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The Art of Italian Vegan Cooking

With growing concern over how eating meat is not only bad for the planet but also for our health, there has been an increasing trend to switch to a plant-based diet.

There are now more than 88 million people globally who confess to being vegan, which also includes cutting out dairy and eggs as well as fish and chicken.

And while some consider a vegan diet to be restrictive, there are some surprising cuisines which have some great vegan options.

Claudio Simone has been a Senior Chef de Partie at some of the most respected establishments in the world.

Currently the Kitchen Supervisor of The Westgate Hotel in San Diego, California, he grew up in Bracciano, north of Rome.

He says that while it may be surprising to some Italian cooking has vegan options, there are many dishes which make great eating and can be easily adapted: “We use a lot of tomato-based sauces, with lots of vegetables in Italian cuisine,” he says.

“It’s also possible to use substitutes that don’t compromise flavors. It’s important to understand the basics of vegan cooking in order to cater to a wider range of customers.”

Simone, who is lauded for his exemplary expertise as an Italian chef says one of the biggest misconceptions about a vegan diet is that it lacks protein.

However, there are plenty of plant-based protein sources: “Legumes, which include beans, lentils, and chickpeas, as well as tofu, tempeh, and seitan can all be used as alternatives.”

He adds: “Vegan cooking is all about using whole, nutrient-dense ingredients. Vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds are packed with vitamins and minerals, but can also add texture and flavor to dishes.

Simone, who graduated in the top 15% of his class at the Universita dei Sapori,  also encourages the use of spices and herbs: “Vegan cooking doesn’t rely on meat or dairy for flavor.”

He adds: “It’s important to use spices and herbs to add depth and complexity to dishes. We love to use garlic, basil and cilantro in Italian dishes.”

Simone also advocates coming up with creative solutions for traditional ingredients like butter and cheese.

He suggests: “Coconut oil can be used in place of butter, and nutritional yeast can be used to add a cheesy flavor to dishes. It’s important to experiment with different substitutions to find what works best for each dish.”

As an example, he says there is a tasty version of macaroni and cheese which can be made vegan-friendly: “You can substitute cheese for a cashew-based sauce, and use nutritional yeast, garlic, and mustard to add depth and flavor. Most packaged pasta—including spaghetti, rotini, is egg free, but my advice is to check the packet unless you make it from scratch then you can make sure you don’t use eggs. If in doubt, choose pasta made from durum wheat – semolina.”