James Is Not A Chef: Meatless Mondays

James Stahl is a cheesemonger and may or may not have a thing for the original male cast members of ER. This blog invites you to take a peek at his most recent creation and dares you to try this at home.

Beef-Free Beefish Mushroom Bolognese

For one teenage year I was a vegetarian. This decision was not motivated by ethical or health concerns; I stopped eating meat for approximately three hundred and sixty five days because I wanted to be as cool as my older brother. I’ll give you one guess as to how that worked out for me. But because my father is a compassionate man, he developed a vegetarian red sauce that tasted like it had meat in it for me and my brother to eat. Desperate for anything that tasted vaguely beefish (and no, fake beef doesn’t taste even remotely beefish), I consistently finished my first, second, third fourteenth plate whenever he made it. I even loved that sauce after I stopped being a bad vegetarian (Cheetos don’t have meat in them, right?). Now I’m sure my dad has the recipe floating around somewhere, but I decided that I’d rather try to recreate it myself and see what happens. The results are below.

The Recipe

1 pound cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
1 28 oz can peeled tomatoes, diced and sauce saved
1 large white onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup vegetarian broth
2 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp dried basil
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano , for topping
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pan, heat 1/4 cup olive oil to smoking. Drop garlic into olive oil and cook until browned, only about 90 seconds. Add onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook for about 6 minutes.

Add tomatoes and sauce, paste, broth, vinegar, oregano, basil and cayenne into pot and stir until thoroughly mixed. Salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.

Spoon over cooked pasta of your choice, garnish with Parmigiano-Reggiano, and serve.

mmmm… beefish….

What Went Well

Quote The Girlfriend: “If you make this again and change the recipe I’ll break up with you, kick you out of the apartment and keep both cats. Yes, even the one you’ve had since you’ve been twelve.”

So yeah, I think she liked it.

Broth. Again, a good broth comes through and balances out a dish. This time it added a real depth and heartiness that, in tandem with the mushrooms, provided the meaty flavor that I was looking for.

What Went Less Well

Wait, did you say DRIED basil? Unfortunately, I did and I apologize to every Italian mother in the city, but the local grocery store was not carrying fresh basil and I had to make do with dried. While I don’t think the sauce was ruined or anything, the pop of fresh basil would only have helped.

Olives. In retrospect, I think adding a 1/3 to a 1/2 cup of chopped kalamata olives* would’ve really helped the dish. I have no rational explanation as to why I feel that way, but I do. (Girlfriend politely disagrees.)

The Verdict

It was really good and really easy to make. I stopped using jarred tomato sauce a long time ago and haven’t looked back. I’ll definitely make this again.

Best Song Played by Internet Radio While Cooking

November Rain by Guns ‘N Roses. The live 12 minute version that starts off with a completely superfluous 3 minute Axl Rose piano solo that has no real connection to the actual song other than to prove that Axl Rose can, in fact, play the piano.

Embarrassing That’s What She Said

The girlfriend and I are watching the Falling Skies premier and it’s pretty good. It’s basically the Revolutionary War with aliens taking the place of the British. Lest you forget that Steven Spielberg produces the show, at the end of the first episode they celebrate a little kid’s birthday despite the fact that two thirds of the human race has been wiped out. I direct an eye-roll towards the girlfriend only to find that she’s tearing up. She notices my look and blurts out, “I know! I’m easily manipulated!”

Embarrassing That’s What I Said

The girlfriend: You and my best friend, Vicki, share a lot of the same celebrity crushes.

Me: Noah Wylie (main star of Falling Skies) and who else?

The girlfriend: George Clooney.

Me: [shockingly defensive] What’s not to like about George Clooney?