to tell it isn't cheese and meat-laden. I used a quinoa pasta rotini--the next time I might choose a smaller sized pasta cut--just to make it "prettier." Easily adaptable to other ingredients, making it gluten-free, etc. A good way to relive a childhood favorite. I would make this again.

Thanks to Heather of girlichef, founder of the Food 'n Flix event and host for this month. If you want to join in, you have until the 30th, or join us next month for The Help. 

I am also sending this noodle casserole to Presto Pasta Nights, hosted this week by its founder Ruth of Once Upon A Feast.



  1. I love the direction you took your post, Deb!  Such a perfect over-bearing mom figure to be inspired by (Daphne).  I love how you worked that into real life and your moms ...shall we call it... concern for your well-being.  Mom's.  Gotta love 'em ;) Your vegan version of this classic dish sounds every bit as comforting and delicious as "the original". 

  2. This does sound like a great version of this classic homey dish!

  3. Your mom sounds JUST like my mom when it comes to my eating habits! She really only cares about that...and my love life. But she's not a meddler...just a gossiper/unwanted advice giver. :P  This casserole looks so comforting!

  4. I love that the inspiration from this recipe comes from your well-meaning mother.    Really great post, Deb!

  5. Great post and terrific version of an old classic.  Thanks for sharing with Presto Pasta Nights.

  6. I think it's worse for our mothers because they aren't within poking distance of us! (I'm getting lectures on my weight via email right now).

  7. often childhood food is unglamourous but it tastes so good - because I think nostalgia is one of my favourite flavours - from the look of this your mother should have no worries about you getting enough protein (or tasty food)


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