There are few things in life more comforting than a bowl of pasta topped with a hearty sauce. And while we’re hard-pressed to say no to spaghetti and meatballs, these days we’re making room on our dinner tables for more meatless meals. This Mushroom and Walnut Bolognese is our meat-free take on a familiar classic.
Plant-based dinners don’t have to mean obscure ingredients and wacky techniques. The key to success is using familiar, versatile ingredients and building flavors. The bulk of the sauce is made up of meaty (yet meatless!) cremini mushrooms and simmered together with other expected red-sauce ingredients. A hefty dose of California walnuts adds both flavor and structure to the sauce.
Building a flavor foundation starts with taking the time to really brown the mushrooms. Then you add aromatic vegetables, red wine, herbs, and seasonings to layer on the flavor. Canned tomatoes are stirred in along with the chopped walnuts. Not just an afterthought, a full cup of walnuts is an important addition that provides welcomed texture and omega-3.
Spoon over cooked pasta and grate over vegan Parmesan-style cheese, and dinner is as equally satisfying as it is nutritious.
Mushroom and Walnut Bolognese
MAKES – 8 cups sauce *** SERVES – 8 to 10
1 pound cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 cup California walnut halves (4 ounces)
1 medium onion, cut into eighths
2 medium carrots, cut into eighths
2 medium celery stalks, quartered
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more for serving
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 cup dry red wine, such as merlot or pinot noir
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes, crushed
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
1 pound dry pasta, such as rigatoni or tagliatelle, cooked according to package directions
For serving: fresh basil, vegan Parmesan-style cheese, or nutritional yeast
1. Place 1/2 of the mushrooms in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse until coarsely chopped, 5 to 7 (1-second) pulses. Transfer to a medium bowl and repeat with the remaining mushrooms; set aside. Do not wash the food processor.
2. Place the California walnuts in the food processor and pulse until the consistency of coarse sand, 5 to 7 (1-second) pulses. Transfer to a small bowl; set aside. Again, do not wash the food processor.
3. Place the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic in the food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped, 8 to 10 (1-second) pulses.
4. Heat the oil and red pepper flakes in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the mushrooms and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they release their moisture, are deeply browned, and their volume is reduced by 2/3, about 15 minutes.
5. Add the chopped vegetable mixture and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook the vegetables until softened and the onions are translucent but not browned about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook until it is completely incorporated with the mushrooms and deepens in color, 30 seconds to 1 minute.
6. Add the bay leaf and Italian seasoning, then pour in the wine and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Simmer until the wine evaporates, about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and their juices, crushing the tomatoes with your hands before adding to the pot, tamari or soy sauce, and ground California walnuts. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up the tomatoes, for 20 minutes.
7. Serve over cooked pasta with fresh basil, vegan Parmesan-style cheese or nutritional yeast, and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes.