I don't know if anyone else remembers Rich and Charlie's, an Italian restaurant in the St. Louis area that closed a few years back. In fact, I'm not even entirely sure that there isn't still one of them open somewhere around here, hiding in West County or some other part of St. Louis that I rarely visit. My family used to go there often when I was younger. It was considered a treat in my family to go there, not just because of the amazingly good salad (which is a lot like the Pasta House salad, but much better), but also because their sauces were the best we could get anywhere. My favorite was Pasta con Broccoli, and even though you can find this at other Italian restaurants now (again, Pasta House), the version at Rich and Charlie's remains my favorite. I haven't had this kind of pasta in a very long time, given that it's filled with gluten and tons of dairy, but last night I decided to attempt a replication. And here's what I got:
Perhaps it was my starved palate talking, but I think it's pretty close to the real thing. And even if it is a little different, it was still delicious on its own!
Vegan Creamy Pasta con Broccoli
1 1/2 cups brown rice pasta shells
2 cups chopped broccoli florets
1 1/2 tbsp. Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread
1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 1/4 cups mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup Tofutti "Better than Cream Cheese" (can be purchased at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods)
1/4 cup rice milk (or plain soy, almond, or hemp milk)
1/2 - 1 cup gluten-free tomato sauce, to taste (I used Trader Joe's Organic Tomato Basil Marinara)
1 - 1 1/2 tbsp. Vegan Grated Topping (Parmesan flavor), to taste
1/4 - 3/4 tsp. garlic salt, to taste
Pepper to taste
Cook the pasta al dente as directed (I boiled mine for about 9 minutes). Drain, rinse with cold water, remove from heat, and cover.
While the pasta is cooking, boil another pot of water and add the broccoli florets to the pot. Bring to a boil again, and cook for 4 minutes until it is lightly crunchy. Drain, remove from heat, and cover to retain heat.
In a large sauté pan, melt the Earth Balance Buttery Spread with the minced garlic, then add the chopped mushrooms. Sauté the mushrooms for 4-7 minutes, then add the cooked broccoli to the pan and stir into the mushrooms. Continue to sauté for about 2 minutes longer. Add the 1/2 cup Tofutti, rice milk, and 1/2 cup of tomato sauce, and let it all melt together. The sauce will appear a little strange at this point and it might look like the Tofutti is separating into unappetizing chunks, but give it a few more minutes and it will melt into a beautiful cream sauce. At this point, taste the sauce and if desired, add more tomato sauce by the spoonful until you reach your own desired balance of flavors. Sprinkle the pepper and garlic salt into the sauce (or if you would prefer less sodium, garlic powder) and again, test to your own taste. Then add the 1 - 1 1/2 tbsp. of Vegan Parmesan Grated Topping. I fiddled around with the taste quite a bit until I found the right balance for me, so feel free to do the same. Let the sauce simmer and thicken for about 5 more minutes until you are happy with the consistency. Add the sauce to the pasta and mix together. Serve immediately, sprinkled with more Parmesan if desired. Makes 2-3 servings.