Bacon is without question the hardest meat to replicate using plant-based sources.
Trust me – I’ve tried!
Although I am not a fan of most MorningStar Farms products, its Veggie Bacon Strips are still my go-to source for close to real bacon flavor and crunch.
The cooler weather had me mulling over how to incorporate a nice plump organic butternut squash I bought from a pleasant elderly couple at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market into an easy Friday night dinner for me and my wonderful hubby. Although we adore butternut squash ravioli, I wanted to use the squash to make a rich and flavorful sauce (without cream) and thought that the Veggie Bacon Strips would add some textural interest.
Sage always pairs beautifully with butternut squash, and I thought that smoked paprika and nutmeg would add pizzazz. I used about 7 – 8 plump shallots instead of my ubiquitous onion and garlic, to provide a tasty base for the sauce.
I also wanted to make this sauce easily adaptable for vegan diets. Although I chose to use organic unsalted butter to sauté my shallots, my vegan friends can easily substitute extra virgin olive oil or Earth Balance Organic Buttery Spread. And because the Morning Star Farms Bacon Strips are vegetarian, not vegan, I have two suggestions: either substitute toasted organic walnuts for the crumbled veggie bacon or use one of the tempeh bacon products (like Fakin’ Bacon by Lightlife or Tofurky’s Treehouse Tempeh Smoky Maple Bacon Marinated Strips) which are both vegan.
But although I try to eat vegan for many of my meals, I already planned to make a caprese salad for our first course, with end of the summer organic tomatoes, my homegrown organic basil, and some luscious fresh Uno Alla Volta (UAV) Mozzarella. Since the local mozz in my salad meant that the dinner wouldn’t be vegan, I decided to throw caution to the wind and used my favorite veggie bacon for the pasta instead of the healthier and less processed tempeh alternatives or toasted walnuts.
Although I appreciate the simple clean ingredients in both of the tempeh bacon products, neither of them has the crunch and almost-bacon taste of MorningStar Farm’s Bacon Strips, which I thought would be better for this pasta. I haven’t tried the vegan version of this dish yet with either of the tempeh bacon products or with the toasted walnuts, but my instincts tell me that any of these options should be very good.
BTW, the pasta I used is the ethereal Bionaturae Organic Fusilli. It’s a light, pleasantly slender fusilli – not chunky, chewy, and heavy like a lot of other brands of fusilli. I love that it is organic durum wheat AND made in Italy. It’s a truly delicious pasta that you need to try!
- 2 tablespoons organic unsalted butter (or Earth Balance Organic Vegan Buttery Spread)
- 7-8 shallots, minced
- 6-8 strips unthawed MorningStar Farms Veggie Bacon Strips (see recipe for vegan alternatives)
- 10-12 large sage leaves, minced
- 1 medium organic butternut squash (about 2 lbs), peeled, seeded, and cut into ½-inch dice
- 1.5 -2 cups organic vegetable broth or stock
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 lb. organic bionaturae fusilli
- ½ organic lemon, juiced
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)
- Toasted chopped walnuts for a vegan alternative
- Heat a large deep skillet, and melt the butter or vegan buttery spread.
- Over very low heat, begin sautéing the shallots.
- Heat a medium frying pan and cook the veggie bacon strips. Cook them slowly and carefully while the shallots are sautéing, turning frequently, until they are browned on both sides. Remove to a paper towel lined plate and let cool. Crumble into small pieces once cooled.
- Add the minced sage leaves to the shallots and cook for 3-4 minutes.
- Add the diced squash and cook, without stirring for about 5-6 minutes until it and the shallots and sage start to caramelize and smell lovely.
- Add the organic vegetable broth or stock, nutmeg, and smoked paprika and let simmer. Cook until the squash is completely tender, adding more broth or stock if necessary.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and the pasta. Cook uncovered at a full rolling boil for about 11-12 minutes. Taste and make sure sure the pasta is al dente. Reserve 1 cup of hot pasta water before draining the pasta into a colander.
- Depending on whether you want your sauce smooth or a little chunky, you can leave the squash the way it is or puree it with a food processor or an immersion blender. I wanted mine to be nice and smooth, so that's what I did - but I think that because the squash was fine diced, chunky would be lovely as well.
- Add the squash mixture to the drained pasta. Add the lemon juice, sea salt, pepper, optional parmesan, and toss with some of the hot pasta water to get the right consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Sprinkle on the crumbled veggie bacon bits, veggie tempeh bacon bits, or toasted chopped walnuts.
All rights reserved