Vegan Bolognese Sauce

Vegan Bolognese: warm, savory and comforting, this pasta sauce is sure to be a plant based meal staple in your home. Using several umami elements, a slight sweetness and deep complex flavors capture the satisfaction usually found in this italian sauce, without the meat or dairy. It does take some time to prepare, but that is an essential part of true Italian cooking- that and well sourced ingredients! To make the most of your time, double the recipe and use your slow cooker to do most of the cooking.

Challenge Weeks: 1-13

Seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall

Prep Time: 30 minutes.

Cook Time: 30-60 minutes.

Makes: 8 servings.

Ingredients

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 medium yellow onion 

2 medium sized bell peppers

1 celery stalk 

3 cloves of garlic, smashed & chopped

1 Tbsp thyme leaves roughly chopped

10 g (about 3-4) dried Shiitake or porcini mushrooms, reconstituted 

3 Tbsp mushroom soaking water

454 g (1 lb) mushrooms

1 Tbsp sugar free tomato paste

1 cup vegetable broth, cold

1 Tbsp of apple cider vinegar or cranberry juice

2 Tbsp coconut aminos

400 g (14 oz) can of chopped Italian plum tomatoes

salt and pepper to taste

Parsley and nutritional yeast to garnish (optional)

4 zucchinis for noodles (or prefered alternative)

Instructions

There are several steps involved in preparing this dish before it all comes together: the base, the soffritto, the flavorings and the noodles. For this recipe we take advantage of the food processor for both our mushroom base and soffritto vegetables, to ensure everything is finely and evenly minced. Flavorings come from the right tomatoes, fresh herbs, garlic, umami sauces, and of course, salt. I chose to use young zucchinis to make my noodles here, however butternut squash, spaghetti squash, or your favorite plant base. The flavor of dried mushrooms is concentrated and intense, and the texture is good and meaty. Like fresh mushrooms, they’re terrific in everything from soups to sauces to sautés.

Before using dried mushrooms in a recipe, even if it’s a soup or a stew, it’s best to rehydrate them in hot water. This is necessary for two reasons: First, it plumps up the mushrooms, and, as a bonus, the soaking liquid creates a flavorful broth, which you can incorporate into a dish much as you would any other kind of broth. Second, soaking also helps remove grit from the mushrooms that would otherwise spoil your dish.

Versatile, affordable dried shiitakes are my go-to mushroom. Their meaty texture and smoky flavor is great on its own or paired with other varieties. Look for shiitakes with thick brown caps ridged with white. The stems can be woody, so trim them off and discard after soaking.

Weight down the mushrooms with a small plate so the mushrooms are submerged. (If you’re using smaller or larger amounts of mushrooms, just use enough water to completely submerge them). Soak until they’re plumped and softened, about 20 minutes (some varieties might take longer). Use a slotted spoon to transfer the mushrooms to a cutting board, squeezing any excess liquid from the mushrooms back into the soaking liquid. Let cool. Remove and discard any tough stems. Coarsely chop the mushrooms. Strain the soaking liquid through a coffee filter or paper towel set in a sieve.

Wine is incorporated to add acidity, sugar, depth of flavor, or brightness to a dish. Other times its purpose is to provide moisture, tenderize meat, or to deglaze a pan. In this case we will substitute the pinot noir that is usually added to a bolognese with vegetable broth and a touch of vinegar. This enables you to add moisture, flavor, acidity, depth of flavor and deglaze your pan.

Deglazing is a fancy and intimidating word that means to pour some cold liquid into a very hot pan to get up all the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Those brown bits, called ‘fond’ are where all the flavors are. To complete this step properly, add cold broth to the hot pan. The liquid will come up to boiling very quickly, bringing up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. 

Using a spoon or spatula, scrape up the fond as the liquid boils. Once the fond is dispersed throughout the liquid, turn down the heat

We prefer plum or roma tomatoes for making sauces, because its water content is relatively low, so it yields a thick sauce. The San Marzano tomato is a plum tomato, thin and pointed, which is grown near Napoli. Its bittersweet taste makes it perfectly suited to a variety of dishes and they are beloved across the world. Italian tomatoes are so good because the volcanic soil and nearby sea provide an ideal environment for tomato plants. 

Begin by soaking your dried mushrooms in boiling water for at least 20 minutes. Before beginning to cook, remove the mushrooms from the boiling water, reserving the soaking water, and roughly chop the wild mushrooms. 

Place a large saucepan over a medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the minced onion, peppers and celery, seasoning with salt and cooking until slightly they are golden and caramelized.

Next, add the processed (or minced) fresh mushrooms, stirring constantly until browned and softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme, and cook for 2 minutes until the garlic is fragrant.

Add the gourmet mushrooms along with the tomato paste to the pan and increase the heat to medium-high, stirring constantly so the paste doesn’t burn. Add the broth, vinegar, mushroom soaking liquid and coconut aminos. Cook until the broth has almost evaporated before adding the tinned tomatoes and season with pepper, if preferred.

Move the frying pan to your smallest burner, cover and reduce the heat to low, simmering for 30 minutes to 1 hour until the sauce is thick and rich. 

Check and stir the sauce occasionally to make sure it isn’t catching.

Remove from the heat and have a taste. Adjust the seasonings as necessary. 

As the sauce is cooking, spiralize your zucchini noodles (or prepare substitute). Place zoodles in a colander and sprinkle with salt. 

Just before the sauce is ready, add your zoodles to the saucepan and stir with sauce to combine. Divide between 4 bowls to serve. For single servings, toss noodles with sauce in a bowl right before serving.

Top with nutritional yeast and chopped parsley to garnish.

Enjoy your new vegan bolognese sauce recipe!

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