My youngest daughter has been asking me for a couple of weeks now to make my Roasted Veggie Ratatouille. Given that she's a self-proclaimed 'meatatarian', it speaks volumes as to just how yummy that dish is. Usually I go strictly veg all the way, but sometimes I grill up chicken breasts to accompany the ratatouille. This week, however, I decided to make this a truly 'Meatless Meal' by adding tofu to the dish. I had recently read a blog about roasting tofu with the author exclaiming that by roasting, the tofu is transformed from a wiggly jiggly bland thing into something with a flavour profile of it's own - slightly nutty, slightly sea-salty. I'll admit that my tofuesque is seriously limited. I've added it into stir frys in the past and while palpable, I wasn't a big fan. My bigger concern was winning my husband over as he had expressed many times very clearly that he did NOT like tofu. My hope was that by roasting it with the veg for my Roasted Veggie Ratatouille would transform it into this remarkably wonderful thing and that we'd all have some big vegetarian-like 'Aha' moment.
Tofu, in simple terms, is bean curd, made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the curds into wiggy jiggly blocks. It originated in China during the Han Dynasty some 2,000 years ago and is widely used in Asian cooking. Tofu is high in protein, (about 10g per 1/2 cup serving), which makes it an exellent source of protein for non-meat eaters. It's also a great source of iron and calcium or magneisum, depending on the type of coagulent used in manufacturing.
I approached adding the tofu into the Roasted Veggie Ratatouille with an open mind, hopeful that I had finally found a method of cooking it that would win us all over. In my head I had visions of my husband and daughter showering me with accolades for opening their eyes to many future tofu possiblities, telling me how wrong they were for doubting the virtues of tofu. Time to snap out of my daydream and get to work prepping all of my ingredients.
First, I removed all the loose papery peel on a full bulb of garlic, sliced the top off of the bulb so that each clove was exposed, drizzled it with a little extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of ground sea salt and black pepper. I wrapped the garlic up in some aluminum foil and preheated my oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Next I tossed a container of gourmet medley cherry tomatoes into a nonstick pan, drizzled them with extra virgin olive oil, seasoned with freshly ground sea salt and black pepper, and a pinch of fresh thyme. Then I started chopping the rest of my vegetables into about 2 inch pieces: eggplant, zucchini, button mushrooms, red onion, red pepper, yellow pepper, orange pepper. I laid all my veggies out onto non-stick baking sheets, drizzled them with extra virgin olive oil, freshly ground sea salt and black pepper, a little loose fresh thyme and a few sprigs on top. I then diced up a block of firm tofu and gave it the same treatment. When the oven had reached 400, I placed everything into the oven. The garlic and tomatoes would take about 30 minutes, and the rest of the veggies as well as the tofu, would take about 40 minutes to roast.
Just before the 30 minutes was up for the garlic and tomatoes, I brought a large pot of salted water to a boil and added in approximately a cup and a half of Gemelli pasta. I wanted to use a pata with some ridges so tht the 'sauce' would envelope it. I added the roasted tomatoes and 3 cloves of roasted garlic to a casserole dish and mashed it up with a potato masher. To make the 'sauce', I added in a 1/2 cup of the pasta water. I then drained the pasta when it was al dente, or still a little firm and tossed it in the sauce. When the veggies and tofu were all roasted, I removed the thyme sprigs and tossed them into with the pasta and sauce. I couldn't resist adding some freshly grated parmesan on top, which, in retrospect, was a bit of a faux pas because parmesan cheese is made from raw cow's milk. So much for making a strictly vegetarian dish. Obviously, you can omit the parmesan if you wanna go completely vegetarian.
The Roasted Veggie Ratatouille with Tofu was looking pretty darn inviting! But the time had come to decide tofu or not tofu. I spooned out individual portions onto plates and set them before my husband and daughter, neglecting to tell them that there was tofu in the dish. It wasn't so much that I was tryig to trick them as that I didn't want them to start picking it out without even trying it. My hope was that the tofu would be camouflaged by all of the other ingredients and they wouldn't notice until they tasted it. Of course, by that time, they'd be tofu converts, so I would be in the clear!
It does look yummy, don't you think?
I wish I could tell you that I was blown away by the transformation the tofu had undergone by roasting but sadly, I cannot. I think all three of us must have had a forkful of ratatouille with tofu at the same time because we all just looked blankly at one another as we chewed...and chewed...and chewed on rubbery, flavourless pieces of tofu. My daughter Mackenzie, having singled out a piece of roasted tofu on her fork held it up and asked, 'What the heck is this?'. 'Tofu!', I tried to exclaim optiistically. 'I read an article that said by roasting tofu it would take on a wonderful flavour profile all it's own, tasting slighty nutty and slightly sea-salty'. 'Ya...don't do this again...it's gross.'. Hanging my head in defeat I had to agree. The roasted tofu had a horrible texture, was absolutely void of any flavour despite all of the wonderful things that surrounded it and actually diminished an otherwise fantastic meal.
Petrhaps I cooked it too long or maybe not long enough, I don't know and I highly doubt I ever will. I have come to accept that I am not, nor will I ever be, a tofu touting cook. But that's ok...nothing ventured, nothing gained and what I gained from this was the knowledge that I can't cook tofu so that it tastes good. I don't like tofu, my family doesn't like tofu, and that's just the way it is. There's something really wonderful about the acceptance stage...very serene.
Roasted Veggie Ratatouille, definitely, we'll be having that again and again and again. Adding roasted tofu? Nope...that was a fail but hey....I'm human...it happens every now and then.