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VEGAN BOLOGNESE WITH WHOLE WHEAT PENNE

SERVES 4 AS MAIN COURSE, 6 AS AN APPETIZER

When I noticed that Italians are making gluten-free pasta, I realized that we were in a new era of Italian cookery. So I figured it wouldn’t be too heretical to update traditional, rich Bolognese sauce for people who, whether through preference or doctor’s orders, want a lighter version of this satisfying comfort food. In recent years I’ve been committed to providing more menu choices for customers who have health issues or food sensitivities. Guests don’t necessarily want to announce their food preferences to the world, especially if they’re at, say, an important business lunch, so having a range of dishes guests can eat without having to place a special order is a new part of hospitality.

This Vegan Bolognese is chock-full of vegetables, minced finely to approximate the texture of the ground meat in the traditional version. It’s a bit of work to mince all the veg (a food processor on the pulse setting does the trick), so consider doubling the recipe and freezing half in single-serving containers for quick mid-week meals. And don’t skimp on the cooking time; the key to this sauce is letting it simmer over very low heat for a long time — at least 1-1/2 hours.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 eggplant, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 bell peppers (preferably a mix of red and yellow), cored, seeded, and roughly chopped
  • 1 small head cauliflower, trimmed and broken into florets
  • 2 carrots, peeled, trimmed, and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 pound button mushrooms, wiped clean of dirt and sliced
  • 1 large bulb fennel, trimmed and roughly chopped
  • 1 medium zucchini, trimmed and roughly chopped
  • 1 small hot red pepper, seeded and chopped (optional)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large red onions, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups red wine
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans crushed Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound dried whole wheat penne

DIRECTIONS

Using a food processor with the pulse setting and working in batches, mince the eggplant, bell peppers, cauliflower, carrots, mushrooms, fennel, zucchini, and hot pepper (if using). Pulse each batch 3 or 4 times, but only hold the pulse button for 1 second at a time, pausing between pulses so that the vegetables don’t become pureed. You want them chopped to a size that resembles chopped meat. Mix them all together in a large bowl and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until wilted, then add the vegetable mixture. Stir together for 2 to 3 minutes, until they are wilted. Add the wine and stir together for 1 minute, then add the tomatoes, rosemary, oregano, herbes de Provence, salt, and black pepper. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently, uncovered, stirring every 8 to 10 minutes, for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, until the sauce is rich and thick. If the sauce becomes too thick before the vegetables are very soft, add a little water and continue cooking. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if desired. You can use this sauce immediately, but it’s even better if it sits overnight in the fridge to let the flavors meld.

Fill a 10-quart pasta pot with 7 quarts of salted water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta to the boiling water, stir, and cover until it returns to a boil. Uncover and cook until the pasta is al dente. Drain in a colander, but reserve 1 cup of the cooking water.

Make sure the sauce is hot, then add the drained pasta and toss together well. If the sauce is too thick, add some of the pasta water, a little bit at a time, to thin it slightly. Heat together for 1 or 2 minutes, and serve.