The mushrooms looked so very tempting in my local Winco the other day that I bought a few. Well, a lot. Probably too many. Truth? I filled up one of my drawstring produce bags. The large-ish one. As I dumped them out on the kitchen counter, my 'inner mom voice' said something like "did you leave any for other people?" That's what pandemic shopping and shortages hath wrought.
It didn't take long for a plan to emerge: Bolognese sauce. Yeah. Hearty and comforting for the winter days. This is where the brilliance of 'batch cooking' shines. Make enough of something like this, and it will serve you well throughout the week! Over pasta - oooh, like some wide, whole wheat Pappardelle. On a baked sweet potato. Scooped up with Naan or any bread you like, with a salad. As a foundation for some ravioli's.
As you can see, above, making the Bolognese also gave me the excuse - like I need one! - to open a bottle of my favorite quaffing Red: Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais, from Kermit Lynch. I usually buy it at Whole Foods, but when they're out, I order from Kermit Lynch in Berkeley, California. The recipe requires it. Ahem.
Getting back to the sauce, do you know the difference between a spaghetti sauce and a Bolognese? The only reason I know, is that my son-in-law is Italian. Snort. Actually, a spaghetti sauce is simply a lighter, tomato-based sauce for the thinner pasta we call spaghetti. A Bolognese (from the Bologna region of Italy) on the other hand, is a thicker, richer ragù. "What's a ragù?", you ask. Well, it's a meat sauce that's simmered over low heat until it gets thick and lovely. But, since we don't roll with the animal products here, mushrooms are a perfectly wonderful stand-in. Additionally, a Bolognese sauce is traditionally served over a wider pasta - like a Tagliatelle. Or, even Lasagna. I happened to have the Pappardelle, so that's what I used instead. The Bolognese sauce is so rich and thick that it needs the support from the wider pasta.
But, let's get cracking on how to make this big, rich, bad boy of a ragù.
The aroma of a giant pile of chopped mushrooms is one of my favorite things in this world. And, it just looks really neat, don't you think? But, you'll want at least two cups of chopped mushrooms. Three cups isn't gonna hurt anything. Any variety you like. Next time, I might try this with wild mushrooms.
Next, dice up your carrot, onion and garlic. This type of dish - requiring diced carrots, like I've shown above - is good reason to buy larger, fatter carrots. The bigger and fatter give you room to play. With really big ones, I'll slice off the rounded sides, and cut planks that are about ¼-inch thick. Then, halve the planks lengthwise. Turn them, and dice away. Smaller carrots? Just slice them in half lengthwise, turn and slice each half lengthwise again. Dice.
But, buying those little 'baby' carrots in a bag? Really? Those aren't good for much. They don't have enough 'real estate' to give you options.
As always, set up your workspace. Get all your ingredients prepped, cut, measured and ready. I had a bumper crop of tomatoes last summer, so I've got a lot of jars of my own home-grown tomatoes to use.
Seitan. I had a hunk leftover in my deli tray. My homemade Seitan kills. It's delicious. When I'm cutting it up for sandwiches (or whatever) I can't help but nibble on it. If you haven't made your own Seitan, you should try it. It's actually pretty simple and I've got the recipe and process for you. Make a bunch and freeze it. But, it's a nifty plant-based alternative to the traditional 'meat' in a Bolognese sauce. I chopped up the remaining hunk for this sauce.
Seasonings - in addition to onion and garlic - are an important part, of course. Round up the usual suspects, which in my case: Bouquet Garni Blend, Red Pepper Flakes, and Fennel seeds.
I grind my own Fennel in my mortar and pestle. About 30 seconds of grinding and the kitchen is filled with the incredible aroma of Fennel. The seeds should be ground as finely as you can.
I whipped up a bit of mushroom broth, using the Better Than Bouillon Mushroom Base. Wow. It adds the Umami depth bomb you're looking for in a sauce like this. If you love mushrooms, then have a couple jars of this in the pantry. It is essential for a mushroom gravy/sauce or a cream of mushroom soup.
Another item that I keep several of in my pantry: the tubes of Cento Tomato Paste. You can avoid a lot of waste by using these. A little here. A little there. Just put the cap back on and it lasts forever in the fridge. You don't have to worry with what to do with the opened half can of tomato paste. But, for this sauce, you'll want to squeeze an entire tube into the pan.
Do you see those bubbles? No, you don't need a drop of oil to successfully sauté mushrooms (or anything else for that matter!). These beauties are releasing aromatic juice that keeps them from sticking. Just keep moving them around the non-stick pan, and let them do their thing until they begin to brown. Remove them to a separate dish.
Now, sauté the onions, carrot and garlic. You'll want to add a bit of broth for this. Again, keep it moving and grooving, adding a bit of broth as needed. When the onions begin to look translucent, remove them to the same holding area as the mushrooms. The carrots will be al denté, but that's fine. They'll get a further chance to relax in the simmering.
Sauté your tomato paste. And, you'll think you're cooking it too long, when in reality, you need to keep going. Seriously. A dark, amber red is what you're going for. This step is about replacing the 'raw' taste with something richer, meatier.
You can toss the remaining herbs into the tomato paste while you cook it a few minutes more. This will open up the aromatics of the herbs. Once this is completed, add the wine to deglaze the pan, and cook off the alcohol for a couple more minutes. Now, you can add the mushrooms, vegetables and remaining broth to the party. Stir to combine.
If you're using Seitan, or another plant-based protein, now's the time to add it. Cover the sauce, and simmer for at least an hour over the lowest heat.
Here's a tip: Tomatoes vary in acidity. From crop to crop. By variety of tomato. This last year, mine were more acidic. Do what the chefs do. Add just enough brown sugar to round out the edges. What's enough? Taste it. You'll know. Usually it's a couple spoonfuls.
Hold on to your hat. This smells heavenly. You'll want to sit down with a very large spoon, some bread and hang a Do Not Disturb sign out for the family. Below? Yeah. Spinach and plant-milk Ricotta Raviolis on the warm Bolognese.
This is some seriously good food. BTW: it'll freeze just fine.
Hey, if you like or make this dish, would you mind posting the recipe to Yummly? I'd really appreciate that. The Yummly icon is on the right side of this webpage. Oh, and saving to Pinterest would also be great! Each photo should have a Pinterest icon in the upper left corner! Thanks!
This button will take you to PayPal where you can securely pop a bit in the 'tip jar'.