Though we consider ourselves flexitarians, we really enjoy vegan and vegetarian meals. With our favorite Trader Joe’s organic extra-firm tofu, we can make delicious meatless meals, like this tofu bolognese!
Let me be the first to say that I dislike meat analogs that have funky textures (like plastic) or off flavors (medicinal or plastic-y). Eating a “hot dog” that’s reminiscent of extruded rubber is a major gastronomic turnoff; regardless of how convincing it looks, how it tastes is the true test. Meat analogs have really come a long way – now there are veggie burgers that “bleed”, savory faux “roasts” like Celebration Roast, and even fast food options like Veggie Grill. In short, a consumer can expect a meat analog to be as tasty – though not taste exactly the same – as real meat. And I do.
I like tofu as it is, and typically don’t use it in dishes where it replaces meat…but why not? When I came across the tofu bolognese recipe, I was intrigued – and if it turned out to be a suitable meat substitute in this pasta dish, it would be another good way to use tofu.
The recipe is really composed of three parts: cooking the seasoned tofu, adding the tofu into the sauce, and cooking the pasta noodles. For the tofu, a block of extra-firm is drained and added to a spice mix (which includes liquid smoke – I use this one because it has no artificial flavors, preservatives, or additives). The tofu is crumbled and well-coated, then spread on a cookie sheet to bake in the oven.
Once baked, it’s added to sauce (I just used some leftover marinara I had already opened for another meal, and added fresh cremini mushrooms, minced rosemary, and a can of diced tomatoes). I let it simmer to allow the flavors to meld and put the pasta water on to heat up.
Trader Joe’s brown rice pasta is my usual go-to pasta, but I picked up some TJ’s Organic Red Lentil Sedanini (made in Italy) recently and decided to try it in this dish. It seemed to al dente when the cooking time, per the instructions, was up, so I let it cook for a few additional minutes…which seemed to make no difference in the texture. Ultimately, I realized that the pasta wasn’t going to become much softer and, while tasty, it was pretty chewy in its cooked state. Nonetheless, I’d eat it again – with slightly adjusted expectations.
Once the pasta was deemed done, a generous helping of the thick, chunky sauce went on top. I’m seriously enamored of fresh rosemary – I picked up a tiny plant from TJ’s and have been enjoying the pungent herb on pizza, in pasta sauce, and if I could stop taking cuttings from it, I’d make some infused oil or even a rosemary wine! As it stands now, I can really only harvest a sprig every few weeks or risk denuding it. Grow, little plant, grow!
And the final product? It was, honestly, as good as any bolognese with meat that I’ve made or eaten: toothsome, extremely flavorful, and satisfying. No taste “sacrifice” was needed here – and I think that this might even fool a non-vegetarian! The tofu bolognese recipe is vegan and the red lentil pasta is gluten-free…and I’m convinced this tofu bolognese would also be superb on zoodles.
Do you have great tofu-based recipes to share? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!