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The Secret Ingredient for a Next-Level Vegetarian Bolognese

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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.
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.”

Everything You Need to Know About Balsamic Vinegar

Everything You Need to Know About Balsamic Vinegar by Posie Harwood

Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Balsamic Vinegar of Modena


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.”

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Portobello Bolognese Pasta

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Serves 6 to 8
  • 5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 5 large prunes, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons neutral coconut oil or olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 medium-sized carrots, peeled and diced
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • 1 1/2 pounds (680g) portobello mushrooms, stemmed and cut into bite-size cubes
  • 5 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 small chili, seeded and finely chopped
  • Leaves form 3 to 4 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons tamari
  • One 14 oz (397 g) can or box of diced tomatoes
  • One 14 oz (397 g) package whole wheat (or other whole grain) spaghetti
  • Handful of fresh parsley leaves, minced
  • Handful of fresh basil leaves, torn (optional)
  • Grated Parmesan, for garnish (optional)
Go to Recipe

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

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: bolognese, pasta sauce, russian