Once upon a time, in the Golden State of California, a little girl grew up basking in the radiant rays of sunshine. Her little cozy ranch house boasted a mini orchard with succulent fruits like apples, oranges, kumquats, & avocados. The organic garden her mother cultivated gave life to fresh tomatoes, basil, squash, and yam greens. These essential greens (and reds, and yellows) nurtured her little body & soul, and she grew up to be a vegetarian.
In a land 2500 miles away in the heartland of America, a little boy grew up in the wholesome state of Ohio. There, the people were jolly and warm, and the meals big and hearty. Juicy steaks & creamy potatoes gave the boy strong bones & muscles, and he grew up to be an “equal opportunity eater”, more commonly known as an omnivore.
Two decades later, the playful hands of fate brought this little girl and boy together in the concrete jungle of New York City. As different as they were in their diets, they shared a common love for food (and each other), so they often had to get creative with their flexitarian menus and two-pot meals. Until one day, a Fairy Chefmother, Giada DeLaurentiis, waved her magic spatula and showed them a recipe that was vegetarian but tasted like meat. The little girl and boy devoured the dish completely, and lived happily until the next meal.
This is my variation on Giada’s Rigatoni with Vegetarian Bolognese. I opted to make my tomato base from scratch, substituted seasonal spring ramps for onions, and picked my favorite herbs – thyme, basil & tarragon. What I kept constant (and believe it’s critical to) is the mascarpone and the mushrooms, which give it the “meaty” taste that serves to trick all carnivores!
What You’ll Need:
- 1 pound rigatoni (I made my own fresh pasta!) but you can use dry as well
- 2-3 tomatos, diced
- 4 oz mixed mushrooms (I used a baby bella and oyster, but porcini, king oyster, chinese black, and portabello will work just as well)
- 2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1 bunch ramps, chopped
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- a pinch of each dried herbs: thyme, basil, tarragon (can also use rosemary, oregano, marjoram, or fresh herbs)
- salt & pepper to taste
- 2-3 dollops of mascarpone cheese
- 1/4-1/2 c of vegetarian broth
- Olive oil – for cooking
- grated parmesan cheese (to finish)
Putting it all together:
- Cook the diced tomatoes and ramps in a 3-4 qt pot with some olive oil, until tomatoes are very soft and become concentrated
- Meanwhile, in a food processor, pulse the carrots, bell pepper, and mushrooms until finely chopped
- In a skillet, heat up some olive oil. Transfer the finely chopped into the skillet, season with salt & pepper & herbs, and cook for 5-7 minutes, until vegetables are cooked.
- Add broth and bring the vegetables to a boil. Then simmer until the liquid is reduced by half (takes about 10 min)
- Fold in mascarpone cheese until well-integrated
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the rigatoni and cook until tender but al dente (3-5 min for fresh, 8-10 for dry)
- Drain the pasta and transfer to the vegetable bolognese sauce. Mix well, adding some pasta liquid if mixture is dry.
- Sprinkle with parmesan and take a huge satisfying bite into it!