Orecchiette and Vegan Red Sauce

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When I made this dish, it didn't dawn on me until later that it was vegan. Vegan food is at its best when it's like that. When it sneaks up on you. When it makes you realize, "You know what? This doesn't even need meat." As a general rule, I'm not a fan of meals that try to recreate animal product. Veggie hot dogs, tofu burgers, even buffalo cauliflower reeks like it's trying too hard. It's devoid of imagination. It's an attempt to simulate meat, and ultimately it fails. It always does. I don't see the point in trying to reanimate what's already gone. You forfeited the concept of a burger a long time ago, vegan friend. Instead, celebrate the things that can make vegan food so tasty. Pasta is a dish that doesn't need meat to be delicious. There are endless amounts of techniques and combinations to achieve flavor.

I don't think I've ever made red sauce the same way twice. When I use San Marzanos, I generally don't do much outside of garlic, onion, and butter. When I peel my own tomatoes, I like to add a lot of herbs. When I buy cheap plum tomatoes in a can, I sear some pork neck and stew them in the meat to achieve flavor. If you're going meatless, it better be interesting, or at the very least spicy. While this recipe isn't loaded with spice, it does have a generous base of garlic, shallot, and crushed red pepper. I use these 3 things in just about every pasta dish I make, and here it shines with stewed tomatoes. I finish this with a generous pour of olive oil to achieve that nourishing and smooth umami flavor that your body craves. This is a fulfilling meal in every sense, while maintaining the simplicity associated with a great pasta dish. Orecchiette & Vegan Tomato Sauce.

For the Orecchiette
2 cups Semolina Flour
2 cups All Purpose Flour
1 1/4 cups warm water

Mix the Semolina and all purpose in a large bowl. Incorporate until one homogeneous mixture. After that, it's time to make a well. Dump your flour onto a clear surface or counter and make a hole in the middle. Slowly add in the water, using a fork to stir as you go. Once your water is slowly incorporated with a fork, go for it with both hands and start to kneed. Kneeding this dough should take about 20 minutes. Go nuts. Take out some frustration. Once you've got a ball of smooth, but not sticky dough, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for about 20 minutes.

Lightly dust some flour on your surface. Basically, you want to cut long pieces of dough and roll them into snakes. Once you do that, you're basically cutting "coins" of dough that you press down with your thumb to make little ears, or orecchiette. Each one is hand made, so it can take a while, but there's no machine required. I freeze mine in bags, and it lasts forever.

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Red Sauce Ingredients
2 35 oz. cans Whole Peeled Tomatoes
8 cloves of garlic, minced
3-4 small shallots, minced
2 tbsp crushed red pepper
2 tbsp salt
2 tbsp pepper
olive oil

Instructions

Put a pot on your stove and put it on medium heat. Once hot, drop in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Throw in your minced garlic and shallot and stir as needed until they become translucent. Now add in your crushed red pepper. Stir everything together for another minute or 2, making sure nothing is raw. Everything should have color to it, but not burnt.

Open your cans of tomatoes and pour them in. At this point, I use my bare hands to crush up the tomatoes. You can blend them if you have a food processor, but I don't prefer a completely smooth sauce. I like a few broken chunks of tomatoes. I like some character. Most of them will break down anyways. You can cook this sauce for an hour or two. I cooked mine for an hour and a half. 

Once your orecchiette is done, go ahead and toss it together with some pasta sauce in a saute pan. Always, and I mean always, toss your pasta. Sometimes you see pasta served directly into a bowl, and then "topped" with sauce. That is wrong. It all needs to get familiar with each other so give it a good toss.

Before I serve, I always hit it with a big helping of olive oil, maybe 2 tablespoons at the end as it sits in a bowl. That's why it looks so shiny. You're looking to get some fat in there. Normally I add butter to the end of my sauce, but since we're going totally vegan, finishing pasta with olive oil is a great substitute. I do recommend a little bit of chopped parsley, which I didn't add here, but you can if you want some earthy flavor to mellow out the acidity. We won't get into basil vs. parsley today, but a little bit of parsley will go a long way in enhancing fresh pasta and sauce.

- Danny