A lot of my recipes are quick and easy, but I’m not gonna lie, this Vegan Mushroom Walnut Bolognese is gonna keep you in the kitchen for an hour, from grabbing the first ingredient out of the fridge to loading the dishwasher. But this rich, hearty, ‘meaty’ sauce is OH-SO worth every minute you’ll spend on your feet cooking.
(This post has been updated with new images and recipe instructions.)
How to Make Vegan Mushroom Walnut Bolognese
This is the kind of recipe ambitious home cooks live for: we’re gonna transform mushrooms and walnuts into vegan ‘meat,’ smash whole San Marzano tomatoes, thoroughly brown our veggie ‘pulp’ and tomato paste, and in a final act of culinary joy—deglaze with red wine. (CUE SOUND OF SINGING ANGELS.)
The seasonings in this vegan mushroom walnut bolognese are spare and basic: there’s thyme and a bay leaf, some garlic, and crushed red pepper if you like a bit of heat. The flavor here is built from scratch—with your own two hands, layer by layer, one step a time. Let’s do this!
First, make the bolognese ‘meat.’
Bolognese is a rich, thick and traditionally ‘meaty’ sauce. Of course, we’re going to skip the meat and grind up some cremini mushrooms and walnuts instead. Creminis have an earthy flavor that’s wonderful in this sauce, and the walnuts lend even more texture. And by grinding up the mushrooms, we help them release their liquid and brown thoroughly to build flavor.
Second, make a veggie ‘pulp.’
Soffrito–or onion, celery and carrots–is the Italian version of the French ‘mirepoix.’ It’s the base for a good Italian sauce like this vegan bolognese sauce. You could simply dice the veggies, but I like to pulse them into a pulp. This helps release all of their liquid so we can brown them to build flavor. And it results in flavorful yet smooth sauce.
Third, brown some tomato paste.
You could simply add the tomato paste here and give everything a stir. But by allowing the tomato paste to brown, once again, we’re able to deepen and intensify the flavors in this sauce. Trust me, it’s worth taking the time.
Finally, deglaze and and simmer.
Once your veggie pulp and tomato paste are nicely browned, you’re going to deglaze the pot with some red wine (or use a bit of vinegar and water.) This loosens up the lovely brown bits in your pan and again…you’ve got it–adds MORE flavor. Then, throw everything together in the pot to simmer. Half an hour is fine, but longer is even better.
Making this vegan mushroom walnut bolognese takes patience. It takes effort. And it takes a whole lotta cooking love. But trust me, you’ll taste every bit of it when you take your first bite of this robust, ‘meaty’ sauce. And you’ll feel like someone’s Italian grandmother when you’re done. (Especially if you add a dollop of homemade almond ricotta.)
Why I Love this Vegan Mushroom Walnut Bolognese Recipe
This bolognese sauce is:
- healthy (wfpb/oil-free)
- perfect with pasta or polenta
- made with love
This recipe is my lazy Sunday afternoon sauce. (I let it simmer on the stove long enough to squeeze in a nice nap.) It’s the sauce I make when company’s coming over. It’s my go-to dish when I want to tell someone, ‘I love you more than the moon and the stars’ with food.
If you like this whole food plant-based recipe, you might also like:
- Pepita Pesto Pasta & Roasted Veggies
- Chickpea Cheese Sauce (Great on Pasta!)
- Vegan Parmesan Cheese
- Almond Ricotta Cheese
- Best Damn Vegan Chili (with Mushrooms)
- Best Damn Instant Pot Vegan Chili (with Mushrooms)
- Kale Mushroom Bread Pudding
Vegan Mushroom Walnut Bolognese
- 10 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms cleaned
- 1 cup walnut pieces
- 1 yellow onion cut into 2 inch pieces
- 2 carrots cut into 2 inch pieces
- 2 celery ribs cut into 2 inch pieces
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 6 ounce can tomato paste (about 3 tablespoons)
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 28 oz can whole San Marzano tomatoes LIQUID RESERVED, smashed with a potato masher or chopped (see notes)
- 1 cup dry red wine (or sub 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar + 1 cup more water)
- 1 cup water
- Fresh thyme sprigs tied tightly together into a bundle with string. (see notes)
- 1 bay leaf
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- Optional: Serve with pasta or polenta
- Optional: Top with almond ricotta or vegan parmesan
- Optional: Garnish with fresh basil or parsley
- Place 1/2 of the mushrooms in a food processor, and pulse several times until finely ground. (Don't over process - see notes.) Transfer the ground mushrooms to a bowl, then add the rest of the mushrooms and repeat.
- Place the walnuts in the food processor and process until well ground. Add them to the ground mushrooms.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of water in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and the walnuts and cook until the all of the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms have browned, about 8-10 minutes. Remove the mushroom/walnut mixture from the pot and set aside. (Don't clean out the pan; if there are areas of burned food, just scrape those out.)
- Wipe out the food processor, and add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic. Process into a rough 'pulp,' about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of water in the pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the vegetable pulp (onions, carrots, celery and garlic) with a pinch of salt to the pot. Saute until all of the liquid cooks off, the color turns from bright orange to a deeper orange-brown, and the volume is reduced by about half, about 10-12 minutes. Use the liquid released from the pulp to deglaze (loosen) any dark brown remnants of the mushroom/walnut mixture and blend it in. Stir and scrape loose any browned bits from the pan if they form. Add water a little at a time if things begin to stick or get too brown.
- Move the browned pulp aside to the edges of the pot, leaving an empty spot in the center. Add the tomato paste to the center of the pot, and cook about 5 minutes until it begins to brown and get dark, but not burn. (Keep stirring and scraping, adding water 1 teaspoon at a time and reducing heat a bit only if things start to get too dark or burn.) When the tomato paste has browned, stir it into the vegetable pulp.
- Add the red wine (or vinegar, if using instead) to the pot to deglaze (loosen) and scrape up all of the brown bits ("fond") that have formed in the pan--this adds flavor!
- Add the mushroom/walnut mixture, and stir well to combine everything.
- Add the smashed tomatoes and their liquid, water, and crushed red pepper flakes to the pot and stir well. Bring the sauce to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, uncovered for 5 minutes so that the alcohol from the wine cooks off.
- Add the thyme bundle and bay leaf, cover, and simmer for at least 30 minutes--or even better, one hour or more.
- Before serving, remove the thyme bundle (and any loose stems) and the bay leaf, and season with sea salt, to taste.
- Serve with polenta or pasta.
- I see a lot of recipes for vegan chilis and sauces where mushrooms are sliced or chopped. While this is fine, grinding the mushrooms in the food processor truly transforms them into a hearty, 'meaty' texture and helps them brown thoroughly, which intensifies their flavor.
- When grinding the mushrooms, some large pieces may remain, but don't keep pulsing. You want them finely ground but not mushy. Simply remove any large pieces, and add them back to the processor with the next batch. Repeat until all of the mushrooms are finely ground and transferred to the bowl.
- I prefer to use whole tomatoes, as canned diced tomatoes contain a chemical (to keep them from dissolving), which alters their flavor. Also, I find there's no match for the flavor of San Marzanos, so I always use them. But chopping canned whole tomatoes can make a mess! To avoid this, I empty the whole can into a large bowl and break them up them with a potato masher.
- I like to tie herbs like thyme into a bundle with kitchen string. It's a lot quicker than plucking the tiny leaves off their stems! However, if you don't tie the bundle tightly (and sometimes even if you do!) you can get loose stems in your sauce. To avoid a dinner-party faux pas, either add just the leaves or carefully sift through the sauce to find any stems.
- If you prefer a thicker sauce, after 30 minutes to an hour, remove the lid and continue to simmer uncovered until the sauce is reduced to the desired consistency.