As a former omnivore, I often miss cozying up to a bowl of Bolognese in the winter months. In Tuscany, there’s a traditional dish known as sugo finto, or “fake sauce,” which was born out of peasant kitchens where meat was an unaffordable luxury. Sugo finto is a bright combination of vegetables, wine, and tomatoes, and a delicious sauce in its own right—but like a quinoa burger, it never quite satisfies my meaty cravings.
So I set out to make my own meat-free meat sauce. It’s inspired by the technique of a classic bolognese, but uses umami-forward ingredients (Miso! Worcestershire! The miracle that is Beyond Meat!) that are guaranteed to pack a meaty punch. I love it. You’ll love it. Your meat-eating friends will love it.
And I have the perfect pasta to serve it with: a Ligurian shape called mandilli de sea (or mandilli di seta), meaning “silk handkerchiefs.” Although mandilli are traditionally served with pesto, I’ve paired them with this modern sugo finto as an ode to one of my favorite winter meals—lasagna. (Note: For this recipe, you can follow my go-to egg pasta dough recipe, or use the version below with added egg yolks for a richer result. If semolina or semola rimacinata flours are unavailable, omit it and use the same weight in ‘00’ or all-purpose flour.)
This dish has all the luxurious, delicate, savory qualities of a good lasagna, but without the hours spent layering sheets and sauce into a casserole dish. Oh, and to top it off, I’ve added an abundance of paper-thin Parmesan crisps. Because what’s a good lasagna without the crunchy bits?
A couple of final notes to make this dish strictly vegetarian:
- Substitute traditional Worcestershire sauce with a vegetarian version like Annie’s.
- Substitute Parmigiano-Reggiano DOP with a sharp aged cheese made without animal rennet. —Meryl Feinstein, Pasta Social Club
- Prep time 1 hour 30 minutes
- Cook time 2 hours
- Serves 4
- For the sauce & Parmesan crisps
(4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, divided, plus more for finishing the dish (optional)
(1 pound) meat alternative of choice, like Beyond Meat or Impossible (I prefer Beyond Meat Hot Italian Sausages)
medium yellow onion, finely chopped
fennel bulb or 1 large carrot, finely chopped
celery stalks, finely chopped
cloves garlic, minced
(1 tablespoon) tomato paste
(1 1/2 tablespoons) white miso paste
(3/4 cup) dry red wine like Sangiovese
(1 tablespoon) Worcestershire sauce (see Author Notes)
(1 cup) vegetable stock
(1/2 cup) whole milk
kosher salt, plus more to taste
freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste
(2 cups) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (see Author Notes)
- For the pasta
(~2½ cups) '00' soft wheat or all-purpose flour
(~¼ cup) semolina or semola rimacinata flour
whole eggs (about 2 whole eggs)
egg yolks (about 6 egg yolks)
(1 tablespoon) water, as needed
Start the sauce
If you’re using Beyond Meat sausages, break them into small pieces so they’re the texture of ground meat.
In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat and add the “meat.” Cook, stirring frequently, until browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Return the pan to medium heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Follow with the finely chopped vegetables and a pinch of salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Cook until the vegetables are soft and translucent, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook briefly until fragrant, no more than a minute. Then add the tomato and miso pastes and stir to combine, mashing the miso with the side of a spoon to melt it down, if needed. Cook an additional 2 minutes or so until the tomato paste darkens, stirring frequently. If the vegetables start to brown, turn down the heat and add a splash of water to deglaze the bottom of the pan.
Return the “meat” to the pan and mix with the vegetables. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the wine and Worcestershire sauce. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, add the vegetable stock, and reduce the heat to low.
Cover and simmer the sauce for about an hour, stirring occasionally. If the sauce looks dry at any point, add another splash of stock to loosen it. While the sauce simmers, make the pasta dough and the Parmesan crisps.
Make the pasta dough
Make the pasta dough by hand according to the well method (see my master pasta dough tutorial that teaches you how).
Alternatively, add the flour, eggs, and yolks to the bowl of a food processor with the steel blade attachment. Pulse together until beads of dough start to form and come together, about 30 seconds. If the mixture feels dry, add a tablespoon of water and pulse again. Transfer the dough to a flat, ideally wooden surface, bring it together and knead for 5 to 10 minutes until smooth and firm. Note that a yolk-heavy dough is much firmer and less elastic than one with whole eggs.
Wrap the dough tightly in plastic and allow it to rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes. In the meantime, make the Parmesan crisps.
Make the Parmesan crisps
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Spread the finely grated cheese on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Aim for a thin, even layer for a crispy rather than chewy texture. The cheese will spread during cooking.
Bake for 5 to 7 minutes until bubbling and lightly golden around the edges. Allow to cool completely before breaking it apart. If the cheese releases a lot of oil, pat dry with a paper towel once cooled.
Finish the sauce
Once the sauce has simmered for about an hour, add the milk and stir to combine.
Cover again and continue to simmer for an additional 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. While the sauce continues to cook, make the mandilli de sea; when it’s done, season to taste with salt and pepper. Sometimes I add another dash of Worcestershire, too!
Storage note: If preferred, once the sauce is done, allow it to cool and store it in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or in the freezer for several months. When ready to use, reheat with some pasta water to loosen and a tablespoon of butter.
Make the pasta
Line a baking sheet with semolina flour, cornmeal, or a dry dish towel and keep it nearby.
Cut off a quarter of the pasta dough and re-wrap the remainder immediately.
Flatten the dough with the heel of your hand until it’s about ¼-inch thick. Set your pasta machine to its thickest setting and roll the dough through once—it will be tapered at the ends. Fold the ends into the center like an envelope so the width of the pasta sheet is similar in width to the pasta roller. Roll the dough through the thickest setting once more so the result is a wide, even rectangle.
Continue rolling the pasta sheet through the machine once on each progressive setting until very thin and you can see your hand through it, about setting 7 or 8 on a Marcato Atlas 150 manual roller or KitchenAid attachment. If the dough is at all sticky going through the machine, dust it with a light layer of ‘00’ or all-purpose flour on both sides.
Once you have a long, thin sheet of pasta, cut it into 6-inch squares and place them on the baking sheet, making sure not to overlap them.
Repeat with the remaining dough. You should end up with about 16 squares total.
Storage note: The mandilli can be frozen and stored for up to a couple of months. Flash-freeze the pasta on the baking sheet, making sure the pieces are not touching, for about 25 minutes until solid (you may need to do this in batches). Transfer the squares to a freezer-safe bag and cook straight from frozen.
Finish the dish
Bring a large pot of water to a boil next to the saucepan with the sugo finto. Salt the water well and add the mandilli one at a time, in quick succession, to prevent sticking. Stir occasionally. These cook very quickly, about 2 minutes.
While the pasta cooks, add a small ladle of pasta water and a tablespoon of butter (optional) to the sauce and stir to combine.
If you can, use a large slotted spoon to transfer the pasta directly to the sauce. Alternatively, set aside a cup of pasta water before draining the pasta and immediately transferring it to the sauce to prevent sticking.
Stir to coat and simmer the pasta in the sauce for another minute to meld the flavors. Add a splash of pasta water to loosen the sauce as needed. Serve topped with fresh thyme, if desired, and broken Parmesan crisps to get that savory crunch in every bite!