A nice rich meat ragu is very popular in my house and I make sure to always have some in the freezer for a quick dinner. As I have cut back on meat for several reasons, I wanted to master a vegetarian version to rival my Bolognese Sauce for flavour. I realise the very phrase vegetarian bolognese is horrifying for some, so purists should look away now. I’ve been playing around with vegetarian versions of my Bolognese Sauce for some time now. And in that time I’ve eaten a lot of bland and nondescript meals. I think I’ve finally cracked it with this Mushroom and Aubergine Bolognese!
I tried several recipes that used tofu or lentils to bulk up the bolognese, however I decided to focus on mushrooms and then added aubergine or eggplant to add another level of flavour. You can use all mushrooms if you like, just double the amount of fresh mushrooms. To be honest there’s nothing original about this recipe, I took a lot of inspiration from others such as Yotam Ottolenghi, Gizzi Erskine and Sabrina Ghayour. Ottolenghi has recipes for Ultimate Traybake Ragu and Spicy Mushroom Lasagne in his book Flavour, Gizzi has a vegan Planet Friendly Bolognese in her book Slow, and Sabrina has a recipe for Mushroom, Harissa and Tahini Spaghetti in Bazaar but I couldn’t find it online to share.
This is an easy recipe, it just takes a bit of prep and plenty of time to cook, but you can put it on and leave it to cook away itself.
Useful tips & links:
- Many recipes recommend roasting the aubergine first. To be honest I think frying it off properly works just as well here, just make sure to give it time to brown properly.
- I use dried porcini mushrooms to add depth of flavour here, they are easily available now but use any dried mushrooms you can find. Just hold on to the water that you rehydrate the mushrooms in.
- The key to the texture here is chopping all of the veg to roughly the same size and to make sure they are very finely diced. When it is fully cooked, I use a potato masher to remove the bigger lumps and make it a little smoother. You still have plenty of texture but it makes it a more cohesive sauce.
- I’ve used miso paste here to add umami to the dish. The flavour from it mellows as it cooks but it does taste strong to begin with. If you are concerned about it add it little by little until you are happy.
- The key to a good bolognese is time. Give each element plenty of time to cook to get the best flavour from them. I like to give the soffritto of onion, carrot and celery 45 mins to an hour to get plenty of flavour from them, but at least cook until they are completely soft. I also say to simmer the dish for an hour but if you can leave it longer it will be even better.
- As with all stews, prepare the day before, leave it in the fridge overnight and the flavour is even better the next day. It freezes well too.
- This is vegetarian and vegan friendly once your stock and wine are suitable. I use parmesan to garnish but use a vegetarian alternative or leave it off if needed.
- Have a look at Michelle’s gorgeous Vegetarian Bolognese with Lentils for more inspiration. A couple of days after I posted this recipe I spotted this gorgeous recipe for Creamy Cacio e Miso Spaghetti from Ellen Lunny.
- For more meat free pasta ideas, see my Pasta Alla Norma or speedy Lemon Spaghetti.
Mushroom and Aubergine Bolognese
- 15g of dried porcini mushrooms
- 300ml boiling water
- 1 aubergine, finely cubed
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 350g of fresh mushrooms, finely diced
- 1 onion, peeled and finely diced
- A medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
- A celery stalk, finely diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1 tablespoon of tomato puree
- 100ml of red wine
- 200ml of hot vegetable stock
- 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
- ½ to 1 teaspoon of miso paste
- 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar
- A few sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
- A pinch of sugar
- ¼ of a nutmeg, freshly grated
- Fresh parmesan and basil to garnish
- Add the dried porcini or other mushrooms to the boiling water and allow them to rehydrate.
- Heat the oil over a medium heat in a wide heavy based pan or casserole dish. Season and cook the diced aubergine until it is browned and softened. While it is cooking prep the other veg.
- Remove the cooked aubergine and set aside.
- Add more oil to the pan and season and cook the fresh mushrooms until soft. Remove and set aside with the aubergine.
- If needed, add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and add the onion, carrot and celery. Cook for at least 45 minutes or until soft.
- Remove the porcini mushrooms from the water, but keep the water, chop the mushrooms and add to the pan.
- Add the crushed garlic and tomato puree, stir through and cook for a couple of more minutes.
- Put the cooked aubergine and mushrooms back in the pan and pour in the red wine. Increase the heat and cook until the wine has reduced and the alcohol is burned off.
- Pour in the hot stock, the tinned tomatoes and the reserved mushroom water.
- Add the miso paste, balsamic vinegar, thyme, oregano, sugar and nutmeg to the pan and stir well.
- Heat the sauce until it is about to boil and reduce the heat. Simmer uncovered for at least an hour, stirring occasionally until the sauce has reduced and thickened.
- Taste and season with salt and pepper. Then add more miso or sugar to your liking if needed.
- Use a potato masher to gently crush the veg in the sauce to make it a little less chunky.
- Serve with some torn basil leaves and freshly grated parmesan or vegetarian alternative. Serve with the pasta of your choice.