The “V” Word continues its celebration of VeganMoFo, the month of delicious vegan food, with the theme “If TV Celebrity Chefs Went Vegan.” While Rachael Ray may be my favorite celebrity chef, I have to admit that I watch more episodes of Giada De Laurentiis’ shows than of anyone else’s on TV. It helps that Giada has cooking shows that run back-to-back in the morning, afternoon and evening on both Food Network and The Cooking Channel. But even though it sometimes seems like Giada has her own channel, I often choose to watch her shows over others that may be on.
If any cooking show host can serve as a model of how a show should be done, in my opinion, Giada is that host. Her Emmy award-winning show, Everyday Italian, makes cooking authentic Italian fare seem easy and delicious. Italian-born Giada with her radiant smile and fluent pronunciation of Italian words (“spa-ghet-tee,” “zee-tee”) is one of the warmest cooking show hosts on TV. Her passion for food and cooking is obvious and infectious. Not only does watching her shows make me hungry and make me want to cook, the way Giada speaks to her viewers and explains how to make the dishes inspires me as to how I want to write up my recipes.
That might seem funny if you have ever seen footage of her first episodes. Giada comes from the famous film-making family (her grandfather is film producer Dino De Laurentiis) and she made it very clear early in her life that she did not want to be in front of a camera. She was much happier in the kitchen and at her grandfather’s restaurant. After culinary school in Paris, Giada worked in restaurants, as a caterer and then as a food stylist until Food Network approached her about doing a show. She was so uncomfortable in front of the camera that viewers wrote in complaining that Food Network had hired a model or actress to play a chef.
That was in 2003. A decade later, Giada has had many shows that air on Food Network and The Cooking Channel including Behind the Bash, Everyday Italian, Giada’s Weekend Getaways and Giada at Home. Giada at Home is my favorite of all her shows; in it she cooks with friends and family. Watching her cook with her Aunt Raffe is hysterical and it’s nice to see her beautiful daughter, Jade, as she grows up. The music is not imposing, the camera work is flawless and the scenery of the beach house in California where it’s filmed is gorgeous. Giada is also a co-host of Next Food Network Star and the author of 6 cookbooks.
Giada often makes vegetarian dishes (especially because her viewers keep requesting them) and her recipes are quite easy to veganize. This recipe is based on her Chicken Cacciatore which I made before I became vegan. Once I did, it was easy to swap out the chicken with tofu. It can also be made with tempeh or sliced Portobello mushrooms. If you are not concerned with eating gluten or processed foods, this dish can also be made with Gardein Chick’n Scallopini.
Ironically, the word cacciatore means “hunter” in Italian. In cuisine, alla cacciatora refers to a meal prepared “hunter-style.” Evil hunters would go out and murder innocent animals and make this dish with rustic cuts of vegetables. Well, hunting sucks and hunters are cowards. The only hunting involved in my version of this cacciatore may be searching for a place to hide some of it before everyone else eats it all up. Enjoy!
1 block extra-firm tofu, pressed and drained
1/3 cup chickpea flour
1 tsp. ground black pepper
Kosher or sea salt to taste
1 tsp. paprika
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 bell peppers, any color, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cups mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 zucchini, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 fresh bay leaf
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried rosemary, or 2 springs fresh, leaves removed from stem and chopped
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
½ cup white wine (optional)
2 Tbsp. capers, drained
28 oz. canned diced or whole tomatoes
1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
1/4 cup basil or parsley, coarsely chopped
Cut the tofu into whatever shape you like. I cut the tofu into 8 thin slices and then cut those in half to end up with 16 thin squares. In a shallow plate mix the flour with salt, pepper and paprika. Coat the tofu pieces with the flour mixture.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. In a deep skillet or large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the tofu to the pan and cook until brown and crisp, about 4 minutes on each side. Transfer the tofu to an oven-safe plate and keep warm in the oven.
If the pan is dry, you can add another tsp. of oil. Add the onion and cook until softened and translucent, about 3 minutes. Then add the bell pepper and let cook for another 2 minutes. Add the celery and cook another 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms are browned, about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook for another 2 minutes. Once the vegetables are tender, add the garlic and the spices to the pan. We waited until now to add them so they wouldn’t burn. Mix them in well.
If you are using wine, add it to the pan and simmer until it is reduced by half, about 3 minutes. If you don’t want to use wine, omit this step.
Add the tomatoes with their juice. If you are using whole tomatoes, either cut them up with kitchen shears while they are still in the can (it’s neater that way) or carefully break them up in the pan with a potato masher. Add the broth and the capers. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer over medium-low heat until it thickens a little, about 5-6 minutes. Remove the bay leaf or if you’re like me, forget about the bay leaf until you or someone else finds it in their food. If you find it, remove it quietly. If someone else finds it, tell them they win the prize and take it away from them.
Remove the tofu from the oven and transfer to a serving platter or individual bowls. Spoon the cacciatore sauce and vegetables over the tofu. Garnish with fresh basil or parsley. Serve over brown rice or pasta.
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