I'm not sure why, but tofu is rarely ever paired with cheese. Like seafood, there seems to be a general notion that tofu and cheese don't belong on the same plate — possibly this has to do with the fact that tofu originated in China, where cheese is not a common ingredient, or because it's most closely associated with vegan cuisine. So I was surprised several years ago to come across a pasta recipe that incorporated both tofu and Parmesan cheese in the wonderful classic cookbook From a Monastery Kitchen, a real staple on my culinary bookshelf.
That recipe has become a favorite comfort food in my home, often one of the first meals that my daughter requests when she comes home from college. Because the original version favored a lot of soft textures — both the tofu and the broccoli were steamed — I changed it up over the years to give it a little more bite. As to putting Parmesan cheese on top, why not? The tofu, when crisped along with fresh garlic, pairs perfectly with the nutty flavor of the cheese, and if you prefer to keep it vegan, just dust the finished dish with toasted breadcrumbs or, even better, crispy baked chickpeas that have been crushed into a coarse powder.
Serves 4 -6 as a main dish.
1 pound dried linguine
1 head of broccoli (enough to yield at least 3 cups of florets and stems)
1 16-ounce block of extra-firm tofu
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Drain the tofu and pat dry with several paper towels, pressing down lightly to help remove excess water, then cut into 1/2-inch cubes and set aside.
Trim the broccoli by removing the thickest part of the stem, then cut the thinner stems and florets into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
Cook the linguine in a large pot of boiling salted water for about six minutes. During the last few minutes of cooking time, add the broccoli pieces to the water and cook for about three minutes, or until the pasta is al dente and the broccoli is bright green and just tender. Drain and then immediately rinse the pasta and broccoli in cold water. Drain well and set aside.
Using the same pot that the pasta was cooked in, heat 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the cubed tofu and cook it in the hot oil for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until it is golden brown and lightly crisped all over. Reduce the heat to medium, then add the drained pasta and broccoli back into the pot, along with the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil and the crushed garlic. Toss well for a few minutes until all the ingredients are combined and heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper then serve immediately, topping each serving with 2 heaping tablespoons of Parmesan cheese.