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Food Recipes

The Best Vegetable Bolognese

Bolognese is one of those foods that everyone prepares slightly differently. I’d say most people that make it with any sort of regularity probably use a family recipe, and anyone who makes it as a one-off thing is most likely using a highly-rated recipe they found from a quick internet search. I was in the second group until about a year ago, when I started trying to nail down a go-to bolognese recipe that I could keep on stand-by for whenever the craving hits me.

I developed a recipe early on that was very passable but, looking back, needed a bit of work on the flavor-front. It just wasn’t…bolognese-y enough. The hallmark of a great bolognese, in my opinion, is that rich, hearty, distinctly meaty flavor that hits ya when you get that first, chunky bite. My first attempt was a bit heavy on the red wine and tomato front, and not hearty enough to really make it feel like a proper bolognese. This version, however, is pretty darn close to perfect, if I don’t say so myself (plus, I’ve served it to many-a-die-hard carnivores/bolognese lovers and it’s always a hit). Despite having zero ground meat of any kind in the recipe, this sauce is rich, hearty and – thanks to beef stock and beef bouillon – plenty meaty, in that quintessential bolognese way.

The other calling card of a great bolognese is the consistency – the ratio of sauce to chunky stuff. A good bolognese should be thick and chunky, and not at all watery, but it’s gotta have a bit of sauce to it as well. It’s an art, not a science. If you check out bolognese recipes online, a lot of the more traditional ones will require you to add water throughout the cooking process until you’ve achieved the perfect consistency. I take a different approach, for a few reasons: first of all, I don’t like adding water to anything saucy (pasta sauce, chili, stew etc.) unless I really have to; I would much rather add something flavorful, like stock, because water is, well…watery, and I don’t like to dilute the flavor of my food. If you add water, you may have to adjust your seasonings, and I don’t think anyone wants to read a recipe only to be told to “adjust seasoning as needed.” Kinda defeats the purpose of using a recipe, amirite?  Second, there’s an easier way to achieve the perfect bolognese sauce-factor, and that’s through alternating between uncovered and covered cooking over an extended period of time. It’s, quite literally, science.

Basically, you start with a longer period of uncovered simmering, during which liquid evaporates and escapes the pot. You follow it up with a slightly shorter period of covered cooking, during which steam is created inside the pot, some condensation from the inside of the lid drips back into the pot, and no liquid escapes. Based on what you see in front of you – a lot of liquid, a little bit of liquid – just pop the lid on or off. If you’re cooking at low enough heat (which I advise you do, for this recipe), you shouldn’t have a hard time gauging what do to, and when. I’ve detailed how it typically breaks down for me, below, in terms of uncovered and covered cook time, but you don’t have to follow this exactly if what you’re seeing isn’t lining up with the instructions. If your pot is gettin’ low on liquid, pop the top on (and reduce the heat, if you can). If you’re feelin like it could be a bit thicker, take the top off (and bump the heat up, just a bit). Basically, your goal is to alternate between uncovered and covered cooking for an entire afternoon until the vegetables are pretty much pulverized into thick, saucy goodness.

I’ve found that this method far surpasses the add-water-every-so-often method, because you’re not diluting the flavor of the food at all. When I developed this recipe, I made sure there would be plenty of liquid to start the simmering process with – between the tomatoes, wine and stock, you should be more than able to easily control how thick your sauce is by just keeping an eye on it and covering or uncovering, as necessary, without having to worry about adding liquid or adjusting your spices. The best part? The ultimate consistency is your call based on how you like your sauce. I like a lot of chunks with  a bit less actual ‘juice,’ but if you like a lot of juice, that’s fine and this recipe will definitely allow you to have it that way! Here’s exactly how I made mine, with some pictures to help show you the consistency along the way. It only gets better every time you make it, and I promise you – you might just go for this bolognese instead of a traditional, meaty version – it’s that flavorful. Here’s how I make it.

5 from 1 vote
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The Best Vegetable Bolognese

This could easily be called "The Best Bolognese." I've made this for die-hard carnivores and they love it as much as (or more than) the "real" thing.

Course brunch, dinner, lunch
Cuisine Italian
Keyword Bolognese, family dinner, italian food, pasta bolognese, spaghetti bolognese, vegetable bolognese, veggie bolognese
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 5 hours
Total Time 5 hours 30 minutes
Calories 215 kcal

Ingredients

  • Olive Oil
  • 3 cups Chopped Eggplant {sweated}
  • 3 cups Chopped Broccoli
  • 3 cups Chopped mushrooms {I use brown mushrooms}
  • 1 Brown or Yellow Onion, Chopped
  • 1 cup Shredded or chopped Carrots
  • 2 tbsp Chopped Garlic {about 6 medium cloves}
  • 1-2 Beef Bouillon Cube(s) {crushed - I start with 1 and usually don't add another, but if you want some extra richness, this is an easy way to get there}
  • 1.5 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Pepper
  • 1 tsp Oregano {dried}
  • 1/2 tsp Red Chili Flakes
  • 1/4 tsp Thyme {dried}
  • 1/8 tsp Nutmeg
  • 2.5 cups Red Wine {I use Pinot Noir}
  • 1.5 cups Beef Stock
  • 1 28-oz can Peeled Plum Tomatoes in their Juice {I use San Marzano tomatoes}
  • 1 tbsp White Sugar {optional: I like it, but taste your sauce after a few hours and decide for yourself if you wanna sweeten the pot}
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 1/4 cup Cream {heavy whipping cream}
  • Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning {to garnish, if desired}

Instructions

  1. Sweat the eggplant by slicing it into 1/4 inch-thick slices, salting one side of the slices, and placing it in a colander with a heavy bowl to keep it firmly in place, as shown. Leave it alone for 30 minutes, then rinse it and squeeze out excess moisture with a paper towel or dish towel. Chop into small chunks.

  2. Coat a heavy-bottom soup/stew pot with olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the eggplant, broccoli, mushroom, onion, carrot and garlic and heat until just softened. This will take 10-15 minutes. depending on your stove top and exact heat.

  3. Add the bouillon, salt, pepper, oregano, chili flakes, thyme and nutmeg, and stir to coat the veggies in the spices. I usually pre-measure my spices and toss them in a small ramekin or bowl before I begin cooking so that I can just dump them in the pot when it's time to use them. This saves me from having to measure everything out right when I want to add them.

  4. Bump the heat to medium-high and add the wine. It will pretty much cover the veggies, but not completely. I've attached a picture of how it should look below.

  5. Let the wine simmer until it's reduced by about half. This will take 10-15 minutes.

  6. Add the stock, and bring to a simmer before adding the tomatoes and bay leaves. Allow this to simmer for about two minutes, and then bump the heat to a low simmer and leave it to gently simmer (a few bubbles, but nowhere near boiling) for an hour and a half, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Resist the very real temptation to taste and tweak at this point - let the sauce do its thing. The way it tastes now is NOT the way it will taste in 3 hours, so tweaking now won't do ya much good.

  7. Cover the pot and continue to simmer on low heat for one hour, stirring occasionally.

  8. Uncover and continue to simmer on low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. I've shown a picture of what mine looks like about halfway through the cooking process, below. As you can see from the liquid-mark around the edge of the pot, the liquid has reduced significantly. There's still enough 'juice' to make it a sauce, but it's getting nice and thick at this point.

  9. Cover again and gently simmer for an hour and a half, stirring occasionally. I know that another hour and a half seems like an eternity, but this is where things really get exciting - another 90 minutes and these veggies will basically disintegrate (in the best way possible) into a rich red sauce. Stay strong! At this point, do some tasting. My usual tweaks are to add the sugar (optional) and another bouillon cube, if I'm feelin' beefy. Otherwise, it's usually pretty darn perfect and I can just leave it be to finish cooking.

  10. Uncover and simmer for 10-20 minutes, just before serving. Uncovering it for the last 20 minutes or so will allow whatever excess liquid is hanging around the pot to evaporate, leaving you with a nice, thick sauce.

  11. Before serving, incorporate the 1/4 cup of cream by adding it to the pot and stirring it in to combine. Garnish with Parmesan cheese, fresh parsley or Italian seasoning, if desired. Enjoy!

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