A 'meaty' vegan mushroom walnut bolognese sauce full of deep, rich, umami flavors--and a whole lotta love. Vegan, Vegetarian and WFPB.
If you love Italian-inspired recipes--like eggplant Parmigiana, pasta alfredo or carbonara, or even Italian stuffed mushrooms--I think this vegan bolognese sauce is going to knock your socks off. And it'll knock the socks of everyone you cook it for, too.
What I love about this veggie bolognese sauce
The umami, 'meaty,' mince of mushrooms and walnuts makes this sauce taste quite authentic, in my admittedly vegan opinion.
And a thorough browning and deglazing of the carrot-onion-celery-garlic soffritta and some tomato paste enhances the flavors.
Finally, a long slow simmer takes it all to the next level. At least 30 minutes, but an hour or more is better.
A lot of my recipes are quick and easy, but I'm not gonna lie, this one is gonna keep you in the kitchen for an hour.
But this rich, hearty sauce is OH-SO worth every minute you’ll spend on your feet cooking.
In fact, this bolognese pasta dish is probably my number one, go-to recipe for entertaining.
No one will notice or care that it's vegan and vegetarian. They'll be too busy sopping up every last drop of this amazing sauce.
- cremini mushrooms
- San Marzano tomatoes - whole or diced are fine, but I prefer whole
- yellow onion
- tomato paste
- crushed red pepper flakes
- dry white or red wine (or red wine vinegar)
- fresh thyme sprigs - dried is fine, but this recipe deserves fresh herbs.
- bay leaf
- pink Himalayan salt and freshly ground black pepper
- optional parsley or basil for garnish
Follow these photos and instructions to help make it great, every time. Please also see the full recipe card at the bottom of this page.
Step 1. Grind the mushrooms into a fine mince in a food processor.
Step 2. Grind the walnuts into a mince in a food processor.
Step 3. Make the mushroom walnut 'meat.' Brown the mushrooms and walnuts together in a large pot. When finished, add to a bowl and set aside.
Step 4. Make a 'soffritto' of onions, carrots, celery and garlic in a food processor. Grind to a pulp.
Step 5. Sauté the soffritto until well browned. Move to the edges of the pot.
Step 6. Add tomato paste to the center of the pot, and brown thoroughly. Stir into the soffritto.
Step 7. Deglaze with wine, scrape up all the brown bits, and stir them into the pulp.
Step 8. Add the mushroom and walnut 'meat' mixture, the tomatoes (with liquid), crushed red pepper, salt and pepper. Stir well.
Step 9. Add the thyme bundle and bay leaf and simmer.
Pro tips - how to make the best bolognese sauce
To make the best, richest-tasting sauce, you want to build layers of flavor. In this recipe, we accomplish this by browning to develop 'fond' (carmelized bits of food in the pan), deglazing with acid (here we use wine), and simmering low and slow until the flavors become deep and complex.
I believe all great cooks know these tricks, and they will serve you well in a variety of cooking situations.
Brown the soffritto and tomato paste very well. The more you brown these ingredients, the richer your sauce will taste. I brown them until they become dark in color--but not burned.
This requires patience and regular stirring, but is well worth it in the final result.
Deglaze. The acid in the wine (or vinegar and the tomatoes) will help loosen up the fond (brown bits) created by browning the soffritta and tomato paste.
Then, you use a wooden spoon to scrape them off the sides and bottom of the pan to make sure they get incorporated into the sauce.
The result will be a richer, more flavorful dish.
Simmer long and low if possible. The minimum simmer time for this recipe is 30 minutes, but an hour or longer will produce a richer sauce.
Simmer on very low heat and leave the lid on the pot a little bit askew for some of the liquid to evaporate, and so that the sauce can reduce.
Again, this will produce a thicker, richer tasting sauce.
Don't rinse mushrooms under water. Cleaning mushrooms is a bit of a pain, so you might be tempted to wash them in water. DON'T!
To clean mushrooms, use a dry or damp paper towel to wipe off any dirt. You want to keep them as dry as possible so they don't get soggy or waterlogged.
This helps when browning them--and you want them well browned in this recipe.
Don't over process the mushrooms. For the most appealing texture, you don't wan't them to get too mealy or to turn into a paste. See the pics below as a guide.
Tip for dicing whole canned tomatoes. I like to pour the tomatoes into a large bowl, and mash them up with a potato masher. Then, I use kitchen shears to cut any large pieces.
This is much less messy than cutting them on a cutting board.
Time saving tip for thyme. Tie the fresh thyme sprigs into a bundle with kitchen string. But do it very tightly, or you'll be picking stems our of your sauce.
Substitutions and variations
- Mushrooms - white, shiitakes or a blend will also work well. I haven't tested any others.
- Walnuts - any hard nut like almonds or pecans will work, but avoid nuts like cashews that will become creamy when processed. You want a chunky texture.
- San Marzano tomatoes - you can use any whole or diced tomato you like, but I prefer the flavor of whole SM tomatoes that I've diced myself.
- Wine - either a dry red or white will work well here, though I usually have red on hand so that's what I use. You can also substitute 1-2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and a cup of broth or more water.
- Lentil bolognese. Use cooked green or brown lentils in place of the mushrooms, and keep the walnuts or leave them out. Don't use red lentils as they're too soft.
- TVP bolognese. I'm not a big fan of textured vegetable protein, but I believe it would work well in this recipe in place of the mushrooms and walnuts.
- Tofu bolognese. If I used tofu in this recipe, I'd likely press it, crumble it and bake it like I do in my sheet pan sofritas recipe to get a chewy, meatier texture. Or even freeze it first as I do in my tofu chicken breasts.
How to serve bolognese sauce
I love to serve this sauce over a wide pasta like tagliatelle or parpadelle. (It's hard to find vegan and whole food plant-based, so I sometimes cut WFPB compliant lasagna noodles to the right size.)
It's well suited to most pastas, like spaghetti bolognese, linguini, penne, farfalle (aka, bowtie pasta), or really, whatever you like. (Though it may be a bit too substantial for finer noodles like angel hair.)
It's amazing over cooked polenta, too, and this is one of my absolute favorite ways to eat it.
Creamy, tangy almond ricotta on the side is a perfect complement to the flavors in this sauce. To finish it off, I like to layer on a garnish of fresh herbs like parsley or basil, and sprinkle vegan Parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper flakes on top. Yum.
In short, ragu is a thicker, 'meatier' sauce made with white wine, while bolognese has more tomatoes and veggies, and is typically made with red wine. I use whatever wine I have handy to cook with, usually a dry red.
The best way to add richness and layer flavors in sauce is by browning, deglazing and reducing.
In this recipe, we thoroughly brown mushrooms and walnuts, soffritto (a mix of onion, carrots, celery and garlic) and tomato paste.
Then we deglaze with wine to loosen the brown bits in the pot so we can scrape them up and incorporate them into the sauce. Finally, we simmer low and long to reduce and intensify the flavors.
Yes. Mushrooms are a fungi (not a vegetable) that folks have been eating and using medicinally for thousands of years. They're packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
For vegans and vegetarians, they're a good replacement for the umami flavor and texture found in meat. Read more about the health benefits of mushrooms here.
Store this recipe in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 3-4 days. You can also freeze it for up to 3 months.
Happy, whole food plant-based cooking, y'all!
More healthy, plant-based main dishes
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Vegan Mushroom Walnut Bolognese
- 10 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms cleaned with a damp paper towel, see notes
- 1 cup walnut pieces
- 1 yellow onion chopped into 2-inch pieces
- 2 carrots peeled and chopped into 2-inch pieces
- 2 celery ribs chopped into 2-inch pieces
- 2 cloves garlic
- ½ 6 ounce can tomato paste (about 3 tablespoons)
- ½ 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 or white 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
- pink Himalayan salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Optional: Serve with pasta or polenta
- Optional: Top with almond ricotta or vegan parmesan
- Optional: Garnish with fresh basil or parsley
- Place ½ 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.)
- Make a soffritto. Wipe out the food processor, and add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic. Process into a rough 'pulp,' about 30 seconds.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of water in the pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the soffritto (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 wine (or vinegar and 1 cup of water) 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. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve with pasta or polenta.