Vegetarian Bolognese

Bolognese is one of my favorite Italian dishes. The creamy, slow-simmered, and caramelized flavors offer the perfect balance of comfort food, elevated. I know that the entire concept of this vegetarian recipe is sort of sacrilegious, in that bolognese is literally a sauce made from meat. But you’ve got to trust me, this recipe is delicious!!

I chose to use white wine in this recipe rather than the traditional red wine. I felt that it really complimented the mushrooms, and overall lends to a more subtle flavor profile that a robust red wine would overtake. If you only have red, it will totally work, so don’t fret. But the white is really great in this case.

The mirepoix, a mixture of onion, celery, and carrot which is a foundational ingredient combo that originated in French cooking, is chopped using a food processor or high-speed blender to mimic the size and texture of ground beef pieces. The same technique applies to the mushrooms. If you don’t have a food-processor or blender, you can definitely achieve a similar texture chopping by hand, although it will take more time.

A few notes about the aromatics- the mirepoix and garlic in this recipe are mandatory in my opinion. You can get away without the bay leaf or nutmeg, however they do add dimension to the recipe, especially the nutmeg! I was the lucky recipient of a hand-me-down fresh nutmeg grinder from my Dad, which is why I call for fresh nutmeg in this recipe. You can find the whole spices at many grocery stores, but you may have better luck at bulk, specialty spice stores. If you find whole nutmeg and don’t have a fancy-dancy grinder like me, you can also grate it on a microplane. Or, just ignore me and use the pre-ground stuff.

This recipe is truly unique, and I really enjoy the mushrooms as a meatless alternative to a classic dish. I hope you love this riff on an old favorite, and if you make it, share your photos and tag me @theardentcook on Instagram!

Ingredients

2 TBSP olive oil, plus more

1 3.5oz container cremini mushrooms 

2 celery stalks

1 medium yellow onion

1 medium carrot

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup dry white wine 

1 6oz can tomato paste

1 Bay leaf 

Fresh nutmeg, a few turns 

2 cups vegetable stock 

⅔ cup heavy cream

⅓ cup pecorino romano, or similar cheese, plus more for serving

Salt and pepper, to taste

1lb short, holed pasta, such as rigatoni or penne, cooked Al dente

Instructions

  1. Make your mirepoix. In a food processor, pulse celery, onion, and carrot until finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl, then pulse mushrooms separately, until they are coarsely chopped, resembling the texture of ground beef. Transfer to another bowl. 
  2. In a Dutch oven or large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. When the oil shimmers, add mushrooms, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Saute for 5-6 minutes, stirring frequently. When mushrooms appear soft and some of their moisture has evaporated, push them to the outsides of the pot in a circle, leaving space in the middle clear. 
  3. Add mirepoix (celery, onion, and carrot mixture) to the clear space in the center of the mushrooms. Saute mirepoix for 4-5 minutes over the center of the pan, stirring frequently to avoid burning, until onions appear translucent and some of the moisture has sweat out of the mixture. Add garlic and stir for an additional minute. 
  4. Deglaze the pan with the wine and cook for 3 minutes, until some of the liquid has evaporated and it no longer has a pungent alcohol smell. Add entire can of tomato paste and stir to incorporate. 
  5. Add nutmeg, bay leaf, and another pinch of salt and pepper. Then add vegetable stock and heavy cream. Cook on low heat for at least 1.5 hours, if not longer. The liquid will reduce significantly and the sauce will become thicker and richer. Taste as you go and add salt and pepper as desired. 
  6. Once sauce reaches the desired thickness, stir in grated pecorino Romano and another swirl of olive oil. Serve over pasta immediately and enjoy with additional pecorino on top! 

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