vegan pappardelle with bolognese photo by carmen troesser

Vegan Pappardelle with Bolognese

Pasta is the only food that everyone in my family will eat without a side of heavy sighs and eye rolls. On noodle night, Carnivore Bob, myself and our little omnivores gather around a big bowl of hot, undressed pasta. We each take from the communal bowl, add our own toppings, and then happily fixate on our iPhones while gorging on gluten.

Because we eat so much pasta, I like to play with noodle shapes that go beyond basic spaghetti. There’s twisty fusilli, whose crevices store melted cheese like the treasure it is. Fluted gigli resembles a lily and is easy for children, or adults who eat like children, to pick up with their bare hands. And then there’s my latest obsession, pappardelle. It’s a wide, flat noodle that resembles a beautiful ribbon on the best present you’ve ever received. The overflowing tangle of carb upon carb means you won’t be hungry again in an hour. Or ever. And you can make fresh pappardelle at home with just eggs, salt, and all-purpose and semolina flours; no pasta machine is necessary. Alternatively, you can do as I do during bouts of laziness and just order the pappardelle entree at Mad Tomato in Clayton.

Mad Tomato’s house-made pappardelle is topped with a slow-cooked pork rib ragu that excites the carnivores in my family. But veg lovers won’t miss out. Vito Racanelli, chef-owner of Mad Tomato, will cheerfully prepare a vegetarian option upon request. Racanelli said that big, thick pappardelle noodles can stand up to a big, thick sauce, the kind that makes you feel warm all over on a cold winter night. Inspired by our conversation, I created a hearty vegetarian version of Bolognese (traditionally a meat sauce) with earthy mushrooms, beans for protein and bold red wine. The key to this recipe is to blitz the vegetables and beans in a food processor. You’ll save prep time, and the itty-bitty veggies actually look like ground beef once they’re enveloped in tomato sauce.

Everyone in my family ate my new Bolognese recipe without complaint, which is the culinary equivalent of whooping and throwing their hats in the air. But the creative cook in me felt restless. Mushrooms are an easy, predictable vegetarian ingredient. Seeking something special, I continued my education on the big wide world of Bolognese with Giovanni Gabriele, owner of Giovanni’s on the Hill. Gabriele is a charming man who has cooked for four U.S. presidents and Oprah. In fact, you can order his Pappardelle alla Bella Oprah while you sit at the table Oprah sat at and look at photos of Oprah eating the same thing you’re eating, and it’s almost like you and Oprah are hanging out together. But when I shared my idea for a vegetarian Bolognese and asked how he would do it, he said, “I wouldn’t. Bolognese means meat. No meat, no Bolognese.” I guess when you’ve cooked for POTUS and Oprah you mince garlic, not words.

Gabriele’s Pappardelle alla Bella Oprah is unapologetically vegetarian; an understated presentation of pesto, fresh ricotta and tomato sauce lined up like the Italian flag. The lack of fussiness appealed to me, so I went back to my kitchen to make a second, simpler sauce. I liked Gabriele’s idea of using pesto, so I made my own, adding bright, flavor-packed sun-dried tomatoes and substituting creamy cashews for the Parmesan and pine nuts. Without the Parmesan, my pesto was vegan, and skipping the pine nuts freed me from a metallic taste known as “pine mouth.” (I’m not making that up. Google it.)

So why did I make two different homemade sauces, but serve them over store-bought dried noodles? It’s all about the return on my time investment. It may be blasphemous, but I don’t taste a huge difference between fresh pasta and nicer dried pasta brands. Homemade sauce, on the other hand, is worth every minute in the kitchen. Make one of these recipes, and you’ll be rewarded with fresh flavors that blow the jarred stuff away. Because any night you can make a meal that draws family to the table is a good night, even if Oprah can’t join you.



3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 lb. button mushrooms
2 Tbsp. fresh basil leaves
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley leaves
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary
1 15-oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 lb. dried pappardelle noodles*
¼ cup olive oil
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
½ cup pinot noir, chianti or other dry red wine
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. sugar (optional)
2 tsp. crushed red pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

• Place the celery, carrots and onion in a large food processor. Pulse 15 to 20 times, until finely chopped. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl and set aside.
• Working in batches, pulse the mushrooms 15 to 20 times, until finely chopped. Transfer the mushrooms to a separate bowl and set aside.
• Pulse the basil, parsley and rosemary 20 to 25 times, until finely chopped. Empty the herbs into a third bowl and set aside.
• Pulse the cannellini beans 5 to 10 times, until coarsely chopped but not creamy. Place the beans in a fourth bowl and set aside.
• Cook the pasta in salted water according to package directions. Reserve ½ cup pasta water, drain and rinse the pasta, and set it aside.
• In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the pulsed celery, carrot and onion mix until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and continue to cook until the mushrooms release their moisture and it evaporates, about 10 minutes. Stir in the herb mixture and the minced garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste, stirring to coat the vegetables. Cook until the paste darkens, about 2 to 3 minutes.
• Add the wine, stirring to deglaze the Dutch oven and scraping any bits off the bottom. Add the reserved pasta water and the crushed tomatoes and their juices. Stir in the chopped beans. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce heat to low. Add the balsamic vinegar, sugar (if using), red pepper, salt and black pepper to taste. Simmer uncovered 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve the sauce over the prepared noodles.

* Egg-free noodles such as 365 Everyday Value Organic Fettuccine are available at Whole Foods Market, 1601 S. Brentwood Blvd., Brentwood, 314.968.7744,

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