One of the great joys of true Bolognese is the aroma wafting through the kitchen as it’s being prepared, and this Very Veggie “Bolognese” Sauce does not disappoint. It is reminiscent of the original Bolognese, an Italian slow-cooked meat based sauce traditionally served over tagliatelle. Here, the cauliflower, mushrooms and walnuts give the sauce its meaty consistency. The red wine, red miso paste and tamari create a depth of flavor that rivals the meat based sauce. It takes a little longer than many of the recipes on this site, so consider doubling it and freezing a batch for later when you don’t have time to cook.
Very Veggie “Bolognese” Sauce
- Large heavy pot
- Wooden spoon
- ½ cup finely diced carrots
- 1 medium onion finely diced
- ½ cup finely diced celery
- 2 cups riced cauliflower If using fresh cauliflower, place florets in a food processor and process until cauliflower is the size and texture of rice.
- 1 cup small diced cremini mushrooms Cremini mushrooms are also called baby bella.
- 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
- ¼ cup coarsely chopped walnuts
- ¾ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ¼ teaspoon dried sage
- ¼ teaspoon dried rosemary
- ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 ½ cups dry red wine such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot or pinot noir
- 1 Tablespoon red miso You'll need to make sure that the miso paste is gluten-free if you're following a gluten-free diet.
- 1 Tablespoon low sodium gluten free tamari or soy sauce, liquid aminos or coconut aminos
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 (28) ounce can/box crushed tomatoes
- 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 cup cashew milk or other non-dairy milk
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Heat a large heavy pot over medium high heat. Add 2 to 3 Tablespoons of water. When the water bubbles, add the carrots, onions, and celery. Stir with a wooden spoon until the onions are soft and translucent and the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add small amounts of water as needed to keep the vegetables from sticking to the pan.
- Add the cauliflower and mushrooms and continue to cook the vegetables for 5 minutes. Add small amounts of water as needed to keep the vegetables from sticking to the pan.
- Add the tomato paste and continue stirring until the paste is incorporated fully.
- Add the walnuts, oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, red pepper flakes and garlic and continue stirring for about 30 seconds.
- Stir in the red wine, bring to a simmer and continue cooking until the wine is reduced by half.
- Add the red miso, tamari(or alternative), paprika,tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, bay leaves and cashew milk. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and continue cooking for 30-45 minutes.
- Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
- Remove and discard the bay leaves before serving.
You’ll need the the following ingredients for this Very Veggie “Bolognese” Sauce (See the recipe for specifics.)…
- Cauliflower(As a timesaver, you can also use frozen riced cauliflower for this recipe.)
- Cremini mushrooms
- Tomato paste
- Oregano, dried
- Thyme, dried
- Sage, dried
- Rosemary, dried
- Red pepper flakes
- Dry red wine
- Red miso(You’ll need to make sure that the miso paste is gluten-free if you’re following a gluten-free diet.
- Low sodium gluten free tamari(or soy sauce, coconut aminos or liquid aminos)
- Crushed tomatoes
- Balsamic vinegar
- Bay leaves
- Cashew or other non-dairy milk(I prefer the creaminess of cashew milk.)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Make the recipe…
If you are using frozen riced cauliflower, you can skip this step. If using fresh cauliflower, break up a head of cauliflower into florets.
Place the florets in a food processor and pulse until the cauliflower is broken up into pieces about the size of rice kernels. Place any unused cauliflower in a freezer safe container and freeze for later use.
Heat a large heavy pot over medium high heat. Add 2 to 3 Tablespoons of water. When the water bubbles, add the carrots, onions, and celery. Stir with a wooden spoon until the onions are soft and translucent and the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add small amounts of water as needed to keep the vegetables from sticking to the pan.
Stir in the cauliflower and mushrooms and continue to cook the vegetables for 5 minutes. Add small amounts of water as needed to keep the vegetables from sticking to the pan.
Stir in the tomato paste and continue stirring until the paste is incorporated fully.
Add the walnuts, oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, red pepper flakes and garlic and continue stirring for about 30 seconds.
Stir in the red wine, bring to a simmer and continue cooking until the wine is reduced by half.
Add the red miso, tamari(or alternative), paprika, tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, bay leaves and cashew milk. If using whole tomatoes as I was here, break them up with a wooden spoon.(Note the recipe ingredient is crushed tomatoes.) Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and continue cooking for 30-45 minutes.
Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove and discard the bay leaves before serving.
This Very Veggie “Bolognese” is excellent with pasta of your choice or roasted spaghetti squash as shown in the photos below. Add a glass of red wine for a festive dinner.
Things you might like to know about this recipe…
In cooking school, I was taught not to wash mushrooms because they absorb water and will not brown properly. We were instructed to wipe them with wet paper towels. As somewhat of a germaphobe, I was never completely comfortable with this method.
I was delighted to see Cooks Illustrated’s analysis of cleaning and storing mushrooms. When they are whole, they absorb a minimum amount of water. If washing them whole, place them in the basket of a salad spinner. Rinse them thoroughly and then spin them until they are as dry as possible.. Wipe the mushrooms with a paper towel if any moisture remains.
I recommend buying mushrooms whole. If you purchase them pre-sliced, you will not be able to wash them without the mushrooms absorbing much of the water and then releasing that water into your pan.
Cremini mushrooms, also called baby bella mushrooms, are a younger version of portobello mushrooms. Both cremini and portobello mushrooms are brown in color and their caps are smooth. White mushrooms(also called button mushrooms) are from the same family but they are a less mature variety. Therefore all three mushrooms have a similar flavor, but as they age from white to cremini to portobello, their flavor intensifies.
All three mushrooms are widely available in grocery stores in the US. Cremini and portobello are generally more expensive than white(button) mushrooms. You can sub one of these mushrooms for another in recipes depending on your taste buds and their availability and cost.
Store the mushrooms in their original containers in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them. If you purchase them loose, store them in a paper bag also in the refrigerator. Do not wash them until you are ready to use them. See the note above about cleaning mushrooms.
Most recipes including this one measure garlic by cloves. There can be a very big difference in size from one garlic clove to the next. Experiment with the amount of garlic that you enjoy in your cooking, and adjust the amount used accordingly. Here’s a picture of cloves from one head of garlic to illustrate this point.
Miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans. It is a Japanese staple which has many varieties and adds a salty savoriness to recipes. A more detailed description of miso paste and its uses can be found here in an article by Sarah Jampel: “What is Miso, The Secret Ingredient in Every Healthyish Pantry.”
If you’re not familiar with cooking with miso, don’t hesitate to give it a try. It’s readily available in grocery stores and will bring great depth of flavor to your dishes. Because it is a “preservative food”, it will last a long time in your refrigerator.
There are many different nut milks(coconut, almond, cashew, hazelnut) at the supermarket today, and you can easily make them from scratch. The nut milk that you choose should be based upon the recipe that you’re preparing and your anticipated outcome(taste and mouthfeel). I prefer cashew milk for this recipe. My second choice would be almond milk.
Riced cauliflower is cauliflower that is cut into very small pieces to look like rice, and it is a great low carb alternative to rice. It can be prepared and served as a side dish, as a substitute for rice in recipes like stir fries and rice bowls, or to add meat-like texture to vegan/vegetarian recipes. It is even used to make pizza crust and garlic bread. Riced cauliflower is available in the produce and frozen sections of the grocery store and you can easily make it from scratch.
Break up a head of cauliflower into florets. Place the florets in a food processor and pulse until the cauliflower is broken up into pieces about the size of rice kernels. Use immediately or place any unused cauliflower in a freezer safe container and freeze for later use.
Soy Sauce, Tamari, Liquid Aminos, Coconut Aminos?
Soy sauce contains soybeans and wheat, therefore it is not gluten free. It is very high in sodium, but there are low sodium alternatives.
Tamari contains soybeans but has little or no wheat. If avoiding gluten, check the label carefully to make sure that it does not contain wheat. It is also very high in sodium, but there are low sodium alternatives.
Bragg’s Liquid Aminos is made with soybeans, but it is wheat free and therefore gluten free. It is high in sodium.
Coconut Aminos contain raw, coconut tree sap and sun-dried sea salt. It is soy free and gluten free and lower in sodium than soy sauce, tamari and liquid aminos.
As always, check labels carefully to be sure what you are consuming.
Tomato paste is tomatoes cooked down to a concentrated paste with the seeds and skins strained out. It can add a tremendous amount of flavor to a dish. Here’s a great article on tomato paste and how to use it.
Tomato paste in a can is fairly perishable once opened and placed in the refrigerator. In many recipes, you’ll only need a tablespoon or two so if using a can, you’ll have a lot left over. Here’s another great article on how to freeze your leftover tomato paste for later use. Another alternative is to buy tomato paste in a tube which will last much longer in the refrigerator once opened. Some brands to look for are Amore, Cento, Trader Joe’s and Mutti.
My preference is to avoid the calories in oils whenever possible. Although some oils are healthier than others, one tablespoon contains about 120 calories. Sautéing with water or broth instead of oil is a great way to save those calories. In the context of this recipe, the flavor will not be affected.
Heat your pan on high and add about ¼ cup of water. Reduce the heat to medium and add the ingredient(s) to sauté. Stir constantly until they reach the doneness that your recipe requires. For example, if you are sautéing onions, you will most often want them to be soft and translucent before adding other ingredients. Continue adding a small amount of water as needed to keep the ingredient(s) from sticking to the pan.
You might also enjoy my interpretation of another classic Italian dish.