Dairy-Free Mozzarella Is The Vegan Cheese That Gives Manicotti A Creamy Lift

vegan tofu cannelloni
vegan tofu cannelloni - Miriam Hahn/Tasting Table

Italian American dishes love a hearty coating of gooey, melty cheese, as evidenced by lasagna, baked ziti, and eggplant parmesan. Manicotti is the cheesy American counterpart of Italian cannelloni, swapping ground meat for a blend of parmesan, ricotta, and mozzarella cheeses as the stuffing for baked pasta sleeves. An even newer twist on this Italian American favorite is a vegan version using plant-based cheeses. Dairy-free mozzarella is one of the newest recipes and products that'll give vegan manicotti shells that comforting, gooey authenticity they would otherwise lack.

Dairy-free mozzarella cheese uses cashews, starch, and coconut oil as the creamy, rich foundation for cheesy or salty ingredients like nutritional yeast, salt, and lemon juice. There are numerous store-bought brands to choose from, but it's easy to make from scratch as a dump-it recipe. The result is a shreddable, meltable, creamy cheese that has a slightly tangier taste than real mozzarella. Nevertheless, its consistency will bring that decadent and desirable cheese-pull to an otherwise thick filling. Plus, dairy-free mozzarella's saltier, tangier flavor profile will complement the umami-richness of tomato sauce and enrich the subtle, neutral flavors inherent in plant-based ricotta.

Read more: 13 Unexpected Ingredients To Elevate Lasagna

How To Incorporate Dairy-Free Mozzarella Into Manicotti

manicotti arranged in a baking dish pre-bake
manicotti arranged in a baking dish pre-bake - 500/Getty Images

While dairy-free mozzarella seeks to imitate the real thing, it's still a plant-based product that contains different components. Consequently, it will look different and take longer to melt and assume the gooey, pullable consistency you seek. Shredded dairy-free mozzarella will maintain its shape instead of fusing and browning like regular cheese, but this doesn't mean that it won't still offer the desired consistency. For lack of a visual cue, you'll just have to test its texture by touch using a fork or knife.

Tasting Table recipe developer Miriam Hahn features dairy-free mozzarella in the stuffing as well as melted on top of her vegan tofu manicotti recipe. Firm tofu, nutritional yeast, and seasonings blend into plant-based ricotta, and you can stir in shredded dairy-free mozzarella cheese before adding the mixture to a piping bag to stuff the pasta. You can then sprinkle a handful of shredded cheese over the sauced manicotti before baking it for 40 minutes in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. The shreds will maintain their shape but will still provide a melted consistency to contrast the velvety marinara sauce.

For the best melty consistency, you can further shred the shredded mozzarella cheese by pulsing it in a food processor to make it even smaller. A thin, even layer of small cheese shreds will distribute more evenly in the stuffing and melt easier on top. You can also add a little olive oil to the shredded cheese to facilitate the melting process.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.