I know this seems sacrilegious -- to make bolognese without meat, but I just had to offer up a vegetarian version of this dish. I created a version that uses chicken thighs and mushrooms, which is a family favorite. However, I wanted to go one step further an omit the meat and poultry all together.
Mushrooms are not my favorite thing to eat, but in a dish like this, they offer that meatiness and umami flavor that is greatly desired. Even though I know mushrooms are present in the sauce, they aren't hitting me over the head with their presence.
This sauce requires about 2-3 hours of simmering time for the flavors to develop. You could make this in a crockpot set on low over 8 hours. It's delicious over pasta or polenta. And definitely serve with a glass of chianti and crusty bread.
You won't miss the meat here. Trust me.
*For this recipe, I love to use a food processor to chop up the vegetables. You can pulse the onions and garlic together until finely chopped; same with the mushrooms.
Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and pour the hot water over. All the mushrooms to soften, about 15-20 minutes. Drain and reserve the mushroom water and the mushrooms. Finely chop the rehydrated mushrooms. Set aside until ready to use.
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic; sauté for 5-7 minutes. Add the rosemary and season lightly with salt and pepper; sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add the crimini and porcini mushrooms. Reduce heat slightly to medium low and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste; cook for 3-4 minutes (helps bring out the flavor). Deglaze with the red wine; allow to reduce slightly. Pour in the tomatoes and rinse the can out with about a cup of water. Add the tomato water to the mixture. Stir in the mushroom water. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Reduce heat to low. Simmer for 2-3 hours. The sauce will reduce by about a third. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve with pasta or polenta.
The Basics: How to Boil Water ...
Ok, so this more than just boiling water. It's about making spaghetti with homemade marinara sauce. My assumption is, you probably already know how to boil water and cook pasta. However, there might be someone in the crowd who doesn't understand the process, so let me break it down for you.
Here are some simple tips for boiling water and pasta
Pasta with Marinara Sauce
Bring a pot of water to a boil. As you are waiting for the water to boil, begin making the sauce.
Place the olive oil, red pepper flakes, and garlic in a cold sauté pan or skillet. Place the pan on the stove over medium heat. Doing this helps infuse the flavors of the red pepper flakes and garlic into the oil. Once the garlic begins to sizzle, add the tomato paste. Stir it around and cook for 1 minute. Add the red wine; cook for 1 minute. About half of the wine will cook off. Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper (about ½ teaspoon of each). Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings. At this point, you have a choice to leave the sauce chunky or puree it for a smoother sauce. I chose to puree half of the sauce using a hand blender (do this in a deep bowl, to prevent wearing the sauce). You can also use a regular blender or food processor. Once I pureed the sauce, I returned it back to the pan and added the basil.
Once the water begins to boil, add a hefty pinch of salt to the water and add the pasta. Cook pasta according to package directions, but reduce the cooking time by 1 minute.
Drain the pasta, reserving a ½ cup pasta water. Add the pasta and pasta water to the sauce. Cook for 2-3 minutes over medium low heat. Serve with bread and parmesan cheese.
Originating from Bologna in Italy, traditional bolognese is a slow cooked meat sauce made with beef or a combination of beef and pork (and sometimes veal). Since I'm a dietitian, I always look for ways to make recipes healthier and steer away from beef whenever possible. I save beef consumption for special meals (like an all-beef chili or a filet mignon) and will only use grass-fed beef in these preparations. Grass-fed beef tends to be pricier than grain-fed beef, especially if you live in the Midwest, like me, making it a special occasion treat for us.
So, when it comes to making a slow-cooked meat sauce to serve over pasta, I had to find ways to make it just as hearty and tasty as the traditional recipe. The secret: Mushrooms. Mushrooms contain a flavor profile called "umami," which is a savory taste, almost meat-like. MSG (monosodium glutamate) contains the "umami" flavor, along with soy sauce, both of which add depth of flavor to dishes. Mushrooms are the ultimate umami flavor enhancer in recipes when you want to forego beef and pork. By adding mushrooms to the recipe, you add that savory, meat-like flavor that beef provides but with way less calories and fat. Chicken thighs are added as a meat component in this recipe. To chop the chicken thighs, you don't need a meat grinder but rather, use your food processor. In fact, use your food processor for all the chopping of the vegetables, too.
As with the traditional recipe, this recipe needs to cook for 2-3 hours to develop in flavor. You will also need wine - both for the recipe and for drinking as the sauce cooks (of course!). Choose an Italian wine like a Chianti or Sangiovese (or even a Barolo or Barbaresco if you want to go that route).
Chicken and Mushroom Bolognese
Put the chicken thighs into the bowl of a food processor, pulse several times until the chicken is finely ground. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the ground chicken to the oil and begin to brown. Chop the onions and garlic in the food processor until chopped fine, about 15-20 pulses. Add the onions and garlic to the meat. Sauté for 3-5 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Finely chop the mushrooms in the food processor. Add the mushrooms to the meat mixture. Sauté for another 3-5 minutes. Add the tomato paste; cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the red wine, tomatoes, and bay leaf. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for about 3 hours.
Taste the sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper. About 30 minutes before the sauce is done, cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente. Drain and add about a 1/4 cup of the pasta water to the sauce. Add the pasta to the sauce; toss to coat well.
Serve the pasta with crusty bread and grated Parmesan cheese.
How to Peel Tomatoes and Make Fresh Tomato Salsa
This is the first in a series of posts titled “The Basics” dedicated to teaching basic cooking techniques.
It’s tomato season! Real tomatoes are available at a farmer’s market near you, so do not purchase those flavorless, mushy tomatoes at the grocery store. Just don’t do it. The ones sold in the store are picked when they are green and then forced to ripen while in transit to the nearest food distribution center. Ew. Gross.
If you want a tomato that actually tastes like a tomato, you have to grow it yourself or buy from a farmer/grower. Or steal the ones from your neighbor’s garden. Don’t worry, I won’t tell. Use only the freshest, ripest tomatoes for this recipe. Any tomato variety will work, although I love using heirloom varieties the most (very meaty and full of flavor). Roma tomatoes can be very juicy, so I like to reserve these for tomato sauce. But any garden variety of tomato (beef steak, etc) will work for salsa.
To start off, you need to learn to peel the potatoes. Don’t worry, it’s easy. You can use this same method for peeling peaches (a delicious peach pie recipe is coming to this blog very soon).
How to Peel Tomatoes:
How to make Fresh Tomato Salsa:
I like to use a blender for this, but you can chop everything up by hand for a chunkier salsa or use a food processor. The quantities listed in the recipe are estimates and can be adjusted for your own tastes.
In a blender, add the onions, garlic, jalapenos, cilantro, and half of the tomatoes. Blend for about 20 seconds or until the vegetables are finely chopped. Pour into a bowl. Blend the rest of tomatoes if desired or roughly chop them up if you want a chunkier consistency. Stir in the lime juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for about 1 hour before serving to allow the flavors to develop.