Growing up I didn’t have much access to meat. My parents, prone to plant-based, hippie-style dinners allotted for many meals full of beans, lentils, rice, and veggies. As much as I loved the food they made me, I sometimes craved the juiciness and richness of meat. This craving was always satisfied when I would go over to my best friend Betsey’s house. She had a nanny, Marlene, who happened to own our town’s best Italian restaurant. She would cook for us when Betsey’s parents were at work and she made some of the best food I had eaten as a kid. At that age I dreamed of being a chef. I wanted to open an Italian restaurant of my own and spend my life sharing food with people. Marlene took me under her wing, excited that I might one day do what she did. In spending more time with her and Betsey, I learned cooking techniques that I still use all the time. Caramelized onions have more flavor, add water as the meat cooks down to retain moisture, use tomato paste not tomato sauce.
The one recipe that stuck with me above all the rest, probably because it was Betsey and my favorite, was Marlene’s Bolognese. A carefully crafted meaty tomato sauce bursting with flavor and when poured over pasta, the perfect meal.
Eventually, I followed in my parent’s footsteps and went vegan myself. Although I do still love beans, lentils, rice, and veggies, I wanted to broaden my definition of vegan cooking and add that juiciness and richness that I had gotten from meat in the past. With access to some of the most juicy and realistic mock-meats of our time, I realized I could have the best of both worlds. This is when I began to construct my recipe for a vegan version of Marlene’s bolognese. The same principles, but with impossible meat instead. I followed her steps to the best of my memory and slowly constructed the sauce. I plated it with my favorite pasta, and as soon as I took the first bite, I was taken right back to Betsey’s kitchen and Marlene’s cooking. This recipe, with some modifications, has now become a staple that I make for my friend’s and family quite often. And every time I do, I tell them the story of its origin.
Vegan Eggplant Bolognese
- 1 yellow onion diced
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 lb Impossible ground beef
- 1 whole eggplant cubed
- 1 whole zucchini squash cut into halved rings
- 4 oz tomato paste You can also use a jar of your favorite tomato sauce if you prefer.
- 29 oz can of crushed tomatoes
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 cup white wine optional
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 box rigatoni pasta
- To Taste Salt and Pepper
- Add diced yellow onion to a pan with 1 tbsp of olive oil and saute onions until they start becoming translucent (about 3 minutes).
- Add Impossible meat (or lentils for a cheaper alternative) and cook until meat is a mixture of crispy and succulent (you want the browned texture without drying out the meat so start with a higher flame and cook for shorter).
- Add eggplant and zucchini and saute for 5 minutes.
- Add tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, garlic, white wine and red pepper flakes. You can also use a jar of your favorite tomato sauce! Sometimes we’re short on time and dont have the time or energy to make a sauce from scratch and that’s okay! We recommend Safeway Signature Select Arrabiata sauce!
- Bring sauce to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. The goal of this simmer is going to be to turn the eggplant from tough to buttery smooth. This can take a while so pour yourself a glass of wine, sit down, and relax.
- Meanwhile, add your pasta to a pot of boiling water and cook until al dente (follow box instructions).
- Simmer for 10-20 minutes or until the eggplant melts in your mouth and is no longer tough. (Looking to save some time? Saute the eggplant a bit longer before adding the sauce and it will get it closer to that buttery texture and shave some time!).
- Pour sauce over individual bowls of pasta or add the pasta into your sauce pot and mix together! Enjoy!
Nina Lowry is an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley in her last year studying Molecular Environmental Biology with a focus in Animal Health and Behavior and minoring in Conservation and Resource Studies. She has been vegan for 2 years and grew up mostly plant-based. She is passionate about animal rights, animal behavior, and sustainability. She has a rescued brown tabby named Iggy who is her pride and joy and is talented at learning new tricks and walking on a leash! She has rescued many animals from lab guinea pigs to dairy calves and hopes to participate in many more. She enjoys ceramics, photography, camping, traveling, and working with her hands to craft and create!