I’ve been on more of a pasta kick than usual since we’ve been quarantined at home, and I don’t feel the slightest bit bad about it. Especially when we’re talking about this vegetarian pasta bolognese that is my new favorite way to eat it.
Pasta is comforting and nourishing—it’s like a hug wrapped up around each twirl of your fork—and the fact that it’s a pantry staple that can be easily reinvented with sauces, herbs, veggies, and cheeses makes it a perfect food for right now. There’s a reason why most Italians eat pasta once a day, manage to stay overall pretty healthy, and have an undeniable zest for life. Mediterranean diet, anyone?
Anyway, I’ve been looking for a good vegetarian bolognese recipe for a while and couldn’t find one online that I liked, so I started experimenting with my own. I have to admit that I surprised even myself with how delicious this one came together. The veggies, herbs, and tomato sauce marinate together on the stove until it all gets a richness that’s incredibly satisfying and, dare I say, meaty?
I have a hunch that some of you may check out when you see the word “tofu” in the ingredients list but hear me out. Tofu is the best vegetarian ingredient for “scrambling” into something that shares the consistency of ground beef. It’s all about infusing it with tons of seasoning since it basically takes on the flavors of whatever ingredients it absorbs. In this recipe, the tofu shares a pan with onions, garlic, s & p, and Italian seasoning, and when you let it cook enough to get a little charred, it becomes a completely different food than that sponge-y stuff you first got out of the package. (Plus, we’re just using a little bit here, people… so don’t knock it ’til you try it.)
I like to dice the onions, carrots, celery, and mushroom pretty small so that when they cook down, they take on the consistency of a traditional bolognese sauce with ground meat. You can serve with a good spaghetti, bucatini, or fettuccine cooked al dente. Or if you’re really feeling the veg, toss it with some zucchini noodles! I personally like to do half zoodles/half spaghetti for a super healthy version that still totally satisfies my carb cravings. And as often happens for me, this recipe is made by the toppings.
Tons of freshly grated parmesan, basil leaves, and a sprinkle of flaky salt and freshly ground pepper make me want to dive right into this bowl.
This bolognese recipe makes a lot of sauce, and thankfully it freezes beautifully. I scoop it into 2-cup storage containers and pop it in the freezer for up to two months. When I’m ready to eat, I let it thaw overnight in the fridge, then reheat gently over medium-low on the stovetop, stirring once in a while and adding a little water and olive oil to loosen everything up. The thawed version tastes pretty much just like the original, so if you have certain family members who don’t love meals that have been frozen (ahem, my husband Adam) they’ll never know.
Scroll on for the recipe, and let me know in the comments if you give this one a try. I’d love to hear what you think!
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 package extra-firm tofu
- 1 onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 large carrots, chopped
- 2 celery ribs, chopped
- 2 cups chopped mushrooms (button or cremini)
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 28-ounce can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 pound whole wheat spaghetti (or pasta / zoodles of your choice)
- for topping: lots of freshly grated parmesan, basil leaves, salt and pepper
- Drain the tofu between paper towels for 10 minutes, squeezing out as much excess water as possible. Crumble into small pieces and set aside.
- In a large dutch oven, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat, then add onion, garlic, carrots, celery, mushrooms, crumbled tofu, salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning. Stir everything together, and cook until vegetables are softened and tofu is turning golden/brown, about 20 minutes. (The mixture will start out looking way too wet, and by this point it should have mostly dried out and developed some caramelization, and tofu should be crumbly, not mushy.)
- Add tomatoes and sugar, then let simmer over medium-low heat, partially covered, for 45 minutes. Stir in butter.
- Cook pasta according to package directions, divide among bowls, then top with bolognese, parmesan, and basil. Season with salt and pepper, and eat!