Big Night, Small Bites

It doesn’t have to be a “big night” to justify treating yourself to timpano. Even if it’s just a weekday meal for one, there’s no reason why you can’t have exactly what you crave.

For years, I’ve been dazzled by the specter of timpano, just like the rest of the movie-watching world, after seeing the unforgettable unveiling on screen in Big Night. Who could look away as the knife plunged deep into that thick pastry crust, revealing endless layers of pasta, meatballs, salami, eggs, cheese, and red sauce? Given that impossible depth and breadth, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a whole tomato vine in there, stems, leaves, and all.

What Goes Into Timpano?

It’s like the clown car of foods; it seems to contain much more than could possibly fit inside such a confined space, where truly anything goes. Some versions feature sausage, pepperoni, ricotta, wilted spinach, marinated mushrooms, olives, capers, pickled peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, cubed bread- At some point, you have to wonder if this was just a clever vehicle for repurposing the dregs of the fridge and pantry. The only limit is your appetite.

Unfortunately, for those eating alone, that is a considerable restriction.

How To Make A Tiny Timpano

While I’d relish the opportunity to cook up a few pounds of pasta, throw it into a flaky crust, and go to town, my stomach would hate me for it later. Even for someone who loves gluten, it’s quite the wheat bomb, to say nothing of the absurd serving size. Taming the towering timpano requires more than just downsizing, but significant redesign for a more sound construction.

  • Oversized ziti get replaced with more compact orzo to prevent gaping holes. Any other small pasta shapes like pearl couscous, pastina, or stelline are also fair choices.
  • Trade out the doughy exterior for tender zucchini, lightly roasted for a subtly smoky, charred essence and greater flexibility. Thinly sliced eggplant, yellow summer squash, or red peppers are excellent alternative edible wrappers, and can be used in concert for greater color and flavor.
  • Single serving portions take shape in standard ramekins, no fancy molds needed. Leftovers are a snap to freeze for later enjoyment and can be instantly thawed on demand.

Is A Timpano Of Any Other Size Still As Grand?

I’d answer that with a resounding “yes!” Given that the original dish was named after timpani, AKA kettledrums, I’d like to think that a more creative approach, allowing cooks to march to the beat of their own drums, only serves to better honor the concept. Rather than approaching it as a project, tiny timpanos fit into any schedule or meal plan, especially as an excellent way to use up any odds and ends on hand. Consider the following recipe more of a guideline; any night can be a big night with the right perspective.

Continue reading “Big Night, Small Bites”

Sure Cure For Plant-Based Prosciutto

Sliced paper-thin to drape delicately over the finest charcuterie board, or directly into one’s mouth, prosciutto is a luxury of the highest order. Italians would throw hands over proper labeling of the stuff, especially those with esteemed pedigrees like Champagne or Parmesan, as products of Denomination of Protected Origin, AKA, DOP (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta.) This may be grounds for a fight, but I’d like to throw all that out the window to make genuine, inauthentic prosciutto that can be made anywhere in the world, not of meat, but of plants.

What Is Vegan Prosciutto?

Vegan prosciutto replicates the gossamer cured ham with a subtly seasoned brine, leaning on Sugimoto shiitake powder for an unmistakable umami flavor. Purely savory and rich, there’s no overt mushroom character to detract from the experience. That’s because through the drying process, the complex proteins are broken down into simpler amino acids, such as glutamate, which is responsible for their inherently meaty taste and aroma. This serves to amplify the other flavors in the same way that a touch of salt would; never so much to seem salty, but enough to boost the overall dish.

Inspired by The Gentle Chef’s innovative approach using rice paper as the base, I knew the opportunity for fine tuning to my own personal tastes was ripe. I couldn’t resist adding my “secret” ingredient of shiitake powder to fully capture the full bouquet of tastes that range from sweet to salty found in conventional cured ham. Pale pink, the fine strips glisten in the sunlight like jewels, piled daintily like the finest silks. Everything about the experience exudes an air of lavishness unlike anything else available for vegan alternative meats. This is a “DIY, don’t buy” situation if there ever was one.

Other Key Ingredients For Making Vegan Prosciutto

Given that it’s such a simple recipe, quality and attention to detail count.

  • Square rice paper: More common in Vietnamese cuisine, this angular shape lends itself more readily to making even, consistent strips like thinly shaved prosciutto. Naturally, you can use round rice paper sheets instead if that’s all you can find. You might end up with some more abstract pieces is all.
  • Mushroom soaking water: Never toss the water that you’ve used to rehydrate your shiitake mushrooms! It’s full of free glutamate, aka umami, ideal for making meaty soups, stews, and in this case, marinades. If you don’t have any on hand, you can substitute packaged mushroom broth or, in a pinch, plain water.
  • Beet juice: Waste not, want not- I get my beet juice from cans of cooked, sliced beets. You could get cold pressed juice in the refrigerated section or make your own if you want to really go all out.
  • Nutritional yeast: I’m sure no one is a stranger to the cheesy goodness that is nooch, but it may seem strange to call for it in a recipe for making mock meats. Suspend your disbelief! Just like Parmesan cheese, nutritional yeast is packed with umami flavor that works synergistically with the shiitake mushrooms to create new flavor compounds and amplify those inherently rich flavors.
  • Olive oil: Do. Not. Omit. The oil. Genuine prosciutto is quite fatty, so we need to step up our game to match that level of decadence. Moreover, the rice paper will become downright gummy without it.
  • Truffle oil: Yes, it’s worth the splurge. There’s room for more than one mushroom in this killer app, and there’s no substitute for the ambrosial fusion that happens when a few drops of this liquid gold enters the mix.

How To Serve Plant-Based Prosciutto

Best served cool or at room temperature, no cooking is needed to enjoy the rich, heady essence of meatless umami. Prosciutto is an ideal topper or accompaniment to many of your favorite dishes.

  • Wrapped around melon slices and drizzled with balsamic glaze
  • Draped over toasts, such as…
    • BLT toast
    • Almond ricotta toast
    • Cucumber and cream cheese toast
  • On top of pizza
  • As a breakfast or brunch side with your favorite scramble
  • Chopped and mixed into salads, such as…
    • Leafy green salads
    • Pasta salads
    • Potato Salads
  • On a charcuterie board or cheese board

My meatless prosciutto may not have an authentic Italian pedigree, but it brings its own unique richness to any table at a fraction of the cost, without any cholesterol, and free of harm. You can’t top that with any DOP seal.

Continue reading “Sure Cure For Plant-Based Prosciutto”

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Criticism can be tough to stomach, even when it’s coming from a good place. This is especially true when it comes to food. As a labor of love, a passion meant to be shared, it can be heartbreaking when a lovingly prepared dish is rejected for any reason. Navigating through personal preferences and aversions can be tricky for a cook that has no such qualms. Mushrooms, for instance, are one of my favorite ingredients in pretty much any savory recipe, so it stops me cold when I realize that not everyone shares this perspective. For some, it’s the texture. For others, it’s the strange way they grow. Then there’s the erroneous assessment that their uniquely earthy flavor is more like plain dirt.

Logic and reason needn’t apply; innate distaste can’t always be explained away. It’s a shame, though, that these mushroom-hating people are missing out on a world of such rich depth of flavor. That said, there is a way for everyone to walk away from the table happy and satisfied.

Dried Sugimoto shiitake mushroom powder takes all the best umami elements of the mushroom and concentrates them into a potent seasoning, while leaving behind its conventional fungi form. Applied with a deft hand, it won’t dredge up any questionably earthy, funky, or overtly mushroomy notes. Rather, it seamlessly enhances the meaty flavors and aromas of a dish. For someone cooking alternative proteins, it should be an indispensable staple in the spice cabinet, right alongside salt and pepper.

Transforming a simple blend of vital wheat gluten and chickpea flour into downright umami bomb meatballs, shiitake powder is your secret ingredient that picky eaters don’t need to know about. They won’t realize the flavor boost and added nutrition is coming from mushrooms, but they will know that these are the best vegan meatballs they’ve ever smothered in red sauce and twirled their spaghetti around.

Coming together in a matter of minutes, this shortcut seitan formula is easy to master with one try. The mixture is first steamed to become plump and juicy, then quickly seared for a crisp, golden brown exterior. They’re incredibly hearty, substantial, and won’t fall apart under pressure. Try stacking them up on sub sandwiches or drop them into Italian wedding soup for a savory change of pace. Prep in advance for busy days; finished, cooked meatballs can be frozen almost indefinitely, so you’ll never be caught without a plan for dinner.

Even if you’re not a fan of mushrooms, I promise you’ll love these meatballs. Add a little pinch of Sugimoto shiitake mushroom powder into your life to unlock a bolder, more flavorful approach to meatless meals.

Continue reading “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”

Fit for a King

The ancient Romans may have conquered the world over two thousand years ago, but Italians still reign supreme when it comes to culinary prowess. No cuisine is more ubiquitous nor beloved, influencing modern culture near and far to this day. That said, given the overwhelming abundance of options already out there, does the world really need yet another Italian restaurant?

The King’s Feet, brand new on the scene in downtown Berkeley, would like to think so. Despite the wealth of preexisting options, there are surprisingly few establishments offering high-end vegan Italian food at any price. The King’s Feet takes aim at a more savvy, well-traveled, and voracious demographic, unsatisfied by the average red sauce joint that only offers doughy pizza crusts and plain pasta. That’s why the menu is a refreshing change of pace, even if appears familiar at first glance.

They’re not noodling around with their gut-busting pasta dishes, stacking up lofty layers of roasted summer squash, marinara, and dairy-free ricotta in their lasagna. The cheese is really the best part, so soft and savory, impossibly creamy, which is why the spinach-stuffed manicotti really shine. Those tender pasta tubes, cooked to an ideal al dente consistency, could rival anything made by your Nonna.

That said, I do believe that their biggest claim to fame will be the pizza. Super chewy, lightly blistered crusts with a range of seasonal vegetables and homemade meatless proteins and cheeses combine in the perfect proportion, demonstrating attention to detail that most places lack. Quite frankly, if you don’t order the maitake “clam” pie, you’re doing it wrong. Intensely garlicky, richly oiled, absurdly umami, the overall experience is almost too much. Treading the fine line between decadent and greasy, well-seasoned and salty, it manages to land on the side of satisfaction that makes you eat yourself to ruin. Granted, the overall effect strikes me more as a white sauce mushroom pizza than anything with seafood, but that’s probably a positive thing for people less enthralled with eating sea critters.

Speaking of which, the “calamari” made of fried mushrooms is not to be missed. Crispy, juicy, more addictive than fried chicken, it comes with a spicy aioli that is equally good for dipping pizza crusts in at the end of the meal, as you mull over the empty boxes. Ask for an extra portion; you won’t be the first.

Brought to you by the same masterminds from The Butcher’s Son, it’s no surprised that the cooks at The King’s Feet throw down the same gut-busting, no-holds-barred approach to nostalgic comfort food, dietary restrictions be dammed.

*Reviewed while sheltering in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, thus all food was ordered to go.

Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve

January is upon us. The quietest month of all, a natural respite from the cacophony of holiday festivities, the days ahead stretch out like a lazy yawn. Mercifully unhurried and undemanding, it’s back to work as usual, but without the same frantic pace as before. Some unspoken understanding allows us to resume our activities with a greater margin for error. Retreating back into the warmth of our homes, insulated under the padding of thick sweaters and blankets, I used to see this as a very isolating time of year. Now I’ve come to realize that it’s just a matter of how we choose to find comfort. We’re actually all in this together, experiencing the very same nesting instinct; whether we choose to share our nests with one another makes all the difference.

Inevitably, much will be said about comfort food in the coming days, despite of the incessant push to “eat clean” or observe a “New Year, new you.” Join me in rejecting these silly slogans, once and for all. Changing your diet or exercise regime won’t change who you are. No matter how far you run, no matter how many green smoothies you chug, your essential core remains the same, and you know what? I think that’s pretty amazing.

Pardon the terrible segue here, but I just wanted to take that brief opportunity to wear my heart on my sleeve, inspired by the deeply soul-satisfying dish known as manicotti to us Americans, or “little shirt sleeves” to Italians. Such a labor-intensive pasta preparation could only be made with love and patience, both of which I’d like to believe are in ample supply as we stride boldly forward into 2017. Fitting the definition of comfort food to a T, the combination of noodles, cheese, and red sauce is one that can’t be beat… But perhaps, with just a bit of innovation, improved upon.

Chef Barry Horton of Sanctuary Bistro replaces the wheat-based pasta with savory sheets of yuba, naturally savory, toothsome, and somewhat lighter on the fork. Lithe and flexible, the tofu skins are wrapped up around dairy-free ricotta filling like crepes. There’s less danger of tearing apart hot pasta while fruitlessly burning your fingers during preparation, so even the cook can take it easy during this meal.

A perennial favorite on the menu, it strikes me as an especially appealing dinner now as we steep ourselves in the depths of winter. Soothing and familiar, yet exciting enough to pull us out of hibernation, it’s the kind of meal that makes it a little bit easier to share openly- of food, thoughts, and comfort.

Yield: Makes 3 - 4 Servings

Tofu Manicotti

Tofu Manicotti

Chef Barry Horton of Sanctuary Bistro replaces the wheat-based pasta of traditional manicotti with savory sheets of yuba, naturally savory, toothsome, and somewhat lighter on the fork. Lithe and flexible, the tofu skins are wrapped up around dairy-free ricotta filling like crepes.

Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes


Marinara Sauce:

  • 1/2 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Minced Garlic
  • 1/2 Cup Red Wine
  • 1 14-Ounce Can Diced Tomatoes
  • 2 Tablespoons Italian Seasoning
  • 2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
  • Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Tofu Ricotta:

  • 1 Pound Firm Tofu
  • 2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
  • 1 Tablespoon Granulated Sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Italian Seasoning
  • 1 Teaspoon Minced Garlic
  • 1/2 Cup Vegetable Stock

To Assemble:

  • 10 Ounces Fresh Yuba, Cut into 3×5-inch Rectangles
  • Olive Oil
  • Fresh Chives (Optional)


  1. Begin by preparing the marinara. In a sauce pot, sauté the onions in olive oil until translucent. Add in the garlic and cook until aromatic and very lightly browned. Pour in the wine, reduce the heat to medium-low, and let simmer until reduced by half. Stir in the tomatoes and continue to simmer for an additional 10 – 15 minutes.
  2. Add the seasonings and yeast, along with salt and pepper to taste, before transferring to a blender. Blend until as smooth or as chunky as you’d prefer.
  3. While the sauce is simmering, make the most of your time and get started on the tofu ricotta. Add all of the ingredients into your food processor and pulse to combine. Pause as needed to scrape down the sides of the container, ensuring that everything is well incorporated. Continue blending until smooth.
  4. To assemble, spoon about 3 tablespoons of tofu ricotta across the short width of each yuba rectangle. Gently roll the strips of yuba up like a little wrap. Sauté 3 or 4 at a time in a generous amount of olive oil, cooking until crisp and lightly golden brown. 
  5. Serve on a pool of sauce and garnish with freshly chopped chives, if desired.


By Chef Barry Horton of Sanctuary Bistro

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Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 302Total Fat: 20gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 16gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 813mgCarbohydrates: 15gFiber: 6gSugar: 8gProtein: 15g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimations.