There is nothing as satisfying as a slow cooked meat sauce or ragu served on top of a plate of pasta. This sauce, often called Bolognese sauce, originated from Bologna, Italy and is commonly served over tagliatelle, pappardelle pasta, or is layered between silken fresh pasta sheets in lasagne. A true Bolognese begins with a traditional soffritto which is a combination of diced onion, carrots, and celery. To this, chopped meats are added along with red wine, chopped tomatoes and/or tomato concentrate. The sauce is then slowly simmered until it thickens into a rich tasting sauce. It is interesting to note, that the first published recipe for a meat sauce made for pasta described as being “bolognese” appeared in Pellegrino Artusi’s cookbook of 1891. From this earliest recipe, Bolognese is now often made with the addition of some chopped pancetta and milk.
I have shared that I am presently focused on a predominantly plant based diet, so when I recently had a craving for Bolognese sauce, I wanted to see if I could make a truly satisfying “meaty” ragu using vegetables in place of meat. I started with the traditional soffritto, and then added mushrooms and eggplant in place of the usual meat. I sautéed the mushrooms and eggplants separately in a different pan so I could add a little caramelization which I felt would add a depth of flavor. I included some chopped dried porcini mushrooms along with fresh portobello mushrooms because porcini have a meaty flavor on their own. I used a combination of chopped canned tomatoes along with some tomato concentrate and seasoned my sauce with fresh parsley, basil, and dried oregano. I let my sauce simmer slowly and the aroma that wafted through my house was truly intoxicating. I’ll be honest with you that a true meat lover will know that there is no meat in this sauce, but it was a delicious, richly flavored, hearty sauce and I didn’t miss the meat at all. I served my sauce over bucatini pasta instead of the traditional fresh pasta simply because I prefer it, but you can use just about any type of pasta you prefer with this sauce!
Deborah Mele 2015
Pasta with Hearty Vegetable “Bolognese”
- 1 Ounce Dried Porcini Mushrooms (About 1 Cup)
- 1 Cup Hot Water
- 1/2 Cup Olive Oil, Divided
- 1 Medium Onion, Peeled & Finely Chopped
- 2 Medium Carrots, Ends Trimmed & Finely Chopped
- 2 Stalks Celery, Finely Chopped
- 3 Cloves Garlic, Peeled & Minced
- 1 Cup Red Wine
- 1 (28 Ounce) Can Chopped San Marzano Tomatoes
- 1/4 Cup Tomato Paste
- 1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
- Salt & Pepper
- 1/3 Cup Chopped Parsley Leaves, Divided
- 1/4 Cup Chopped Fresh Basil, Divided
- 1 Medium Eggplant, Peeled & Cut Into 3/4 Inch Dice
- 1 Pound Portobello Mushrooms, Cut Into 3/4 Inch Dice
- 1 Pound Pasta of Choice (See Notes Above)
- Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese
- Soak the mushroom in the hot water for 30 minutes.
- While the mushrooms are soaking, place have the olive oil in a large heavy bottom saucepan over medium heat until lightly smoking.
- Add the onion, carrots, and celery, and cook until tender, about 8 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cook another minute or two until fragrant.
- Add the red wine, and cook until it has reduced by half.
- Drain the porcini mushrooms reserving the liquid and finely chop.
- Add the chopped porcini and strained porcini liquid to the pot along with the tomatoes, tomato paste, and stir to mix well.
- Add the dried oregano, salt and pepper and half the parsley and basil.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
- In a large frying pan, heat half the remaining oil over medium heat and cook the eggplant until it is golden brown, about 10 minutes.
- Add the eggplant to the sauce pot and cook the portobello mushrooms in the same pan using the last of the oil, stirring often, until the mushrooms are golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes.
- Add the mushrooms to the pot.
- Cook the sauce for another hour or until it is very thick and rich in flavor.
- Stir in the remaining chopped basil and parsley.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the pasta until it is “al dente”.
- Drain the pasta, reserving a small cup of the pasta water.
- Return the pasta to the pot along with a couple of scoops of the sauce and toss for a minute or two over high heat until piping hot, loosening the sauce with a little of the pasta water if needed.
- Spoon the pasta into individual bowls with a scoop of sauce on each, and serve immediately, offering the grated cheese at the table.