This Vegetarian Bolognese is packed with savory flavor and wholesome ingredients. Instead of meat, most of the “bulk” comes from eggplant and mushrooms. It’s hearty, full of umami and will satisfy any and everyone, not just vegetarians!
The Importance Of Umami
Umami is largely identified as the fifth flavor sensation and is often translated as “delicious” or “savory.” Umami is especially important in creating satisfying vegetarian and vegan dishes since they can’t rely on the savory flavors of meat.
So what adds umami? Some common ingredients that add umami include:
How To Make a “Meaty” Vegetarian Bolognese
The key to making an umami-filled vegetarian bolognese sauce without meat is to load it with veggies that are naturally full of umami.
Without a doubt, mushrooms one of those ingredients. During the cooking process, mushrooms and eggplant release excess liquid and take on a concentrated texture and flavor. Together, they make a beautiful meaty sauce filled with umami.
To add even more umami, this bolognese recipe uses tomato paste. When cooked down it caramelizes and creates a deep, slightly sweet flavor.
What Pasta Shape to Serve with Mushroom Bolognese
I recommend serving this vegetarian bolognese with a pasta shape that has a lot of surface area. Rigatoni or pappardelle are traditional and perfect for holding on to this chunky vegan bolognese pasta sauce.
How to Make Vegetarian Mushroom Bolognese
- Start the vegetarian bolognese by cooking down the eggplant—this will do two things. One, it cooks out excess liquid and concentrates and texture and flavor of the eggplant. Two, it creates a deep fond on the bottom of the pan with creates deep, rich umami flavor.
- Cook the onion, carrot, celery and mushrooms until tender.
- Add the tomato paste, garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for a couple of minutes.
- Deglaze the pan with red wine, then stir in the canned tomatoes, eggplant, and herbs. Season with salt and pepper then simmer until reduced and thickened.
- While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Season the water heavily with kosher salt (at least a tablespoon). Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions, or until al dente.
- Toss the pasta with the mushroom bolognese then top with fresh basil, toasted pine nuts and a sprinkle of Parmesan. (Skip the Parmesan if you or anyone else is vegan).
Test Kitchen Tips
- If you aren’t vegan, I highly recommend serving this with some grated or shaved Parmesan. And if you’ve got a Parmesan rind lying around, throw that into the pot while it’s simmering. It will infuse the sauce with even more umami flavor.
- This sauce makes a lot! I like to make a batch and freeze half of it for a quick weeknight dinner. It’s also delicious in homemade lasagna, stuffed shells or even as the base for eggs poached in tomato sauce (shakshuka/eggs in purgatory).
- For a finer, less-chunky sauce, finely chopping the mushrooms, carrots, onion and celery in a food processor.
Serve Pasta Bolognese With…
Vegetarian Mushroom Bolognese with Eggplant
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 8 ounces baby bella or button mushrooms, cut into ½-inch pieces (3½ cups)
- 1 cup diced onion (1 small or ½ of a medium onion)
- ¾ cup diced carrot
- ¾ cup diced celery
- 4 large cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 cup dry red wine, divided
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano, or 2 teaspoons dried
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried
- 1 pound dry rigatoni or pappardelle pasta
- ¼ basil, roughly chopped, plus more for garnish
- 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts, for serving (optional)
- Parmesan cheese for serving, optional
- In a Dutch oven or large pot, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high until shimmering. Add eggplant and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes until browned and softened; season with salt. (The eggplant will create a deep fond on bottom of pot—the vegetables and red wine will pull that up and add depth of flavor to the sauce.)
- Transfer eggplant to a medium bowl; add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to Dutch oven.
- Reduce heat to medium and add mushrooms, onion, carrot, and celery; season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, 8–10 minutes. Add garlic, tomato paste, and red pepper flakes; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Deglaze pan with ¾ cup of wine; cook 1 minute. Add reserved eggplant, tomatoes, oregano, and thyme; season with salt and pepper. Bring sauce to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium and simmer 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil; add a tablespoon of kosher salt and pasta. Cook pasta according to directions on package until al dente.
- While pasta is cooking, add remaining wine and basil to sauce. Simmer for an additional 5–10 minutes. When ready, drain pasta and transfer to a large serving bowl, add desired amount of sauce and toss to combine. Top with additional basil, pine nuts, and Parmesan, if using.
This recipe was originally published on December 22, 2015. It was most recently updated on January 11, 2022.