Alex Stratta

The Wynn chef shares his healthy appetite for easy vegan pasta

Chef Alex Stratta won’t be committing anytime soon to one side of the fence on the vegan/meatetarian matter. In the kitchen he proudly honors his Franco-Italian heritage and worldly upbringing, getting utter joy from cooking everything from squab to prosciutto. And the Wisconsin-born chef’s positively face lights up at the mere mention of cheese. “I’m still a french-fry guy,” he smirks.

So the chef’s deft vegan prowess stems not from a moral standpoint but more so for his health. “I’m not a vegan, and I’m certainly not an extreme vegan, where I won’t wear a leather belt.” Following a bout with cancer, Stratta cut down on his meat, milk and gluten consumption. Trimming down and experiencing greater health continues to drive his vegan curiosities; having a vegetarian chef fiancee and a pro-vegan boss (Steve Wynn) probably help as well.

So perhaps that makes him the perfect person to show ambitious home cooks just how surprisingly delicious (and simple!) vegan pasta can be. Rich in flavor, the roasted corn agnolotti—one of five dishes on Stratta’s 8-month-old vegan menu—are light, al dente pasta pouches filled with a silken roasted corn cream in a savory herb and mushroom sauce, topped with sautéed mushrooms and spinach. What’s hard to believe is that there is not one animal product used to make it!

Chef successfully employs a number of clever vegan culinary tricks (including vegan chef Tal Ronnen’s recipe for eggless pasta) to accomplish the dish, including kuzu starch (a thickener similar to tapioca derived from seaweed), silken tofu to bind his pasta instead of egg, cashew cream in the place of ricotta cheese, red palm oil to give his pasta that classic yolk coloring, and flavoring with Marmite or Vegemite in place of rich meat stocks.

This dish is actually a take on a signature dish from the now-closed Alex restaurant, featuring egg-yolk pasta, roasted chicken jus and mushrooms glazed with chicken stock. Chef suggests experimenting with braised veal, chicken “oysters” and even lobster and introducing seasonal produce such as butternut squash or celery root puree in place of the roasted corn or wilted leftover salad instead of sautéed spinach.

Technical skill and strict adherence to the “rules” are a given, but creativity, above all, is the mark of a successful vegan chef.

Wine Pairing

Wynn Resorts’ general wine buyer Mark Thomas recommends the 2008 Au Bon Climat Sanford and Benedict Santa Ynez Chardonnay to pair with Stratta’s vegan agnolotti. “The Au Bon Climat chardonnay compliments the sweet and earthy flavor of the agnolotti dish with its own notes of tropical fruit and minerality,” Thomas says. $72 bottle at Stratta. A similar chard, 2008 Alta Maria Vineyards’ Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay, is available at Khoury’s Fine Wines & Spirits for $24.

Roasted Corn Agnolotti with Oyster Mushrooms

Serves 4

Eggless Pasta Agnolotti

  • 2 cups fine-grain semolina flour
  • 4 ounces silken tofu
  • 1 tablespoon red palm oil
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine the puree of tofu with the palm oil, olive oil and salt; add the semolina until dough forms, adding a little water at a time, as needed. Work the dough with a paddle in a mixing bowl just until it begins to form a cohesive dough. Remove dough and place on a floured surface, covered, to rest for one hour. Roll the pasta dough out as thin as possible and lay out a 5-inch-by-3-foot sheet on a lightly floured surface. Cut the tip of the piping bag to create a ¼–inch opening. Pipe a “tube” of the filling every one inch with your fingers to create segments of filling in the dough. Roll the dough around the tube of pasta. Lightly brush the sheet with water. With a fluted cutter, cut all but ¼-inch of the remaining unused dough and discard. With a crimper, cut along the pinched areas to create individual raviolis. Place them on a floured sheet pan and use within 12 hours. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until tender and place them in the sauce along with the garnish. Arrange the sauce, garnish and pasta in a bowl and serve.

Roasted corn filling

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 2 cups fresh white corn kernels
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 4 tablespoons silken tofu
  • ½ cup cashew cream
  • 2 tablespoons minced chives
  • 1 teaspoon agave syrup
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil over high heat in a heavy pan and add the kernels of corn, allowing them to turn light golden brown. Add the shallots and allow them to color. Then add thyme, agave, salt and pepper and allow them to color. Place the toasted corn mixture in a blender with the silken tofu and blend at high speed until thick, then fold into the cashew cream. Adjust seasoning and finish with chives. Place the mixture into a piping bag and refrigerate until needed.

Cashew Cream

  • 2 cups whole cashews (not toasted)
  • 1¼ cup water

Place the cashews in a high-speed food processor and pour in water just to cover; pulse and then blend until smooth. Place in a high-speed blender and blend until silky.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 2 tablespoons sliced garlic
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 4 heads of shitake mushrooms
  • 4 cups dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoons Marmite or Vegemite yeast extract
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup dried porcini mushrooms
  • 4 tablespoons kuzu starch
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 4 tablespoons chopped parsley

Heat a heavy saucepot over medium heat, add the oil and allow to get smoking hot. Add the garlic and shallots; color until dark golden brown. Add lemon zest, mushrooms and thyme and cook for three to four minutes. Deglaze pan with wine and reduce; add the vegetable stock and reduce to two cups of liquid. Strain and simmer. In another pot, dilute the kuzu starch with cold water to create a slurry and add the slurry slowly to the simmering stock until it thickens to a sauce consistency. Season well and finish with herbs before serving.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup toasted white corn kernels
  • 1 cup large oyster mushrooms, sliced 1/8-inch thick
  • 1 cup spinach leaves
  • 1 tablespoon minced chives
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat a sauté pan with olive oil over high heat. Add the mushrooms, coloring well, and then add the corn. Finish with the spinach leaves and chives. Add the sauce.

Suggested Next Read

Fish Tacos at Phat Phranks

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Fish Tacos at Phat Phranks

While it has an unassuming strip-mall location (see Page 82), Phat Phranks has some of the best fish tacos in town. Battered pieces of juicy cod are fried to a golden crisp and served on corn tortillas with cabbage and creamy cilantro sauce. They also make an array of delicious salsas that can be added if you prefer your tacos with a kick. Order the full plate and you get a healthy helping of rice and beans. $9, 4850 W. Sunset Road, 247-6528.



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