'Beefy' Tofu Bolognese
Updated: Sep 25, 2020
This 'Beefy' Tofu Bolognese is a steadfast staple in our weekly dinner rotation. It's simple to make, satisfies your meaty pasta cravings, and boasts my classic Great Gravy Pasta Sauce - sure to make your Nona proud!
Nothing quite says 'comfort food' like a big bowl of hot pasta coated in a scrumptious, savory red sauce, huddled up with some meaty chunks for a perfect, toothsome bite.
Bellissimo! I'm drooling... are you?!
Traditional Bolognese is made with equal parts ground chuck (beef) and pork, to enhance the flavor profiles. Milk is also an ingredient, along with butter, stock, and some veggies. It's also meant to simmer for upwards of 4 hours or more. I don't know about you, but I most definitely don't have time for that. Judging by the fact that you're reading this, you (like me) also don't have the desire to make a not-so-heart-healthy pasta dish on the regular. Trust me, you'll want to make this one on the regular, and you can feel oh-so-good about doing so!
A little background on my obsession with this dish, and Italian food in general. My Dad is half Italian, half German, but let's just say you wouldn't guess he was anything but straight Italian by looking at and talking with him. His father came to America from Cefalù, Sicily, and must have brought with him a healthy love of Italian food, because my Dad and I are both completely addicted. When we're together, any time we have to choose a restaurant, Italian is at the top of the list.
I'm not sure if it's the familiarity of the dishes, the comforting atmosphere of authentic Italian restaurants, or the fact that you just know whatever you order is going to be amazing (save for some sketchy non-authentic 'Italian' restaurants... I'm looking at you, Olive Garden), or the combination of all three. Whatever it is that makes Italian food special, I've got a big Italian flag imprinted on my stomach! Ok, that's a weird visual, but stay with me...
This pasta is:
packed with flavor
perfect for family gatherings
Now, let's make 'Beefy' Tofu Bolognese!
Step 1. Prep the Tofu: Press the liquid out of the tofu. This is an important step, because the less liquid your tofu has, the more meat-like the consistency will be when it bakes. Wrap the drained tofu in a thick cloth, like a clean washcloth, and place it between two cutting boards, adding a thick cookbook or large frying pan on top for extra weight. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes; 20 is even better. If you're short on time, I suggest adding additional weight to the top of your press. You can prep your other ingredients during this time, like opening the cans of tomatoes, and chopping the garlic and fresh herbs.
Step 2. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Once the tofu has been fully pressed and you've prepped some of your ingredients, break the tofu in half over a large bowl and crumble into small pea-size pieces. Grab a rimmed baking sheet, line it with parchment paper to the edges, and spread the crumbled tofu in one layer. Bake for 15 minutes. Toss, taking care to break up any clumps, and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, fennel and a dash of cayenne.
*Be sure to season the tofu after you bake, as I've found that the seasonings can keep the moisture in the tofu if seasoned before baking. This prevents the tofu from drying out and becoming chewy, and we want some chew!*
Step 3. Make the Sauce: To a deep saucepan (I always use my beloved dutch oven), add 1/4 cup olive oil and turn the heat to medium. Slice or mince 4 cloves fresh garlic and add to the saucepan with fresh oregano and chopped basil. Once fragrant (after about 3 minutes), add the Italian seasoning, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, onion powder, dried fennel, salt and pepper to the saucepan, and stir. Add crushed/peeled San Marzano tomatoes (these have the lowest acidity and the most flavor) and tomato paste, red wine (leave out if pregnant or feeding this to children) and water, and stir until the tomato paste is incorporated.
Add the maple syrup and chili flakes, if you like some heat, and stir well. Reduce heat to medium-low (you want a slow simmer). Using a potato masher, gently mash the tomatoes, taking care to stir all the while. You can mash them to your liking - I don't like large chunks of tomatoes in my sauce, so I like to spend a good 5 minutes mashing, but this is your dish, so make it what you like! By the way, now is a great time to taste test with some bread. Cover with a lid and let simmer for up to one hour, stirring from the bottom occasionally.
**TIP:** Ever get frustrated trying to get all the tomato paste out of the can? Here's a trick I've been using for years: Take a butterknife and insert it into the side of the tomato paste can, and rotate it around the paste while pulling outward like a corkscrew. The entire can of tomato paste should come out in one big cylindrical shape. I'll add a video on this as soon as possible.
Step 4. Cook your pasta according to package instructions. Spaghetti is preferred, but you could use linguini, penne, or anything you have on hand. Once your sauce has been simmering for at least 15-20 minutes, your tofu has been baked and your pasta has been cooked and drained, it's time to put everything together! Add as much of the tofu to the sauce as you'd like (I typically use at least half and freeze the rest - baked tofu freezes really well for easy use later), plate the pasta, and spoon the sauce on top with a deep ladle. Add Cashew Parmesan and serve with Pan-Toasted Garlic Bread and a simple green salad, and voila! Your Italian pasta dinner is served.
Serve this 'Beefy' Tofu Bolognese up thick over some spaghetti, add some Cashew Parmesan, Pan-Toasted Garlic Bread, and a simple green salad, and you are the
master chef of your Italian kitchen!
Recipe for 'Beefy' Tofu Bolognese
Time: 45 minutes
For the Tofu Crumbles
1 @ 14-oz tofu, extra firm drained & pressed
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp dried fennel
pepper & cayenne to taste
For the Sauce (in order of use)
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic sliced or minced
1/4 c fresh basil, divided sliced in strips
1 Tbsp fresh oregano
1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
1/2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dried fennel
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 @ 28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes crushed or peeled
1 @ 6 oz can tomato paste
1 1/2 cup water
1/4 c red wine
1/2 Tbsp maple syrup or 1/2 Tbsp granulated sugar
red pepper flakes optional, for heat
1 @ 12 oz package of spaghetti or pasta of choice
Pan-Toasted Garlic Bread
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Drain and wrap tofu in a clean, dry cloth and press between two cutting boards, adding additional weight to the top (like a heavy pan) and press for 10-15 minutes. Crumble tofu in large bowl and spread in an even layer on parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, then toss, breaking up any larger pieces, then bake for another 5 minutes. Season with garlic powder, onion powder, salt, cumin, fennel, pepper & cayenne. Set aside.
Add olive oil to a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add garlic and fresh herbs. Sauté until fragrant (about 2-3 minutes). Add Italian seasoning, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, onion powder, dried fennel, salt and pepper. Stir well, then add crushed/peeled tomatoes, tomato paste*, wine (if using), and water. Stir until tomato paste is incorporated. Use a potato masher to break up the tomatoes as much as desired. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for at least 15 minutes.
*See Pro Tip under Step 3 above for tips on removing tomato paste out of the can.
Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain and set aside. Add at least half of the tofu to the saucepan with the sauce (the remaining baked tofu will freeze well, up to one month). You can either add the pasta to the saucepan and mix well, or plate the pasta and spoon the sauce on top.
Top with Cashew Parmesan and serve immediately with a side of Pan-Toasted Garlic Bread. Mangia!
Did you make this recipe? Tag @earthlyedible so I can see it!
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