Vegan Mushroom Bolognese

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One thing I’ve missed since I mostly stopped eating meat is Bolognese sauce, so umami and rich, with a satisfying chewy texture. I also miss the combination of a meaty sauce with those very broad noodles called pappardelle. I remember eating them with a wild boar ragù in Lucca in 1985. We found the restaurant by asking a passerby—a middle-aged woman in a suit—for a good place to eat lunch, and soon found ourselves in a cozy osteria with walls hung with tapestries and a vast wine display.

So here is a recipe (serves about 4)  that will surprise you—the first time I served it to a friend she said, “Are you sure there’s no meat?”

1 pound tofu, extra firm/high protein or equivalent pressed (the less water in what you start with, the less frying time)

¼ cup olive oil (you may need more)

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 tbs. smoked paprika

½ small can tomato paste (2-3 tbs.)

(optional) a few drops Liquid Smoke

(optional) red pepper flakes (if you like a touch of heat)

1 ½ ounces dried porcini mushrooms (about 1 cup), covered in boiling water, then finely chopped in food processor

6 ounces fresh shitake mushrooms, diced or minced

Salt and pepper

8 ounces raw cashews, covered with water and simmered until soft (about 20 minutes)

4 cloves garlic

Red wine (as desired or needed) or water

To serve: fresh chopped parsley and grated parmesan cheese

Heat olive oil in large deep skillet and crumble in the tofu. Fry until all of it turns golden brown, and about half of the crumbles have crisp edges. Add chopped onion and smoked paprika and cook until onion is soft and moisture has evaporated. Add fresh mushrooms, cook five more minutes, then add dried, soaked, minced porcini and the grit-free soaking liquid.

To prevent grit from dried mushrooms getting into your food, lift the mushrooms out of the hot water into the food processor, and let the liquid in the soaking container settle. Then carefully pour off the top 90% into another container. Discard the last 10% and grit at the bottom.

My wife doesn’t like the texture of mushrooms, so I minced them in the food processor, but you can cut them into whatever size pieces you like as long as they are not bigger than the crumbled tofu. Add more olive oil if the mixture looks dry. You might need to use another ¼ cup.

Puree the simmered cashews, garlic, and water in a blender. The mixture should look like a milk shake. Add red wine (or more water) if it’s too thick.  Stir this into the tofu-mushroom mixture and cook for about five minutes until well blended. The cashew cream absorbs any grease from the sauce and it also adds protein, but it doesn’t add flavor, so add salt and pepper to taste, and add Liquid Smoke and red pepper flakes if you like. Add more red wine (or water) until the sauce is the right consistency for your pasta, but be sure to cook off the alcohol so the sauce doesn’t taste boozy. (If you’re making vegan Bolognese lasagna and don’t want to use ricotta cheese, you can use this cashew cream (salted) as a separate layer over the tofu-mushroom mixture, instead of combining them.)

The pappardelle pictured are made with eggs from a friend’s chickens—Thank you, Lynn! although of course you can use any kind of pasta. I love America’s Test Kitchen recipe because it’s easy to work with and egg-rich, which makes it full of flavor, too. For 3-4  servings: 5 ounces of flour (OK to include fine semolina or high protein flour but add another egg yolk); 1 egg, plus 3 egg yolks, 1 Tbs. olive oil. Let rest (wrapped in plastic) at least an hour and up to four hours. Roll out by hand or through a machine. Cut into 1 ½ inch noodles and boil in very well salted water. Because the sauce is so meaty, I like the noodles a tad thicker than if the sauce were lighter—5 on an Atlas machine as opposed to the last setting of 6.

Please let me know if you have questions or what you think if you try this!

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