This bolognese is rich, hearty, velvety, deeply savoury and probably every other positive adjective in existence. It calls for few ingredients, little time and can be doubled (or tripled) for batch cooking.
This bolognese isn't just great as a vegan version of bolognese, it's great full stop. Although I love all the recipes I make - like any good parent that loves their children equally - this is the one that I would choose to make for my very Italian father, which says something. It's so rich and multi layered in flavour, it's glossy, it's velvety, it clings to every piece and strand of pasta - it's perfect. Before I even starting planning this recipe, I knew there were a couple elements I would adopt from a classic bolognese. The first of these was using a soffritto - a mix of very finely chopped celery, carrots and onions - used in many cuisines (and very heavily in Italian cooking) as a base for most soups, sauces and stews. Although traditionally chopped by hand you'll see the recipe calls for the celery, carrots and onion to be pulsed in a food processor, which is a fast and easy way to ensure the aromatics are broken down into small enough pieces to add flavour yet not be detected in the final sauce. If you enjoy chopping and prefer to do it by hand however, go for it - just make sure the pieces are a very fine dice.
Something else you might notice is that the recipe doesn't call for any tinned tomatoes nor passata. The bolognese - and a lot of traditional bolognese - gets all of its tomato flavour from tomato paste, which adds body and richness without diluting the sauce and flavour of the other ingredients. It also includes plant based milk, which rounds out and balances the acidity and richness of the tomato. I like to use a high-fat milk for this, such as Oatly whole or barista, as it makes for a creamier rather than runny sauce. Speaking of fat, one of the post important things in this recipe (and Italian cooking in general), is to not shy away from olive oil - it's there for a reason! It's especially important in plant based cooking, which is pretty lean due to vegetables and plant proteins being naturally low in fat. Using enough olive oil gives plant based sauces and stews the richness and depth they're sometimes missing, and also helps achieve a glossy, silky texture.
1 white onion
5 tbsp olive oil
600g mushrooms (such as chestnut or cremini)
1 tsp salt
100g tomato paste
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
250ml plant based milk
2 bay leaves
400g pappardelle, tagliatelle or rigatoni
Chop the celery, carrots and onion into large pieces and transfer them to a food processor. Mix for 1 minute, until the mixture is finely minced and broken down. Transfer the minced veg to a bowl and set aside.
Heat olive oil in a large heavy set pot over medium heat. Add the minced soffritto and cook for 12-15 minutes, adding ½ tsp salt half way through, until the soffritto has halved in size and starts sticking to the bottom of the pot.
In the meantime, prepare the mushrooms. Once wiped clean, add half of the mushrooms to a food processor and pulse until finely minced. Transfer them to a bowl. Add the second half of mushrooms to the processor and pulse until just broken down.
Add all the mushrooms to the pot and stir to combine. Cook the mushrooms for 15-18 minutes, adding another ½ tsp salt, until any liquid has cooked down and the mushrooms have halved in size.
Add tomato paste and balsamic vinegar and cook for 4-5 minutes. Stir in plant based milk and bay leaves, lower the heat and simmer for 8-10 minutes.
In the meantime, cook pasta in salted boiling water according to package instructions. Reserve 150ml of cooking water before draining the pasta. Drain the pasta and add it to the pot with the ragu.
Working over medium heat, stir the pasta into the ragu, adding reserved pasta water as you go along, until the pasta is glossy and coated.
Remove the bay leaves before serving. Divide the pasta amongst 4 bowls and serve topped with vegan parmesan (optional) and an extra drizzle of olive oil.
Valentina is our Food Creative, who dreams up our tasty dishes and recipes for our social channels. She has loads of experience cooking up a storm in Italian kitchens, so it’s no surprise she can’t live without good-quality olive oil (don’t come between her and her olive oil) and fresh pasta.