Tuesday, August 25, 2009


I used to be a Food Network junkie, watching shows whenever I had a spare moment. Recent years have seen the departure of some of my favorite stars, but I still tune in for Giada, Ina, and Bobbie. Usually I'm reading a magazine or quilting so I don't feel like I'm letting the tube turn my brain to mush. During a recent reunion with Giada, I saw her make a vegetarian version of Bolognese, a sauce that I take very seriously.

Up front I will tell you I am a card-carrying carnivore whose go-to meatless meal is eggplant rollatini or parmigiana. However, I am pleased to count among my friends and acquaintances a number of discriminating vegetarian palates. So, Lee and Rachel, in particular, this one's for you.

I wanted to get the cooking out of the way on Sunday morning. Growing up in an Italian American family, Sunday dinner was typically eaten at 2 or 3 in the afternoon. A good Bolognese improves with time, so I decided to make the sauce up to the point of adding the mascarpone. Preparation and cooking time was under 40 minutes. I then refrigerated the sauce right in my LeCreuset Dutch oven (really, LeCreuset should be paying me for all this free advertising, but I do so love my toys). When it was time for dinner, I placed it on the stove to reheat slowly while I boiled the water for the rigatoni.

When the pasta was cooked and drained--remember to reserve some pasta water to thin the sauce out a bit--I added the mascarpone, then sauced the pasta. I had read the many reviews of this dish, but it didn't convince me to use less of this rich cheese than the recipe called for. I'm glad I used the 1/2 cup called for; the sauce was perfect.

You can find the recipe for rigatoni with vegetable Bolognese sauce on the Food Network site.

1-ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 1/2 cups hot water
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 ounces assorted mushrooms (like shiitake, cremini, and brown), stemmed and chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
1 pound rigatoni pasta
1/4 cup Parmesan

Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with 1 1/2 cups very hot water. Set aside and let the mushrooms soften.

Place the carrots, onion, bell pepper, and garlic in a food processor. Pulse the vegetables until finely chopped but still chunky.
Place the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chopped vegetables, thyme, oregano, salt, and pepper and cook until tender, about 6 minutes. Strain the porcini mushrooms, reserving the porcini mushroom liquid. Add the porcini mushrooms, fresh mushrooms, and tomato paste and continue cooking, stirring to dissolve the tomato paste, until the mushrooms are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the porcini mushroom liquid and red wine. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and let the mixture simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add mascarpone cheese and stir just until the cheese is incorporated.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and add to the vegetable mixture. Add some of the reserved pasta cooking liquid, if necessary, to moisten the sauce. Toss with Parmesan and serve.
My only change was the substitution of 2 stalks of celery for the red pepper. I was out of red peppers or I'd have added that, too. I added the celery because I've been using carrots, celery, and onion as the base for my tomato sauce since I bought Marcella Hazan's cookbook back in the 70's.

From the appearance of the Bolognese to the earthy smell and taste, this recipe is a winner. Could it have been improved by the addition of a nice hunk of pancetta during the initial saute of vegetables? You bet! I'll never be a vegetarian, but I can certainly appreciate a winning combination of flavors and this pasta dish can stand on its own. So whether you're trying to economize--really, a small package of dried porcini and a small container of mascarpone aren't that expensive--or cut down on your meat consumption for health reasons or just venture into a different style of eating for a short visit, give this easy sauce a try. Even reheated, it's superb!


  1. Wow...you'd never know it was meatless! I'm curious about the mascarpone. The addition of mascarpone could never be a bad thing. Have you put mascarpone in your bolognese before? Sounds really great. Bolognese is my very favorite pasta sauce!! Rigatoni is my favorite pasta shape. Mushrooms are another story altogether! I have tried and tried to like them, but I just can't. But, I bet I could do eggplant and some other veggies. Looks delish!!

  2. I never thought of adding celery to the tomato sauce. I'll have to give it a try.
    This pasta sounds marvellous, I love mushrooms.

  3. My favorite food in the whole world is pasta, with or without meat. I've been know to make myself a pot of spaghetti seasoned simply with a little butter and sea salt. This recipe is fantastic. I too would add the red peppers and the celery. Love the way you think my friend.

  4. Mmm, all of my favourite flavours! Looks wonderful.

  5. leekapleau@embarqmail.comAugust 26, 2009 at 1:22 PM

    This looks fabulous!! Thanks for an offering to a veggie friend -- I often substitute mushrooms in various forms in recipes calling for ground beef (chili is a good exampla). I'll bet portobellos would be lovely here, too.

  6. Those mushrooms are tempting me. What a great dish.

  7. This is on my menu for our Christmas Eve Eve dinner with our closest friends. Love your suggestion of making ahead - anything to make the day and evening run smoothly. Yours looked great!

  8. What a nice blog, let me say that you have what some people call: ''writer's wood'', no really,
    this could be the best thing i've ever read since that last post of ''Tabasco's Grill'' by Henry Townsend, i can't wait
    for another masterpiece of yours!!!! =)

    Vincenzo Aquafresca (vincenzoaquafresca@gmail.com)
    4853 Tully Street
    Dearborn, MI 48126

  9. Just made this tonight. An excellent vegetarian choice. next time I would chop all veggies by hand rather than food processor. I found it just a little to mushy. Only change was to add a bit of ground hot pepper and of course the celery. Delicious.


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