Vegan Bolognese: the third generation’s take on a family recipe

Vegan bolognese. Works well with TVP or frozen, packaged crumbles! Recipe in comments.

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My grandma confessed to the family a few years ago that she really doesn’t care for cooking. She fashioned herself a master chef who spends hours in the kitchen. She is an expert at repurposing leftovers, and a purist where it counts. (She and my dad famously argue over tomatoes–she insists he does not simmer them long enough, and he says she uses too much tomato paste)

My grandma has five children and a husband with a larger-than-life personality. She is from Lille; he came from Santa Elisabetta via Tuscany. When this charming Sicilian man met the brilliant but unassuming French school teacher in Paris, he tried to convince her that he was a Frenchman.  I don’t know if she believed him, but she decided to give him a shot and they were married six months later.

She cooked Italian food as if it were her passion. It was apparently not. I didn’t know of her love for celeriac grated with mayonnaise, boiled artichokes, and bouillabaisse until I began cooking and asked her one day about her favorite dishes.

Still, I feel guilty that my favorite thing she ever made me was the bolognese she was known for in our family. Other than mussels with white wine–a non-kosher delight–this was the dish I always asked her to make.

My dad’s iteration of the dish became even more decadent than my grandma’s. He adds heavy whipping cream and extra tomatoes to make the already-decadent dish an absolute gastrointestinal nightmare. A delicious one.

After I stopped eating meat and decided to keep kosher, bolognese’s thick, stewed meat and red wine sauce, fell off my radar. A few years into being a vegetarian, I realized I missed the old comfort. Here in Jerusalem, when I find myself missing my family, this is the meal that always comes to mind. Obviously I had to find a way to blend three generations of strong cooking opinions into one vegetarian, kosher dish. Finally I’m sharing the recipe. It’s as simple as it is satisfying.

Note on pasta: Don’t overcook it or this will just be garbage. I know how ridiculous and pretentious that sounds, but it’s just true. Salt your water well, add a dash of olive oil, and cook the noodles until they need a little bit of a chew but don’t feel like work. Drain and rinse them immediately under cold water, return them to the empty pot, and add in enough sauce to wet the noodles. This is vital–do not top plain pasta with sauce. The noodles need to absorb the flavors as well!

I like conchiglie (shells) with my bolognese. My mom swears by penne and hates rigatoni, but I know most people turn to spaghetti for their bolognese. Do what makes you feel comforted. That’s what I did.

The key to this bolognese is lots of fresh basil and lots of time to simmer. I let mine simmer for at least an hour, covered, until it changes color to a deep “beefy” brown and the tomatoes have cooked and become slightly sweet. I do not add sugar to my bolognese (opting instead to allow the tomatoes to stew) but if you’re in a pinch for time, you can add a teaspoon of sugar to compensate for a shorter simmer.

Third Generation Bolognese (Vegan and Kosher)

  • 1 large white onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2-3 stalks celery, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 3 cups hydrated TVP (or 1 package frozen crumbles)
  • 800g (1 large can) tomato puree
  • 2 tsp za’atar
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, cut into strips
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tbs red wine
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat 2 tbs oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottom pot or dutch oven. Chop the onion, carrot, bell pepper, and celery according to how chunky you like your sauce and add them to the heated oil. Stir frequently to prevent scorching. Cook until softened, at least 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper, and minced garlic. Cook another minute.

Add in the TVP or frozen crumbles and za’atar and stir well. Cook until browned and heated through. Clear a space in the center of the pot and add a little bit of oil to fry the tomato paste until it bubbles. Mix the tomato paste and the TVP mixture well. Add in the tomato puree and water. Stir, adding in the basil, red wine, and pepper flakes, and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook for one hour, stirring from time to time to make sure the bottom does not burn.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with al dente pasta of your choice, mixing in a half cup of the sauce to coat the noodles before topping with more bolognese to serve.

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