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You won't even miss the meat in this easy vegetarian bolognese sauce! This meatless meal has all the traditional flavors you'd expect from a classic bolognese, but it's loaded with veggies, walnuts, and quinoa!
You Will Love This
- It's got a meaty flavor and texture, with absolutely no meat whatsoever! The combination of quinoa and finely chopped walnuts mimics ground beef in this veggie bolognese, and it does a FABULOUS job! Honestly, I would almost say that I enjoy this vegetarian bolognese sauce MORE than traditional meaty bolognese. It fills you up without being too heavy. If you’re looking for more Meatless Monday family dinners be sure to check out my Vegetarian Spinach Lasagna Roll-Ups, Veggie Loaded Mediterranean Lasagna, or Creamy Vegan Tuscan Pasta.
- It's filled with simple, straight forward ingredients! If you're concerned about feeding your family wholesome food, first of all, you've come to the right place! Making it easy to feed your family real food is my number one goal here at Midwest Foodie and this recipe really showcases that intention! Walnuts, quinoa, fresh veggies, dried herbs, and tomatoes create the base for this delicious sauce - all ingredients that are as close to their original form as possible!
- It's loaded with veggies making it a healthy, hearty dinner your family will love! If you've got picky eaters at home, this sauce is a must-try! The veggies are diced so finely that they blend right in with the sauce! Also, if your kids won't touch quinoa with a ten-foot pole, let me assure you, they'll never even know it's in the dish!
- Alternately, if you want to get your kids excited about food, try having them help you make this vegetarian bolognese! My daughter had a BLAST smooshing the whole tomatoes in her tiny little hands and was the best helper when it came time to stir. Obviously, exercise great caution with children around a hot stove and save the chopping for a parent or guardian, but let your kids have fun and get messy in the kitchen! You might be surprised how much more excited they are to eat dinner when they helped make it!
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Olive Oil - This is our family’s favorite brand of olive oil. Try to find one that is cold-pressed and organic for the best flavor.
- Yellow Onion - You could also use white onion in place of the yellow onion in this recipe.
- Celery - The celery combines with the onion and carrot to create what’s called a mirepoix. These three veggies make up the aromatics that really flavor this bolognese.
- Carrot - Again, the carrots are a big part of what makes the flavor base of this pasta sauce. Definitely do not omit it!
- Garlic - Freshly minced garlic is ideal for this bolognese. It’s going to give you the most flavor. You could use ½-1 teaspoon of garlic powder in place of the fresh but I highly recommend mincing up fresh garlic yourself!
- Walnuts - Toasted, chopped walnuts are going to create that classic “meaty” texture while adding a deep, nutty flavor as well. You could use pecans in place of the walnuts if that’s all you’ve got on hand.
- Tri-Color Quinoa - You could use regular white quinoa, or red quinoa. I typically have the tri-color quinoa on hand and like the way it blends in with this bolognese.
- Parmesan Cheese - The Parmesan cheese in this recipe is going to add another layer of nutty flavor. You could use a Pecorino or Romano in its place but it will change the flavor slightly.
- Red Wine - I recommend using a dry red wine that you enjoy drinking for this recipe. I like to use a merlot or cabernet sauvignon.
- Whole Milk - You could also use half and half or cream in place of the milk, but I prefer the texture that the whole milk gives because it makes it creamy without being too creamy.
- Crushed Tomatoes - Crushed tomatoes are going to give you the perfect texture for this bolognese. You could use diced tomatoes in their place, but the texture will be much chunkier.
- San Marzano Tomatoes - If you can’t find San Marzano tomatoes, any type of whole peeled tomatoes will work. San Marzano tomatoes have a delicious flavor that is perfect for this bolognese but they can be hard to find at times.
- Dried Thyme, Rosemary & Oregano - You could also use Italian seasoning in place of the dried thyme, dried rosemary, and dried oregano in this recipe.
- Salt and Pepper - The ingredients for this bolognese are pretty simple, so I recommend adding salt and pepper liberally throughout the cooking process. Salt and pepper are going to accentuate all those yummy flavors.
- Parmesan Rind - I like to keep the leftover rind from my Parmesan in an airtight container in the freezer. Then when I’m making spaghetti sauce or bolognese, I just pop a frozen rind in the sauce to simmer. The rind will add a salty, nutty flavor and also help thicken up the sauce. Once you’re done simmering, just remove the rind and discard. If you don’t have a Parmesan rind on hand you can just omit it.
Heat oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add onion, celery, and carrots along with a large pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes.
Add garlic, thyme, rosemary, and oregano and cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently.
Add red wine and deglaze the pot, scraping all the yummy bits off the bottom.
Add whole milk, chopped walnuts, Parmesan cheese, and uncooked quinoa along with a couple large pinches of salt and pepper.
Bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Add Parmesan rind.
Cover and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
Serve with spaghetti noodles and garnish with chopped parsley and grated Parmesan cheese.
- If you're short on time, check and see if your grocery store has already chopped mirepoix! You'll need about three cups total of onion, celery, and carrot. This is a huge time saver and one you should definitely take advantage of when you can!
- To make this sauce vegan, just replace the whole milk with your favorite plant-based milk (canned coconut milk would be GREAT in this recipe) and replace the Parmesan with nutritional yeast. Those simple swaps will make this bolognese free of animal products!
- Don't simmer the sauce for longer than 30 minutes. A 30-minute simmer gives the uncooked quinoa just enough time to cook through and create the perfect bolognese texture in combination with the walnuts. If you simmer for longer, you'll risk overcooking the quinoa, resulting in a mushy texture and a less than desirable flavor.
- To reheat the vegetarian bolognese, just add it to a saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently just until warmed through. This quick re-heat on the stove isn't going to compromise the texture of the quinoa but cooking it for any longer likely could.
- This vegetarian bolognese also freezes well! Allow the sauce to cool to room temperature, then transfer to an airtight container. Place in the freezer where it will stay good for up to 2 months. When you're ready to eat, either heat from frozen in a saucepan over medium heat. Or allow the sauce to thaw overnight in the fridge and then reheat the same way.
Bolognese is a thick, meaty pasta sauce typically made with tomatoes, ground beef or pork, wine, herbs, milk, and Parmesan cheese. In this recipe, the walnuts and quinoa replace the ground meat but the rest of the ingredients remain quite similar to traditional bolognese sauce.
This is a bit of a hot button issue among bolognese lovers across the world because some swear by making bolognese with milk, with others prefer it without. The whole milk adds a rich creaminess to this sauce that I really love. It also combines with the Parmesan cheese to take this sauce to the next level.
Bolognese is typically a thicker and meatier sauce than a traditional spaghetti sauce. Spaghetti sauce usually has a looser texture, is made with mainly tomatoes, and doesn't always have meat in it. Spaghetti sauce goes well with thinner cuts of pasta like spaghetti while bolognese goes well with wider cuts of pasta like pappardelle or lasagna, but it will be delicious with whatever pasta you have on hand!
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