The Secret Ingredient for a Next-Level Vegetarian Bolognese

February 27, 2018

Few dishes are more satisfying than a Bolognese. Ground beef gets cooked down with aromatics in a milk-inflected tomato sauce that binds everything together (let’s not forget, the meat is the star of the show here). There are as many different versions of Bolognese as there are Italian grandmothers, ranging from the simple weekday one to the unorthodox, but it’s the type of dish that welcomes iterations and willing participants.

The latest rendition we’ve come across actually contains no meat at all! Anya Kassoff, of the popular vegetarian blog Golubka Kitchen, shares her recipe for Portobello Bolognese Pasta in her second cookbook, Simply Vibrant: All-Day Vegetarian Recipes for Colorful Plant-Based Cooking.

Comforting Bolognese—without the meat. Photo by Rocky Luten

In her delicious interpretation, Kassoff leans on her Russian heritage to bring a secret flavor bomb to the table: prunes. But wait, they’re not just any prunes—they’re prunes soaked in fruity, sweet-tart balsamic vinegar, to really make the dish sing. “I got the idea to use prunes in this Bolognese from growing up on Russian food,” Kassoff tells us. “Prunes are a very popular ingredient in Russia, and they are often used in savory situations, for example in stuffed duck. They’re so good at enhancing the savoriness of a dish with their sweet complexity. I was hoping that they would do the same for this Bolognese, and ended up loving the result.”

And what a tasty result it is. Earthy portobello mushrooms step in to provide that meatiness, and the soaked prunes round out the tart tomatoes and pair well with the umami-rich tamari, which all give the pasta depth.

“I grew up in the Soviet Union, and Bolognese was definitely not a part of our culinary lexicon,” Kassoff explains further. "We did, however, often eat a similar meat and vegetable ragu and serve it over pasta, so I understand that it’s a very comforting combination. I wanted to create a plant-based version with the same depth of flavor, since I know that many people have nostalgia for that kind of hearty pasta dish.”

Have you ever made a vegetarian Bolognese? Tell us about it below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Hana is a food writer/editor based in New York.


Shaun March 7, 2018
Made this tonight for snow day dinner, and it was ambrosial. Much less heavy than the Hazan meat-based Bolognese, yet lacking none of the rich flavor.
Emily T. March 3, 2018
Has anyone actually made this recipe? I was concerned with a 1/2 cup of lemon juice, but I always make a recipe as written first. It was so sour, we couldn’t eat it without trying some added sweetness. It still wasn’t right. The texture and basic flavor was very nice. I think I’d go with red wine instead of lemon juice next time.
Kimberley March 1, 2018
I make one with mushrooms (swiss brown/Cremona or portobello for preference, brown lentils, chopped walnuts and a generous amount of fennel seeds. The combination of mushroom, lentil & walnut plus the fennel seeds make a really meaty sauce.