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Pasta with Mushroom Bolognese Sauce

Pasta with Mushroom Bolognese Sauce
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Bucatini works beautifully in this recipe

“I would be hard pressed to tell you whether or not there was meat in this sauce”. That was Andrew’s take once I served him this completely Vegetarian version of Italy’s renowned Bolognese sauce.   I am not sure that’s the response Vegetarians would be thrilled to hear.   But for those of us who like variety in our diet to include meat-free meals, Andrew’s remarks were as good as they get.  This wonderfully flavorful sauce, full of tomatoey goodness, hints of parmesan and baby eggplant is a pasta lovers dream.  For pasta,  I like to use Bucatini, sometimes called Perciatelli, which takes me right back to Rome with every bite.  Bucatini, the spaghetti-like pasta with a tunnel running through it, is particularly popular there.  Once the sauce has been incorporated into the pasta, a cloud of luscious Burata cheese tops the dish adding a creamy-rich dimension.

Mushrooms have to be one of the most-used substitutes for meat in all of vegetarian cooking.  There are no fewer than 150 main dish mushroom recipes on allrecipes.com alone.   It does make sense: mushrooms are meaty!  Even plain white mushrooms have 15 grams of protein per pound!*   And in this recipe, which I adapted from Food and Wine, their texture is pretty darn close to that of the ground meat that would make up a traditional Bolognese meat sauce.  In fact, as a mushroom lover, I made sure you knew you were eating mushrooms, because I incorporated slices of sautéed Creminis into it.  The Creminis are just one of three types of mushrooms that make up my Mushroom Bolognese.

An array of mushrooms at the Farm in Cutchoque NY

As anyone who reads Chewing the Fat with any frequency knows, I am a big fan of The East End Mushroom Company in Cutchogue, Long Island.     If they don’t grow the mushrooms themselves right on their premises, they import them from Kennett Square, PA, which is rightly known as “The Mushroom Capital of the World”.  For my Bolognese, I was able to use their Shiitakes and Creminis to delicious effect. The dried porcinis I had on hand. For their hours and to pre-select your mushrooms go to www.theeastendmushroomcompany.com

If you’ve ever made Bolognese sauce, making this one will be very familiar. The cooking starts with what the Italians call a ‘battuto’, that finely diced combination of onion and carrots usually accompanied by celery. In Italian ‘battere’ means ‘to strike’.  Here it refers to the use of a chef’s knife chopping on a cutting board.  The celery is replaced by baby eggplant. The Cuisinart makes a perfect battuto of the onions and carrots but I cubed the eggplant into ¼ inch dice.  There were recipes for this dish in which all the mushrooms were placed in the Cuisinart  to emerge with a texture very close to ground beef.  As mentioned, I sliced half the creminis, sautéed them in butter and olive oil and added them to the sauce after I’d incorporated all the other ingredients.  Now Food and Wine’s Kay Chun had used a ‘secret ingredient’.  She’d added White Miso paste for seasoning and depth of flavor.  I had Miso on hand and used it.  But in all honesty, I’d be hard pressed to identify the Miso at any point.  So if you have it, by all means use it. But I honestly don’t think you’ll miss it.   The one thing you might miss, if you don’t use it, are the Red Chili Flakes.  They lift the whole sauce up and may even be the reason, Andrew didn’t miss the meat. Here is the recipe:

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