Spaghetti with Tempeh Lardons, Cherry Tomatoes and Mint Leaves

Tempeh bacon is available at all natural food stores and many supermarkets, and if you're pressed for time, can be substituted for the lardons. Just cut the strips in pieces, fry quickly and add to the pasta at the end of the recipe. You'll miss the textural richness of the crispy/chewy tempeh nuggets, not to mention our killer marinade, but it's far better than not making the pasta at all. Our recipe makes a few large servings and leftovers can be stored, tightly sealed in the refrigerator for 4 or 5 days.

We used Honey Drop tomatoes because we were blessed with a bumper crop this summer but any sort of cherry or grape tomato will suffice.

The smokey tempeh lardons, sweet stewed tomatoes and garden-fresh mint are an irresistible combination redolent of Mediterranean summers..

To keep the dish vegan, we finished the pasta with a sprinkling of nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor. Grated Parmesan or Romano would be more traditional choices.

Always, leftovers for lunch: our spaghetti with roasted vegetables, olives and a lettuce and string bean salad.

The inspiration for this recipe, well, the entire idea really minus tempeh, is from Katie Quinn Davies' extraordinary blog WhatKatieAte.

So let's get making lardons. Cut into 1/2" -1" cubes one package of tempeh, any variety you like. Toss in a marinade made from 3 T. tamari or soy sauce, 2 T. brown sugar, 1 T. olive oil, 3 t. liquid smoke, 1 t. apple cider vinegar, a dash of cumin, 1/2 t. garlic powder and 1/2 t. cayenne pepper. Mix very well and marinate, refrigerated for 3-4 hours or, if pressed for time, one hour at room temperature.

After marinating the tempeh, heat 2 T. olive oil in a large, non-stick skillet over a medium flame. When the oil is hot but not yet smoking, add the tempeh, reserving the marinade. Pan fry, stirring often, for 5-6 minutes. Drizzle in leftover marinade and cook for another 5 minutes, again, stirring often to prevent burning. It's okay and even ideal if the tempeh lardons have a few blackened spots here and there.  

Remove the tempeh from the skillet and toss in, without wiping the pan, 1 cup diced onion. Cook until the onion is translucent and then add 2-3 cups halved cherry tomatoes. Season to taste with salt and black pepper and cook just until the tomatoes begin to break down slightly. Add more oil if needed. 

Remove from heat and allow to cool. Throw into the skillet the reserved tempeh lardons and a huge handful of chopped mint leaves

Cook 1 lb. of spaghetti according to package directions and drain. reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water which should be salty.

Finally, toss the pasta with the reserved cooking water and the tempeh-tomato-mint mixture. It's easiest to do this in the pot used for cooking the pasta. Reheat over a very low flame for just a minute or so. Stir in 3 T. chopped and rinsed capers. Toss a final time and serve hot or warm, garnished with a few extra mint leaves and some parsley if you have it. You may need to add more salt to the assembled dish but check before doing so as the capers and tempeh are quite salty.


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