RUDNICK STYLE 100% VEGAN BOLOGNESE
Once again, I have tried to optimize the methods, but refuse to apologise for the length of this writeup or any digressions within. I feel that trying to make it foolproof and understandable is better that being vague in service of useless brevity. Deal with it!!!!!!!
Oh Vegan Bolognese; This has been a puzzle I have spent a long time thinking about; time and again the meatless bologneses I'd had just fell down on texture, on flavour, on big, rich, meaty satisfaction. They did not hit the spot!!! It was bad!!! Every insanely good meatless dish is a win for all of us so something had to be done here, I enjoy a challenge long in the solving, and this was very much a protracted enquiry; on the back of my mind for years, always wondering about approaches or if any new knowledge might be relevant. Taking anchovies and cheese / dairy off the table as flavour hacks in pasta sauces, you might as well be cutting off my arms. But if I could solve it... the ramifications for all of us would be beautiful. Think what we could achieve! I hereby present the results where my efforts and considerations have taken me thus far; they are now at the point where I believe this is knowledge worth sharing. The quantum leap here in terms of really addressing the flavour profiles comes from essentially building two separate sauces in parallel; one sweet, vegetal, flavourful, textured, and one comicly dark and meaty, unctuous, near-evil, a flavour bomb, and combining them to get a result which operates in the Expanded Flavour Field any truly wonderful bolognese should.
This can obviously be served as a ragu with pasta (I had mine with thick spaghetti, it was just yes) but I'm very excited to see or hear any results from people using it in other contexts a bolognese / mince might be used, in order to bring some absolute vegan artillery to these dishes; lasagnas, shepherds pies, etc. I'm sure you could also freeze the bolognese for future uses, and also you should be able to scale up the recipe quite straightforwardly. Should anyone attempt this, please, please let me know.
Finally I like to try and keep my recipes simple, as few ingredients as possible, one pot, simple prep, etc. The techniques involved here mean that this one does require 2 pans, a blender, and an oven, but I promise at every step I can, I have tried to aim for optimization, in terms of time and prep. I believe you can get the whole thing done start to finish in an hour, and it is not an intense or troublesome one. And the results... They are worth it.
1/2 litre fresh pure carrot juice
2 punnets chestnut mushrooms
(This isnt a huge ammount of mushrooms given the sauce volume, and the mushrooms I have suggested are not particularly fancy. But this is actually the counterintuitive point, as I learned through trial and error; more interesting mushrooms only impart more specifically interestingly mushroomy flavour, which we dont actually want [we are transforming them into something meaty and powerful], and their marinade is so preposterously strong that we want to keep its intensity focused)
dat XO marinade
1 head of black garlic, individual cloves peeled
3/4 tablespoon marmite (vegemite will also work. This is an insanely strong ingredient and although it may be hard to find as might the black garlic, frankly, the two are huge huge components of what makes everything work here)
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1/2 tablespoons hot sauce
the other sauce bits
1 large white onion, diced
5 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon white miso paste
2 red bell peppers
1 aubergine (for americans, an "eggplant" lol)
1 cup pistachios, shelled
handful of pine nuts
200-250g sunblushed tomatoes in oil (the kind you get at the deli counter that are still light red, not the expensive ones that come in a jar that are deep vermillion in colour - though these might add a deeper flavour and if you want to try for that you absolutely can)
olive oil, salt, pepper
blender / vitamix
2 large pans
• Pre-heat oven to 200C / 395F
• Slice the aubergine in half lengthways, through the stem. Liberally brush or drizzle the interior flesh with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Place in a baking dish along with the two whole red peppers. Place in the now-hot oven. We are off and running. You want to cook these for around 35-45 minutes (the aubergine can be a little undercooked compared to if you were normally cooking it in the oven)
• with your fingers, pull the stems out of all of the chestnut mushrooms and place the stems aside.
• take each head of the mushroom and crumble it into a bowl between your thumbs and forefingers.
(You want irregular sized pieces with crumbled and irregular edges; maximize the surface area on the bits, but you want a bit of texture so you arent aiming to atomize the mushrooms here, but you dont want any chunks larger than say, your thumbnail. Mushrooms retain crazy ammounts of moisture and a lot of the meatiness in this recipe is going to come from getting these fungi to release as much flavour as poss whilst also dehydrating them early.)
• take the stems you set aside earlier and just roughly chop any larger bits so you have segments about 2cms long, then place them on a small foiled baking tray. Toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and place these in the oven also.
• take a large pan and put it on the stove on a high heat. When the pan is hot add the crumbled mushrooms directly into the dry pan and stir them around for a minute or so. give them a nice seasoning with salt while you do. Keep them moving so they dont stick to the pan but basically they are going to smoke and sear slightly - dont worry, they will quickly start to release their moisture. Keep stirring them about and let the first sweats of emerge and steam off. Only after a couple of minutes of this, when they should already have some dark colour on the outsides from this dry searing, add a bit of olive oil to the pan and reduce the heat slightly while you combine the marinade.
makin dat XO marinade
• place the black garlic cloves in a bowl and add the two tablespoons of soy sauce. Mash with a fork and stir until you have a smooth-ish paste, then add the marmite and hot sauce, stirring until combined. You will have one of the most intense sauces imaginable here. Immediately add it to the hot pan with the mushrooms and stir through.
• The dry searing of the mushrooms and this intense sauce will be drying the pan out a lot; you should be seeing residue accumulate on the pan base. Use your wooden spatula or spoon to clear some mushrooms aside so you can see the base of the pan and deglaze with a cup of fresh carrot juice, stirring immediately as it hits the hot pan. In seconds you should have a pan of pure evil flavour richness going with these mushrooms. Reduce the heat to medium and keep stirring, if you start to see solids carmelizing or burning on the base of the pan deglaze with more carrot juice. Keep an eye on this while you follow the next steps - you can gradually lower the heat over time so its warm but below a simmer, and stir occasionally, to avoid any risk of burning or drying out the sauce.
• place the sunblushed tomatoes, pistachios and pine nuts in the blender but DONT TURN IT ON YET
• place a second pan on high heat, add olive oil so that a thin film covers the base of the pan
• When the oil is hot add the diced white onion. Cook for a few minutes as they start to yellow and soften, then clear a space in the center of the pan with your wooden spoon and use a garlic press to mince the garlic cloves into the gap. If you dont have a garlic mincer you can finely dice them, or very thinly slice them. Add your teaspoon of white miso paste as well. As soon as the garlic is taking on colour stir through with the white onions and mix together. Keep the heat high - the onions should be cooking fast and look like they are about to caramelize / burn. Clear a space as you did with the mushrooms and deglaze this pan as well with carrot juice, a little at a time, stirring rapidly as you add it, seeing the carrot juice reduce almost immediately. Keep repeating so that the ammount of liquid boiling off is almost the same as the ammount you are adding and you will see a wonderful, sweet emulsion begin to emerge, the onions and garlic taking on the bright orange of the carrot juice, a silky sheen. Dont add too much at once, the cold carrot juice counters the high heat of the pan. After about five minutes of this you should have a magnificent flavourful put pungent combo here. transfer them to the blender but DONT TURN IT ON YET. Great
• Time to go check on the oven. Its probably been about 20 minutes or so at this point. The mushroom stems should have roasted up into deeply tanned dark, flavourful shrivelled chunks, and possibly released some liquid of their own too. Take these out the oven and transfer them and their liquid to the mushroom pan, which should be on a low/medium heat at this point, stirring together with the already cooked mushrooms. They will absorb some of the sauce, but add a roasted flavour that is meaty in a different way to the seared ones. Using the stick blender if you have one, you might want to do a few pulses to the mushrooms in the pan, breaking some of them up further, but DONT BLEND THEM. The point here is to add some further bandwidth to their texture so some of these can integrate into the sauce, not to remove them entirely. If you dont have a stick blender, with a metal fork, press down on some of the larger chunks to roughly break them apart.
• stir these mushrooms lovingly (the flavours will still be deeply intense) and again, if getting too dry and you have carrot juice remaining, feel free to add a little as you stir. You are aiming for a deep, rich, dark, gravy-like texture that surrounds but does not exceed the top of the mushroom bits in the pan, it should have a little silkiness to it.
•if you're making pasta, clean out the pan you cooked the onions in, fill it with hot water, add salt, and get it on high heat ready to get boiling. We're very nearly there at this point
• We should be around 35 minutes or so in. Check on your aubergine and peppers. The peppers should definitely have softened a lot at this point, and hopefully if there was enough oil on the aubergine its nearly cooked. I think its actually fine for it not to be completely liquified - it worked well for me at what felt like 85% cooked and I think this added some body to the sauce, so thats ok if its like that. Take them out the oven.
• Pull the stems out your peppers and discard but dont drain any liquid inside. Add them to the blender. DONT TURN THE BLENDER ON YET
• using a metal spoon scrape the flesh out the aubergines and add it to the blender. DONT TURN THE BLENDER ON YET
• if they are cool enough to touch or if you have The True Hands Of A Chef, Squeeze the liquid out the skins of the aubergines into the blender, then discard the skins and stems. Close the blender. YOU MAY NOW TURN THE BLENDER ON
• Roughly pulse everything in the blender, to the point where you have a beautiful combined blushed orange sauce sauce with no large visible pieces of any one ingredient, but enough roughness that it has clear texture and chunkiness. Do not try and blend it smooth - that texture is important.
It will smell delicious and sweet, with some richer smokier fragrancies from the aubergine and pistachios. But it is about to transform
___HERE WE GO________
pour / scrape the contents of the blender into the mushroom pan. Bring heat up to medium and combine thoroughly. Marvel at what is happening. Stir. Taste. Season with salt and pepper if necessary – it may very well not be necessary.
My goodness. The flavours. The textures. The colours. Such wow. If using for purposes other than pasta this this is ready.
• If making pasta add the pasta to the boiling water
• Lovingly continue to stir the sauce, if it is beginning to dry out use small ladles of the pasta water as it boils to maintain moisture and consistency.
• If pasta-ing; drain pasta 1 min short of desired al dente. Season with black pepper and olive oil when in colander. Toss in sauce, stir thoroughly then remove from heat.
We did it friends. We absolutely did it. Enjoy.
Please let me know how you got on or if you have adjustments or further refinements of your own!