It’s comfort food season and what better comfort food is there than a big bowl of pasta? This vegan version of a classic Italian meat sauce is hearty, satisfying, easy and packed with veggie goodness. I often make this bolognese pasta dish for a vegetarian client so going one step further and vegan-izing it was a cinch.
This plant-based version of “bolognese” starts off traditionally by sautéing onion, carrot and celery. Next comes garlic, spices, herbs and canned tomatoes. I use more tomato than a traditional bolognese, but I go heavy on the tomato because they’re a great source of plant-based umami (aka a savory/“meaty” flavor). Instead of whole milk, I use my go-to cashew cream made from blending cashews with water, but feel free to use 3/4 to 1 cup of any cream or cream substitute you like.
This is a good recipe to segue into one of my pro meal-prep tips for pasta dishes, whether serving immediately or storing in tupperware for clients to eat throughout the week. So you know how pasta absorbs a lot of sauce, so the pasta ends up being a bit dry and not as saucy as desired, especially if stored in the fridge for a few days? Here’s what I do anytime I make pasta and a saucy-sauce, like this “bolognese” with linguini. Cook the pasta to al dente in salted water, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water before draining. Before transferring the pasta into the sauce pot for tossing with the sauce, I first line my dish (serving or storage) with sauce. Not a ton, just a couple big ladle-fuls to cover the bottom. I then reserve a few ladle-fuls of sauce (about the same amount, maybe a bit more) and set aside. Now go ahead and toss your cooked pasta with the remaining sauce in the sauce pot. Add a splash of the pasta cooking water if needed, season with salt to taste. Now transfer the pasta into the storage or serving container and top with the reserved sauce. This way you don’t give the pasta a chance to absorb all of the moisture and the sauce is really able to maintain it’s integrity and shine.
Pasta with Vegan Bolognese-Style Sauce
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large carrots, peeled & diced
2 large celery ribs, diced
1 large sweet onion, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flake, for mild spice, optional
42 oz canned tomatoes (crushed or crushed/diced mix)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1.5 cups cooked chickpeas (1 can drained)
1.5 cups cooked green or brown lentils (1 can drained)
1/2 cup raw cashews*
1 lb long cut dry pasta, like linguini or spaghetti*
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for pasta. When the sauce is finishing up, add pasta to water and cook to al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water before draining the pasta.
Begin the sauce by heating olive oil over medium to medium-high heat in a large pot. Add onion, carrot, celery and 1 teaspoon salt. Sauté for 8 minutes, until veggies are soft. Add garlic and red pepper flake, and sauté for a few minutes more.
Add tomatoes, oregano, thyme and 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a rolling simmer, reduce to medium-low or low. Partially cover pot and gently simmer for 20-ish minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, add the chickpeas and lentils to a mixing bowl. Using a potato masher, pastry cutter or fork, mash chickpeas and lentils to form a coarse mixture similar to cooked ground meat. When the sauce has simmered, add chickpea and lentil mixture to the sauce and continue simmering for another 10 minutes.
Finally make the “cream” by blending the cashews with 1/2 cup water. You can use 3/4 to 1 cup of any cream or cream-substitute you like. Turn the heat off the sauce and when it no longer is bubbly, gently stir in cream. Season sauce with salt, to taste. Simmer for another 5-10 minutes before tossing with cooked pasta.
Cashew Cream – if not using a high speed blender like a Vitamix, you should soak the cashews for 3 hours by pouring near-boiling water over them and allowing to sit at room temperature. If you blender cup is large, you may need to double or triple the cashew cream recipe – there are so many ways to use it, having extra isn’t a problem!
Vegetarian – 3/4 to 1 cup real heavy cream works well for this
Pasta – for gluten-free choose a gluten-allergy-friendly pasta variety