Vegan Pesto and Fried Tofu

We are in the midst of basil growing season, and yesterday I decided it was time for the first harvest. I always feel guilty when picking my basil plants--but I know they will grow back in the next week or so with a vengeance (especially if it stays as warm and rainy here.) 

I love pesto and so decided to make some with white rice pasta along with fried tofu, Italian style. We topped the dish with some kalamata olives to give the it some extra saltiness (and it looked pretty too).

2 cups or so loosely packed basil leaves (freshly picked is best)
3 tablespoons slivered almonds or walnut pieces
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
salt and pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup (or so) reserved cooking liquid from the pasta
1 package pasta of your choice

Italian Tofu
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (find in bulk section of grocery or buy Braggs)
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
1 package extra firm tofu, pressed and drained of water, and cut into pieces of your choosing
vegetable oil for frying

Boil your water and cook the pasta according to the package's instructions. Wash and pat dry the basil leaves. In a food processor or blender, add the basil, almonds/walnuts, garlic, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, salt and pepper and process for a minute or so, scraping down the sides of the work bowl as necessary. With the food processor running, slowly pour in the olive oil and process for another 30 seconds or so.

Meanwhile, mix all of the dried spices/herbs for the tofu together to create a dry rub. Dredge the tofu pieces in the spice mix and set aside, evenly coating them. Heat enough vegetable oil in a large frying pan to coat the bottom. Take turns frying the tofu pieces so that each side becomes golden brown.  Do not crowd the pan, as this will prevent the tofu from getting crispy. You will probably have to fry the tofu in batches.

Drain the pasta, taking care to reserve some of the liquid. While the food processor is running, slowly pour in the cooking liquid here. This gently warms the pesto, helps keep it green when added to the hot pasta, and liquifies the pesto a bit more.

Return the pasta to the pot and stir in the pesto. Serve the tofu on top of the pesto with some olives for garnish.