Cauliflower, Mushroom & Walnut Meatless 'Bolognese' Over Edamame Spaghetti
We're officially entering the deep part of winter when cold winds can literally take your breath away. I start to gravitate towards warming, rich, flavorful dishes that keep me well-nourished but not feeling weighted down or sluggish. The creative combination of ingredients in this Cauliflower, Mushroom and Walnut Meatless 'Bolognese' truly hits the spot!
I struggled a bit with what to name this dish. Traditional Bolognese originated in Bologna, Italy and includes ground meat (usually beef, veal or sometimes pork), a little tomato, onion, carrot, celery, white wine and milk. When most people think of a Bolognese sauce, a pot of tomato saucy ground beef comes to mind. So I borrowed the word for a reference point, but made it clear this is nothing like any Bolognese you've ever tasted. I've also paired this flavorful sauce with edamame spaghetti - so your eyes are not deceiving you, this pasta is tinged slightly green.
I dare say this Cauliflower, Mushroom and Walnut Meatless 'Bolognese' is even better than the original! I'll let you be the judge.
I experimented a LOT with this recipe to create the flavor, aroma, texture, simplicity, and nutrient profile necessary to make this an incredible dish ~ using just a few whole ingredients! This Cauliflower, Wild Mushroom and Walnut Meatless 'Bolognese' is equally delicious next-day or next month ~ it freezes and reheats beautifully! As with a traditional Bolognese, the key to a memorable bite is building layers of flavor. This is especially important when omitting the meat.
Meet the cast of characters:
Dried Shiitake Mushrooms ~ I chose shiitake mushrooms because they are readily available and lend an earthy, smoky flavor and meaty texture. I experimented with both fresh and dried mushrooms and found the dried mushrooms soaked up a lot more flavor and moisture resulting in better overall flavor and texture. You can use fresh mushrooms but the sauce will need more time to reduce and the flavor won't be quite the same.
Walnuts ~ I used red walnuts here because I wanted their contribution of deep burgundy (which also makes them higher in antioxidants) and also because I found a wicked sale so had plenty to use. The red walnut is fairly new to the market. It is the result of cross-breeding and tastes like the English walnut but a bit creamier and less bitter. [Not everyone finds walnuts bitter, just like not everyone thinks cilantro tastes like soap.] You can read more about them HERE, and the health benefits of walnuts in general HERE.
The ORAC value (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity -a lab technique used to quantify the total antioxidant capacity of a food) has not yet been tested for red walnuts. It is expected they will prove to be the highest antioxidant nut available.
Regular English walnuts will work as well. Toasting the nuts in a low oven deepens their flavor and their textural contribution.
Cauliflower ~ combined with the shiitake mushrooms, cauliflower provides the perfect texture for this dish. I find it to be the most neutral tasting brassica and will readily absorb the flavors and colors of its surroundings, making it a perfect choice here. This is one medium head - washed, dried, trimmed (14 oz.) and finely chopped with my chef's knife (kitchen therapy). This can easily be chopped in your food processor or you may choose to purchase pre-chopped (often sold as "riced").
There are two ways to go about using finely chopped cauliflower as a textural replacement for ground beef: use a sheet pan and turn on your oven OR use your Dutch oven and keep everything in one pot. The purpose is to soften the cauliflower, reduce moisture and create some caramelization. Using your oven to accomplish this is fantastic for lighter dishes (those both light in flavor and color). However, for the robust flavors in this dish, I did not think the results of the former warranted the extra propane or hassle.
Pasta ~ by swapping out the meat for veg in this dish, I increased the fiber but lost some protein I was keen to replace. The most effective way to accomplish this is to use legume based pasta. This one is organic edamame spaghetti made with just one ingredient: organic edamame (green soybeans). One 2 oz. serving (dry) provides 25g of protein (3 oz. 90% beef = 21g protein), 11g of fiber (beef provides 0g fiber) and 2g fat (3 oz. 90% beef = 9g fat). Cooked legume pastas do not have quite the same texture as wheat pasta, however when paired with an ample flavorful sauce they are delicious. You may also like to try one of the blended grain pastas that includes quinoa. The protein content won't be as much as with legume pastas but it will be more than semolina pastas and the texture is similar.
Those are the leading characters. I'll introduce you to the rest of the crew below and get you on your way to making this fantastic Meatless 'Bolognese'.
Total Time: 90 minutes Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 60-75 minutes
Here's what you'll need for 6 servings (freeze some of the sauce if you don't need this much!)
• 1.5 boxes organic edamame spaghetti, 12 oz. total
• 1 large onion, chopped, 1 cup or 7 oz.
• 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped, 1/4 cup
• 1 medium head of white cauliflower, finely chopped, 3 cups or 14 oz .
• 1/4 cup vegetable stock or water
• 3/4 cup dried Shiitake mushrooms, finely chopped, 1.1 oz.
• 2 cups red wine
• 1 large can crushed tomatoes, 28 oz.
• 1 can diced tomatoes, 15 oz.
• 2 tsp fennel seeds
• 3 bay leaves
• 1.5 tsp. dried oregano
• 1.5 cups red or English walnuts, toasted & chopped
• 3/4 cup fresh basil, one small bunch
• 1 tsp salt
• 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• 1 lemon
* For the dried Shiitake mushrooms, I used my chef's knife to slice them first, then chopped them until they were roughly the same size as the cauliflower. Alternatively, you can cut them into large pieces and finish them off in your food processor. Just don't pulverize them into a powder.
The key here is building layers of flavor. We're going to do this in ONE heavy Dutch oven. I'm also going to describe how to make this without using any oil. A drizzle of good, cold-pressed olive oil over the finished dish is a better use if you choose to use oil.
1. Prepare all the veg in advance. Heat your dry Dutch oven over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Add the onions, spreading them out to cover the surface evenly. Now leave them alone for 2-3 minutes until you start to see color around the edges. Give them a gently stir and smooth them out again. In another 2-3 minutes they should be evenly browned, but not black or burned.
2. Add the garlic, spread evenly. Leave for 1 minute. Stir. You should have some dark brown bits developing on the bottom of your pot. This is good.
3. Next add the cauliflower and the veg stock or water. Reduce the heat to med/low, spread the cauliflower evenly over the onions and garlic, put the lid on your pot for 2-3 minutes. This will create some steam which will help loosen the brown bits while the cauliflower cooks. Remove the lid and continue cooking for about 5 minutes.
4. Add the mushrooms, wine and dry seasonings. Simmer SLOWLY until the liquid is reduced by more than half... truly, you won't have a lot of liquid left - not a lot of "sauce" going on right now, but you're creating delicious flavor by reducing the glutamates in the wine before adding the tomatoes. Yes, it is important to reduce the wine... and to do this slowly. Do not be tempted to crank the heat higher to speed things up. Why is this so important? You can read more about this from the Food Lab HERE.
5. Next add both cans of tomatoes and simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
6. Start your water for your pasta now.
7. Finally add the toasted walnuts, simmer another 10-15 until thickened.
8. Cook the pasta* according to the package directions, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water before draining.
9. Add as much of the pasta water to the sauce to give it a cohesive consistency, still thick but not too soupy.
10. Dish up! Sprinkle the serving platter or individual portions with the fresh basil, freshly ground pepper from your pepper mill and a drizzle of cold-pressed olive oil (if desired).
* For the edamame pasta, I found it needed to cook just a bit longer than the package directions. Taste before draining. I also thought the texture was better if you leave a little of the pasta water in the pot instead of straining it all, about 1/3 cup should be good.
Nutrition Information is for 2oz. dry pasta or 1 cup cooked, 1.5 cups meatless 'Bolognese' and 1.5 Tbsp. fresh basil.
A Note about Nutritional Yeast: often nutritional yeast is used as a parmesan/Romano/asiago cheese replacement as well as additional B vitamins if purchasing a fortified variety. I did not care for its use in this dish and am working on a nut-based alternative. If you enjoy nutritional yeast, try a bite with a sprinkle. If you like the flavor, feel free to include it on the dish.
If you make this recipe, I'd love to hear how you and your guests liked it! Snap a photo and tag me too, #chefcatherinebrown. I love seeing what you make!
DISCLOSURES: None. This post was not created in affiliation with any product or brand. The opinions expressed are my own. I will only write about products I use and trust.
NOTE: All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use my photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own unique words and link back to the source recipe here on A Seat at My Table so credit is given where credit is due. Thank you!