This vegetarian bolognese is proper comfort food, it's tasty, rich and full of flavour. It is the result of a very tried and tested recipe that never fails to satisfy even the most dedicated of meat-eaters.
Spaghetti bolognese is reliable comfort food in our house, whether it's for an after school dinner or for an easy Saturday night supper, bolognese is a firm family favourite.
Long before we decided to go all-out veggie I started working on creating a vegetarian bolognese that was just as good, if not better, than the meaty version. This is our go-to bolognese that never fails to satisfy.
Why This Recipe Works
- Adding just a few extra ingredients - brings more depth and flavour to the sauce.
- Puy lentils + Mushrooms - make your bolognese meaty and add protein, no fake meat here!
- Lots of veggies - the kids won't even realise there are vegetables in here
- Seriously tasty - even dedicated meat-lovers will love this!
What You'll Need
- The base - Onion, carrot, and celery will start this sauce off, you will also need garlic.
- Tomatoes - I use a mix of chopped/diced tomatoes and passata (tomato puree if you're in the US)
- Herbs - I use a mix of dried and fresh herbs for this recipe. I use dried oregano, dried bay leaf, fresh thyme and fresh basil.
- Mushrooms - Again a mix of dried and fresh mushrooms, I use dried porcini mushrooms and fresh chestnut mushrooms. Both will bring a great rich flavour to your bolognese.
- Pepper - One red bell pepper is perfect. You can add more if you want.
- Lentils - Puy lentils are great in this, I use a pack pf pre-cooked lentils.
- Extras - Balsamic vinegar and soy sauce will add that extra depth and flavour to your bolognese.
How To Make Vegetarian Bolognese
Here's a quick visual step by step quite, the full ingredients and directions are in the recipe below.
- Cook down the onion, carrot and celery. The onions need a good 20 minutes then once you add the carrot and celery they'll need another 10 minutes. You want them to be nice and soft.
- Add the veggies. Add the chestnut mushrooms and red bell pepper, cook until the mushrooms are soft.
- Pour in the tomatoes and passata. Stir in the chopped/diced tomatoes then stir in the balsamic vinegar and soy sauce. Pour about a quarter of a cup of water into the tomato can then add that too. Add the porcini mushrooms then add the thyme and bay leaves. Simmer.
- Add the lentils. Stir in the lentils and cook for another 10 minutes.
Tips For Making The Best Vegetarian Bolognese
- Take your time - the longer you cook your onions, cook down the veggies and let that sauce simmer the better your bolognese will be. The longer time lets all the flavours blend into each other and make that sauce nice and rich. This is a slow cook bolognese, it's not a quick spag bol.
- Chop the veggies to a similar size - this really applies to the onion, carrot and celery. You want these to cook at the same time so chop them all to a similar size, I like them to be small in size.
- Mushrooms - Chestnut mushrooms have more flavour than white button mushrooms so I recommend using those. The dried porcini mushrooms need a good soak in warm water before you add them and they bring a great flavour to this sauce. You don't need a huge amount, so any leftover mushrooms can be added to a mushroom risotto to add more flavour.
- Chopped tomatoes - If you can I would buy a good brand of chopped tomatoes, not all canned tomatoes are created equal and you will see the difference.
- Spice it up - Here are some extra little things I sometimes add to my bolognese to ring the changes - add half a glass of red wine, just make sure and cook it down. Feeling the need for some heat? Add a pinch of red chilli flakes, I love this! Need some sweetness? Add a tablespoon of red currant jelly, yum!
How To Serve Bolognese
We love this with most types of pasta, linguine is my favourite. My daughter loves it with fusilli. It's great with whole wheat spaghetti too. I always serve this with lots of freshly grated vegetarian parmesan, basil leaves, and a generous sprinkle of cracked black pepper.
Can this be made ahead? Yes, you can make this a couple of days in advance. Once you have made it, leave it to cool then store it in the fridge in an airtight container until you are ready to use it. I recommend cooking the pasta that you are going to serve with this fresh though.
Can I freeze this Vegetarian Bolognese? Yes! This is perfect for freezing. Remove the bay leaves and thyme then leave the bolognese to cool. Divide the sauce into freezable containers or bags. Label the bags/containers clearly then freeze. Use within a month and defrost thoroughly before reheating.
Can I make this Gluten-Free? It's really easy to make this gluten-free, just swap the soy sauce for tamari sauce and serve with your favourite gluten-free pasta.
Is this vegan? Yes, the bolognese is vegan. To keep this meal vegan serve it some good vegan hard cheese.
Need More Comfort Food Inspiration?
If you fancy more pasta try my mushroom pesto pasta, this is fresh and full of flavour. Not a fan of mushrooms? Then you might just like this broccoli pasta bake instead, this is really popular in my house! If you want something quicker, then my mushroom and broccoli stir fry is ready in no time and tastes amazing!
Have you made this Vegetarian Bolognese Recipe? Rate it and leave me a comment below to let me know what you think!
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion (220g) finely chopped
- 1 large carrot (200g) peeled then finely chopped
- 1 stalk of celery finely chopped
- 4 fat cloves of garlic minced
- ½ tbsp dried oregano
- 250 g chestnut mushrooms (4 US cups) wiped clean then sliced
- 25 g dried porcini mushrooms (approx ¼ US cup)
- 1 medium red bell pepper (180g) pith and seeds removed then chopped
- 250 g cooked Puy lentils (3 ⅓ US cups) I used pre-cooked lentils
- 1 400g can of chopped tomatoes/diced tomatoes (14.5oz can US)
- 300 ml passata (1 ⅓ US cup) tomato puree in the US
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar optional
- 1 ½ tsp soy sauce more if you want it
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 or 7 sprigs of thyme
- ½ tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp cracked black pepper
- grated vegetarian parmesan style cheese and basil leaves for serving
- Add the porcini mushrooms to a small bowl, cover with just boiled water and leave to soften for about 30 minutes.
- Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion and cook for about 20 minutes over a medium heat, until the onion is soft.Then add the carrot, celery, garlic and oregano and cook for 10 minutes.
- Add the chestnut mushrooms and bell pepper to the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes then add the passata and the can of chopped tomatoes.Pour about half a cup of tap water into the passata jar or can, give it a little swirl then add to the pan.
- Now stir in the balsamic vinegar, soy sauce and drop in the bay leaves and sprigs of thyme.Drain the porcini mushrooms, reserving 3 tablespoons of the water. Add that mushroom water to the pan.
- Finely chop the porcini mushrooms then add them to the pan. Add the salt and pepper, stir well then reduce the heat to low and leave to simmer for about 20 - 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Finally add the lentils then simmer again for 5 minutes.Check the seasoning now.The sauce should be nice and thick. Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs before serving.Serve with spaghetti or linguine, some grated vegetarian parmesan-style cheese and basil leaves.
- Mushrooms - I use chestnut/brown mushrooms but you can use white mushrooms if you need to. The dried mushrooms should be soaked in warm water before adding to the dish.
- Pasta - We serve this with linguine but spaghetti, tagliatelle or other pasta shapes will work well with this too.
- Keep it vegan - If you want to keep this vegan use a vegan Italian style hard cheese.
- Make it gluten-free - To make this dish gluten-free, use tamari instead of soy sauce.
- Storing/Reheating/Freezing - Any leftovers can be stored in the fridge and will keep for up to 3 days. Reheat it on the hob until hot. To freeze, leave the sauce to cool, transfer to freezer containers then keep in the freezer for up to 3 months. Defrost in the fridge overnight before heating on the hob.
- Nutritional Information - is approximate and is calculated using an online tool. It is based on one serving of bolognese sauce without pasta or parmesan.
- Measurements - I weigh all my ingredients using an electric scale, all measurements are metric. Cup measurements are approximate.
*This recipe was first published on September 18, 2018. It has now been updated with new photos, expert tips and nutritional information.