Looks like meat sauce, doesn’t it? That’s kind of the point. And to be completely clear, this sauce does have ground beef in it – but only a half pound. The sauce gets the rest of its meaty texture from chopped eggplant, which makes a fine complement to the beef.
I adapted this recipe from Mark Bittman’s Cooking Light column, where he modifies popular recipes to use less meat and more veggies. Eggplant is in season right now and I had a ton in my fridge, so when I saw this bolognese recipe that used 1.5 pounds of it, I was in. Traditional bolognese is a very rich sauce made with ground beef, ground pork, spices, and whole milk. This recipe, as you can imagine, is much lighter but still retains a ton of flavor. I used a jar of pasta sauce I had instead of the 28-oz can of whole tomatoes he calls for (I’m not a big fan of the texture of whole canned tomatoes), but either would be fine.
I imagine that crumbled tempeh would make a fine substitute for the beef if you want to make this completely meatless.
Eggplant Bolognese (adapted from Cooking Light)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/2 pound ground sirloin
8 cups chopped eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, undrained, OR 1 (26-ounce) jar pasta sauce
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
10 ounce uncooked whole-wheat fettuccine
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, sliced
1. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and beef; cook 10 minutes or until beef is browned, stirring to crumble beef. Add eggplant, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper; cook 20 minutes or until eggplant is very tender, stirring occasionally. Add tomato paste; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add wine; cook 1 minute, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add tomatoes or pasta sauce; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking up the tomatoes as necessary. Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and red wine vinegar.
2. Cook pasta according to package directions, adding 1 tablespoon kosher salt to cooking water. Drain. Toss pasta with sauce; sprinkle with basil leaves.