Anything is possible with a bag of pasta and your imagination. I picked up a bag of these beautiful Pappardelle noodles imported from Italy last week. Surprisingly, they were on sale for a dollar a bag. You know I just can’t pass up a bargain (I’m feeling sorry that I didn’t buy about 10 bags) or the chance to enjoy an extraordinary pasta meal. A traditional Bolognese sauce starts off with a “battato”, which is a mixture of carrots, celery, onions and garlic. Ground beef, pork and a cured meat like prosciutto are added, then simmered with milk, wine and beef broth. The sauce is finished off with heavy cream. It is delicate, aromatic and luscious. I played around with a mushroom-based version of Bolognese sauce a few weeks ago and served it with rotini pasta. I made a battato with onions, carrots, celery and ground fennel, then added in minced mushrooms and coarsely ground walnuts. For the simmering ingredients I used white wine, soy milk, tomato paste and a hearty vegetable broth. At this point, I reserved half of the mixture to freeze and added half of the cashew cream to the pot. (Warning: the sauce may not look too appetizing on its own, but when tossed with the pasta it’s quite pleasing.) The dish was flavorful, but the rotini wasn’t quite the “experience” I was after. So when I came home with this bag of Pappardelle, I remembered that I still had half of the Bolognese sauce in the freezer. I defrosted the sauce, stirred in some fresh cashew cream at the end and tossed it with the Pappardelle. Delicioso! This dish is a tasty alternative to pasta with marinara sauce for Sunday dinner yet fancy enough for a special occasion. If you can’t find pappardelle I recommend using a wide, flat pasta like fettucine or tagiatelle. I bet it would also be nice layered and baked with non-dairy ricotta and lasagna noodles. The possibilities for a plant-based lifestyle are limitless. Just open up a bag of pasta and you can open up a whole world of pastabilities. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.
Mushroom Walnut Bolognese
Makes enough sauce for 1 to 1-1/2 pounds of pasta
½ cup raw cashews, soaked in water for 4 hours or overnight
1 small onion
1 small carrot
1 small celery stalk
½ teaspoon ground fennel
12 oz. mushrooms (white button or cremini)
1 cup walnuts
1 can of tomato paste
2 cups dark vegetable broth (either homemade or Better Than Bouillon “No Beef” base)
½ cup dry white wine
¼ cup non-dairy milk (soy)
1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
Dash of liquid smoke (optional)
Parsley, black pepper and salt, to taste (you can use truffle salt instead of table salt)
Drain cashews and place in high powered blender container with enough water to just about cover the nuts. Process on high until super smooth. Set aside.
Place onions, carrots and celery in bowl of food processor and pulse until minced. Heat a medium saucepot over medium heat. Add the vegetables and cook until softened, but not browned (about 10 minutes). Add ground fennel and cook another minute.
Process mushrooms in food processor until minced. Stir into vegetables in pot and continue to cook, uncovered. Process walnuts in food processor until coarsely ground. Add to pot. Add tomato paste, broth, wine, soy milk, parsley, pepper and salt. Reduce heat, cover and let simmer until the walnuts soften and the sauce is very thick. (You may need to use a heat diffuser to prevent the sauce from cooking too fast.) Add the cashew cream and stir to combine. Toss with cooked pasta. You can remove the sauce from the stove at this point and re-heat it later, adding the cream at the last minute of cooking. You can also freeze the sauce before adding the cashew cream.