Vegetarian Bolognese

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Before I stopped eating meat, spaghetti bolognese was a weekly staple in our house. Once I stopped eating meat, I stopped making bolognese. Sorry if that last sentence was obvious.

I never intended to make a vegetarian copy-cat of bolognese because I don’t believe in being vegetarian if all you want to do is eat non-meat things that taste just like meat.

So why this vegetarian bolognese? It was entirely the result of Isaiah, who was leafing through one of my vegetarian cookbooks out of some vague curiosity and stopped at a photo of vegetarian bolognese, declaring, “GOOD!” That was his not-so-subtle way of saying, ‘this vegetarian deal is nice and all for you but why am I being punished and deprived of bolognese after being nothing but a kind, patient, and supportive husband?’. Isaiah is all of those things and more, so I came up with this recipe out of the goodness of my heart. It is an adaption of this recipe with many amendments because following instructions is not my forte.

This vegetarian bolognese is savoury, deep, and complex. No, it does not taste like beef. It tastes better. You willl shovel it into your mouth. If you have kids in the house who refuse to touch vegetables even with a ten foot pole, make this. They won’t even know there are vegetables in it.

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Tajarin: Egg Yolk Pasta (with Tomato Sauce)

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Last month, Isaiah and I spent 2 days in the Barolo wine region of northwest Italy. We stayed a gorgeous little hotel called La Villa and drank so much wine that I couldn’t really even look at wine when we returned to Singapore. There were a lot of favorites on this trip – amazing food, wine, sun-drenched vineyards, wine, total quiet – but my favorite part was a private cooking class we took with the head chef at La Villa. Isaiah joined mostly to humor me, but turned all eyes and ears when he heard we were making homemade pasta. Pasta is his absolute favorite food. The very next day, we went to a market in Beaulieu-sur-Mer and purchased a pasta machine.

I’ll start off by saying that I am in no way a pasta expert, but I learned that pasta is a very regional dish and there are many variations to how you make it depending on what part of Italy you’re from. In Piedmont, they make a very egg-yolk heavy pasta called tajarin. That scored a lot of bonus points from Isaiah, who has for years been trying to convince me for that pasta is ‘healthy’.

Sure. You guys can decide for yourself.

The accompanying sauce starts with a huge amount of good quality extra virgin olive oil (luckily evoo is good for you, right? Kind of in the same way pasta is). In goes minced garlic and shallots (or onions) cooked on low for 10-15 minutes, before jarred passata and peeled whole tomatoes are added. Salt, sugar. Simmer for as long as you have time for. That’s it. It sounds simple, and it is, but the flavour is rich and complex, so good you would have never guessed it was only 5 ingredients. Make this basic tomato sauce, coupled with tajarin, your Saturday night staple.

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Measure 250g of flour onto your work bench and create a well in the middle. Separate the egg yolks from the whites (save the whites for an egg white omelette or scramble) and add the yolks + 1 whole egg to the well. If you buy high quality, cage-free eggs (I buy freedom eggs from Cold Storage), the yolks will be a gorgeous deep orange, and the eventual colour of your pasta will be much deeper.

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Pull flour into the egg mixture (this part will get messy but don’t worry – it will quickly come together) until you get a messy dryish ‘ball’ of dough that barely holds together. Stop adding flour at this point. Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes. The dough will be tough so if you’re a weakling like me, you may want to recruit assistance from your buff husband for this part. If you don’t have a buff husband, don’t despair. Just throw your entire body weight against the dough as many times as you can until your arms turn to jelly and then give up. So long as your end result looks somewhat like the ball of dough on the rightmost picture above, you’ll be fine. This pasta is very forgiving (aaand all pasta experts around the world roll in their graves. Hey, I started this post by saying I am in no way a pasta expert! The end result is good enough for plebeian me).

Cover the dough with saran wrap and pop it in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.

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When ready, remove the dough from the fridge and divide into 4 pieces. Flour your work surface. Assemble and secure your pasta machine. Flatten the first piece of dough with your palm and run it through the widest setting. Keep on going until you get to the narrowest setting, running the dough through 2-3 times at each setting. Once you’ve got a thin sheet of pasta, cut it in half with a knife and run the half sheet through your spaghetti cutter. Lightly flour the strands, place on a tea towel, cover to keep from drying, and repeat with the remaining 3 balls of dough.

(If you don’t have a pasta maker, go buy one. We got ours for 20 euros. Theoretically you could roll the dough out and cut by hand, but I feel like that would take a lot of effort.)

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Keep going until you get four gorgeous piles of homemade pasta. A serious work of art. I could look at this photo all day. Beautiful.

At this point you just chuck the pasta into boiling salted water, let it cook for 3-5 minutes, fish it out, and serve it however you’d like.

Moving onto the only tomato sauce recipe you’ll ever need to know, because it is seriously that delicious.

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Here’s the ingredients: passata, EVOO, whole peeled tomatoes, shallots, and garlic (+ salt and sugar, not pictured). Passata is an unseasoned Italian tomato puree that you can find on the bottom shelf of the tinned tomato section of Cold Storage.

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Finely mince the shallots and garlic.

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In a heavy pan (I’m using enameled cast iron), heat 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil and add the onions and garlic. Your house will soon smell delicious. Cook on low for 5-10 minutes until the garlic and onion is golden, add the passata, chopped whole tomatoes, sugar and salt. Stir to combine as best as you can – at first the oil will be stubborn and refuse to marry the tomato sauce. But like any relationship, patience and persistence will win out and the oil and tomato sauce will combine to create one whole that is greater than the sum of its two halves.

Continue to cook on low for as long as you have the patience for. The longer you cook the sauce, the richer, thicker, and more delicious it will get.

Here’s the printable recipe.

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