Making Manicotti, Tofu-Style

It’s spring in Minnesota. Except for when it’s not. Especially in the first weeks of this much anticipated season, it’s not unusual for warmer days alternate with chillier ones. We find ourselves in sunshine one day, rain and clouds the next. So while we’re eager to turn to lighter meals featuring fresh spring produce (salad!), there are times when we crave the hearty fill that only comfort food can bring.

That said, there are ways to make favorite hearty fare lighter. Replacing high-fat ground meats with lower-fat cuts of poultry or even meat alternatives is one. We all know how to use ground turkey breast instead of ground beef in lasagna. But if we wanted to make that swap with tofu, how would it work?

First, let’s consider why we might want to include tofu in our diet in the first place. Research has shown that soy protein can help lower high levels of blood cholesterol. As well, soy protein and the isoflavones soyfoods contain may help reduce risk of certain types of cancer.

Besides the disease-fighting potential of soy, soybeans and their byproducts such as tofu, soymilk, and tempeh, contain high-quality protein equivalent to that of animal protein. Soyfoods tend to be low in fat and are free of cholesterol. They can also be high in fiber, a nutrient in short supply in the typical American diet.

Knowing tofu brings good nutrition to the table isn’t enough, though. It still needs to taste good. Fortunately, tofu—which is essentially curdled and pressed soymilk—can be made to taste like just about anything. The trick is giving it time to soak up flavor. In the case of the manicotti recipe below, crumbled tofu simmers with a store-bought pasta sauce. The simmer allows tofu to take on the herb and tomato flavors of the sauce while the texture gives it a softer “chew” not unlike ricotta cheese.

The same principle applies to any number of higher-fat dishes. Let soyfoods at least partially replace the high-fat ingredients to bring calorie counts down. Once full-on summer hits, you’ll be all the lighter for it.

Tofu Manicotti

1/2 (8-ounce) box manicotti shells (7 shells)

1 (26-ounce) jar tomato-based pasta sauce

1 (14-ounce) package tofu, drained and crumbled

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced

8 ounces shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (2 cups)

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

 

Cook and drain manicotti according to package directions.

Pour about 3/4 cup pasta sauce into 9-inch square baking pan; set aside. Reserve another 3/4 cup sauce. Heat oven to 350ºF.

In saucepan, combine remaining pasta sauce, the tofu, Italian seasoning, and garlic; mix well. Cook over medium heat 10 minutes or until flavors are blended.

Fill each manicotti shell with about 1/4 cup tofu filling. Carefully place over sauce in baking pan. Cover with reserved 3/4 cup sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil. Bake 10 minutes; remove foil. Bake 5 minutes longer or until cheese is lightly browned and manicotti are heated through. Makes 4 servings.