Hearty vegetable bolognese.

As I wrote here recently, we’ve moved into a less meat-centric mode of eating here in the new year. I stocked the ‘fridge with tons of fresh vegetables — butternut squash, broccoli, carrots and onions, bright arugula and gorgeous local salad greens.

Still, with cold winter weather, we want food that’s comforting and satisfying, that feels like luxury, not deprivation. And this recipe for a vegetable-focused version of the traditional Italian Bolognese pasta sauce is perfect.

I started with a recipe from Giada de Laurentiis’s cookbook “Giada’s Kitchen” and made quite a number of adjustments — not the least of which was adding a bit of pancetta for flavor and richness. To make this pasta sauce recipe vegetarian and not just veggie-centric, you could omit the pancetta; certainly, the fresh and dried mushrooms contribute plenty of umami. If you have a Parmesan rind stashed in your freezer (and you DO save your Parmesan rinds, don’t you???), by all means add that to the sauce as it simmers (just remove it before serving).

With a vinaigrette-kissed salad and a glass of red wine, this vegetable pasta recipe is hearty enough for a cold night. Make a big batch and freeze portions to enjoy all winter long!

vegetable bolognese pasta sauce recipe

serves about 8

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 1/2 cups hot water
1 (1/2-inch) slice pancetta, cut into chunks (optional)
3 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped butternut squash
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves
6 ounces cremini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil (divided)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, for serving
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
1 pound dried pasta (rigatoni or farfalle), cooked according to package directions

First, place the dried porcini in a bowl and pour the hot water over; let sit to soften. Place the chopped carrot and butternut squash in a food processor fitted with the metal blade; process until evenly and fairly finely chopped. (You want pieces roughly no bigger than peas.) Transfer to a bowl. Place the onion, bell pepper and garlic in the processor and chop similarly. Transfer to another bowl. Do the same with the cremini mushrooms; transfer to a bowl. Finally, process the pancetta until it resembles coarse ground beef.

In a large stockpot or sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering; lower heat to medium-low and add chopped pancetta. Cook, stirring often, until the pancetta browns (watch that it doesn't burn). Transfer to a plate. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and add the chopped carrot and squash. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add chopped onion, bell pepper, garlic, thyme, oregano and bay leaf; cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften, another 5 minutes. Strain the porcini mushrooms (reserve the liquid and strain out any dirt or sand) and chop; add them with the cremini mushrooms to the pan; add 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt and a generous pinch of ground pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes more. Add the tomato paste and stir to coat the vegetables. Add the wine, mushroom soaking liquid and canned tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered, until the sauce thickens and turns a deep, rich red, about 30–40 minutes. Add the mascarpone cheese and stir to combine.

Toss the vegetable bolognese with the cooked pasta. Dish out servings and top each with some sliced basil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

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