feeling saucy

As I write this, the temperature in Central Park is inching toward 50 degrees. But just days ago, we were still deeply mired in this nonsense:

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Not exactly prime conditions for lightening up the old diet, but as the results of some of my recent medical tests begin to trickle in, I realize that the time for me to make these changes could not be better.

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As it turns out, I was able to strike a pretty nice balance of plant-based goodness and familiar, comforting flavor on a cold and snowy winter’s night with this tempeh and mushroom ragú.

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As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been very interested in exploring tempeh as both a plant-based source of protein, and as a gut-healthy fermented food. My initial foray into cooking with tempeh yielded some killer black bean and tempeh tacos, but for round two, I wanted to see if I could achieve the richness and depth of a long-simmered meat sauce, in a meat-free version.

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My secret weapon: mushrooms.

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In both fresh and dried form, they provided the savoriness that I want in a ragú of this type, without any animal protein. A bit of low-sodium tamari and double-concentrated tomato paste provided even more backbone.

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While the texture wasn’t quite where I had hoped it would be, the flavor was right on the money, and as with any good meat sauce, it only improved overnight. I most certainly will tweak this recipe as I make it again, but this was a pretty fine place to start.

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Tempeh and Mushroom Ragú

extra-virgin olive oil
½ medium onion, fine dice (about 1 cup)
1 small rib celery, with leaves, fine dice (about 1/4 cup)
1 small carrot, peeled and grated or finely diced (about 1/2 cup)
Kosher or sea salt
8 oz. crimini mushrooms, trimmed and finely chopped
½ oz. dried porcini mushrooms + 1 cup boiling water
8 oz. tempeh
2 oz. low-sodium tamari
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 large clove garlic, peeled and minced or grated
2 tbsp double-concentrated tomato paste
One 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes with juice
½ to 1 cup water or wine

For serving:

1 pound hot cooked pasta (I used rigatoni, but an spaghetti or pappardelle would work as well)
Finely chopped fresh parsley
Grated Parmagiano, or a similar cheese substitute

* * * * *

Add a glug of olive oil to a wide, shallow pan. Add the onion, celery, and carrot with a big pinch of salt, and cook over medium heat until softened. Make space in the pan and add the crimini mushrooms, cooking until they are well-browned.

While the vegetables cook, soak the dried mushrooms in boiling water until soft. Remove the softened mushrooms from their soaking liquid and chop them fine before adding to the pan. Reserve the soaking liquid.

Crumble the tempeh into a bowl, and add the tamari, oregano, and garlic. Toss well to combine, then add to the pan. Add a bit more olive oil, then continue cooking, allowing the tempeh to brown. Add the tomato paste and toss everything well to coat, then slowly add the reserved mushroom soaking liquid, leaving any grit behind.

Stir in the canned tomatoes, and continue to cook uncovered over medium-low heat for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, and adding a bit of water or wine to loosen any stuck bits from the bottom of the pan. Toss with hot cooked pasta, and finish with a sprinkle of fresh parsley and your favorite grating cheese or cheese substitute.

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5 thoughts on “feeling saucy

  1. This sounds like a great idea! Just curious, what was it about the texture you want to work on? I have some tempeh sitting in the fridge right now!

    • Hi Wendy – my only issue with the texture was that it was a little softer than I would have liked. I may try adding some lentils next time to give it some chewy nubbly bits… if you experiment, let me know what you try?

  2. Christine says:

    Even as a former vegetarian, tempeh has always made me nervous. Maybe it’s time to take the plunge. If you follow Kenji Lopez-Alt on serious eats he made a veggie take on chorizo using tofu, tempeh and baked (already cooked) lentils – I wonder if that technique would work here.

    • I saw that! I am definitely interested in trying Kenji’s chorizo and seeing if I can adopt some of his technique for a “meatier” meatless sauce 🙂

  3. Looks delicious. I have to give Tempeh another try. I’ve tried it before and it had the worst bitter after-taste, but you just gave me the motivation to try it again!

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