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Can one prepare a tasty spaghetti sauce/gravy without meat

I'm craving a bowl of macaroni but don't have the time to cook the "meats" that gives the sauce that flavor?

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  1. Sautee a medley of fresh mushrooms, onions and garlic.......chopped or thinly sliced....add sauce, puree or crushed tomatoes and simmer for 45 minutes.

    9 Replies
    1. re: fourunder

      My thoughts exactly on the mushrooms-adds umami.

      1. re: monavano

        Another sneaky trick is to add a bit of fennel seed, since it's a flavor that is closely associated with Italian sausage.

        1. re: katecm

          That's a fantastic idea-must make mental note!

          1. re: monavano

            I started doing that too, I crush them first so they're not noticable.

          2. re: katecm

            I don't add fennel but do add anise seed. Love what the smallest amount adds. It's a trick I learned from my "fabulous" auntie Glo that frequented a very famous Italian Ristorante in Santa Monica for many years........ She had a little too much wine one night and asked their secret for the superb gravy...............their answer " anise seeds .. Shuuh"

            1. re: iL Divo

              I thought fennel and anise are the same. No?

              1. re: c oliver

                No...they are in the same flavor family (licorice-like) -- but are not the same creature. Fennel is generally a much lighter flavor.

                I adore fennel and will eat it raw or cooked, but anise makes me gag.

                1. re: sunshine842

                  Seems like I'm constantly learning new things on CH. This Wiki citation has good info.



        2. re: fourunder

          Skip the onions and garlic, and use shallots instead. Mushrooms (especially dried porcini, chanterelles or morels) and shallots make a great base.

          1. Absolutely you can. Mrs. go-to spaghetti is meatless. She sautees onion and occasionally some garlic in olive oil until soft, adds canned San Marzanos with their liquid, adds some salt, and lets them go as long as is tolerable. The whole mix gets pureed and dressed with lots of hard cheese (parmesan/romano). Not sure if skipping the meat is actually a time-saver, but it can readily be done.

            3 Replies
            1. re: gilintx

              add a beef bouillon cube or two...(but don't add any other salt!) -- gives you a meaty flavor without the meat. (just let it dissolve in the sauce; don't add it dissolved in water.)

              1. re: sunshine842

                I often add anchovies or worcestshire sauce to marinara to give it a little body. It's not the same as meat sauce, but it makes a fine meal.

                1. re: sunshine842

                  Bov-ril or Maggi or Bouquet Kitchen Garni is good too.

              2. A really basic marinara sauce is quite servicable as a quick tomato sauce for spaghetti or indeed any other macaroni.

                Fry some chopped garlic in olive oil till golden. Add a can of tomatoes, either "kitchen ready" or chopped. Season with salt & pepper and either dried oregano or dried basil...or both. If you have fresh herbs they're best added at the end. Simmer for about 20 minutes - or till the pasta is cooked. Toss the drained pasta into the sauce and there you are...Dinner. Don't forget the freshly grated Parmigiano or Pecorino.

                1. DH makes the sauce in our house (just had some last night). To the tomato sauce, there is also diced onion, diced red, green yellow and orange peppers, mushrooms, olives, fresh basil, garlic and italian spices. He also adds italian sausage and ground beef, but you can omit those. It makes a nice hearty sauce. Sometimes there is also a can of peeled, diced tomatoes so it has a more chunky sauce. I agree about a medley of mushrooms as well. Some are sliced, some are whole buttons, etc. Use whatever you find at your local market.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: boyzoma

                    This is pretty close to what I had for lunch today except only green peppers and a healthy shake of crushed red peppers flakes.

                    1. re: southernitalian

                      You can also use this basic recipe and add chicken instead of beef/sausage and serve over wide egg noodles. Yummy. And to spice it up, add a little cajun seasoning.

                  2. Work in some Worsterchire, Lea & Perrins, or Maggi.

                    1. mmmm all sounds delish. Thanks

                      1. Soaking dried porcini mushrooms in some boiling water and then using the soaking liquid in the sauce adds a nice hearty flavor, too. I like to use both the chopped porcinis and fresh mushrooms that have been sauteed until golden brown when I do this to amp up the mushroom flavor. The sauce needs to simmer after the soaking liquid is added so it isn't too thin. Lots of fresh garlic and good olive oil help, too

                        1. how about a nut-based sauce? That's the most common type in our house. Any type of "pesto" where you throw pretty much any combo of greens, cheese, and nut into a food processor with some garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. The Mediterranean diet cookbook also has a great walnut/ricotta pasta sauce recipe, though it does involve a saucepan and a few extra mins of cooking time (vs. pesto).

                          1. Most Italian sauces are meatless, as opposed to a ragu. Lots of pasta cookbooks can give you hundreds of ideas, from pasta all'aglio e olio to simply tossing it with sauteed bread crumbs.

                            I note the basic marinara in the thread. I learned it as five cloves of garlic chopped, sauteed briefly in 1/4 cup of olive oil. Cook for about 30 second--not more than a minute or it gets bitter. Add chopped tomatoes--canned is fine. Simmer for just enough time to meld flavors--about five minutes, ten at the most. Put in a handful of fresh basil to melt and serve with pasta. This dish, by the way, is traditionally not served with cheese. Which isn't to prevent you from making something like a pasta alla carbonara without bacon but with sauteed onions, eggs, and cheese. There are really hundreds of meatless ways to sauce pasta. Buonassisi's book on classic pasta lists so many, though the book is not as well organized as you might like. (Check for it used on line.) I like many of the options of Eric Mane in her Pasta Improvvisata (in English, in spite of the title).

                            1. Browning some ground beef and/or sausage before sauteeing the garlic and onions doesn't add more than 5 minutes to the prep time for spaghetti sauce - even less if you prep the vegetables while the meat is browning. It's not the same as a day-long "Sunday gravy" but is certainly heartier than marinara sauce.

                              1. One trick I learned to give a really deep flavor to a quick tomato sauce is to add some tomato paste to onions, garlic and whatever other veggies you're using, and to saute it until it browns -- don't burn it, just let it get a rich red-brown color. Then you can add tomatoes, sauce, whatever you like, and the flavor will be much fuller.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: alaughingdog

                                  Yes, this works beautifully. Sometimes, I also add some roasted garlic to the mix just before the tomatoes go in.

                                2. Well this is not a time saver, but is an outstanding pasta sauce meat or no meat.

                                  Google "Worlds Best Pasta Sauce" (AllRecipies) and make it with out the meat, add diced/sliced mushrooms, onion, bell peppers, olives...what ever sounds good. I also sometimes add Gimmie Lean Sausage by Light Life foods. This would probably also make a great pizza sauce. I use less sugar than called for.

                                  1. I've used porcini powder in spaghetti sauce, it makes a difference. I like it in roast beef hash too--it's not overkill, it's umami, as monavano said above.

                                    1. Mario Batali has this recipe where he used roasts fresh cherry tomatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper and I think some garlic. He smashes them with his hands over pasta. Marcella Hazan has a butter tomato recipe that is amazing. Just remember if you are not using a ton of ingredients, the general rule is that for better flavor, you must use really quality ingredients.

                                      1. you averse to anchovies? they really help in a tomato sauce, along with mushrooms, onions, garlic (and i like olives). always use some freshly ground fennel seeds, too -- or freshly minced fennel bulb. cubed eggplant makes a terrific, "meaty" addition.

                                        1. I've found that good beef stock or Better Than Bouillon can impart more meat flavor to a sauce than actual meat does.

                                          I concur about anchovy paste for a bit of extra savor. Just a touch adds umami without being perceptible as fishiness in the end result.

                                          I often use the old European trick of heating a bay leaf in the oil for a minute or two before adding anything else, removing it before I sauté my onions for a few minutes, then my garlic for two minutes only before the tomatoes go in.

                                          One technique that helps a lot is to utilize herbs in several different small batches: a bit in the beginning with your onion (but hold off on adding basil early on), a little more when you add the tomatoes; this gives deeper dimension to the herb taste. And another bit right before the finish will brighten the dish considerably, especially with fresh herbs as noted above..

                                          Caramelizing tomato paste a bit first as someone has commented does indeed add depth of flavor. While we're on the subject of sweet notes, a grated carrot does a better job of mitigating the acid of tomatoes than the typical addition of sugar. As with anchovy, it's not recognizable as a distinct flavor by the time it's cooked down.

                                          And a few drops of Maggi adds subtly to just about any sauce. Or gravy. Or stew. Or soup...

                                          1. Google "marcella hazan tomato sauce butter." Easiest tomato sauce in the world. And it tastes so good. I always use canned tomatoes when I make it. And I probably make it once a month.

                                            It's called "Tomato Sauce III" and you'll find it on p. 95 of THE CLASSIC ITALIAN COOKBOOK, so it's probably in ESSENTIALS OF CLASSIC ITALIAN COOKING, the currently available compilation of Marcella's first two books (I _think_. Since I have the original two, I didn't buy ESSENTIALS.)

                                            1. My friends like my spaghetti puttanesca best of all, and except for the anchovy, there is not meat. Can be made from what's in your pantry.

                                              1. A friend said that when he was in college, he'd add cooked lentils to his tomato sauce and it tasted like meat. But lentils take time to cook, so it's not a time-saver.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: pdxgastro

                                                  Lentils should only take a half-hour or so to cook to tender...too much if the OP is looking for immediate gratification, but pretty manageable if the OP is looking to make something from scratch (which seems to be the case).

                                                  You could let them simmer while you build the rest of the sauce, then stir them in when they're tender.

                                                2. I have to say, I really love my vegan bolognese sauce! It's got lentis, tempeh and mushrooms! It really gives you that meat sauce satisfaction. Here's a photo: http://www.whatwouldcathyeat.com/2010...
                                                  And here's the recipe:

                                                  Vegan Bolognese Sauce

                                                  3 T. extra virgin olive oil
                                                  3 large cloves garlic, minced
                                                  1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
                                                  1/2 small green bell pepper, finely chopped
                                                  1 small carrot, finely chopped
                                                  1 stalk celery, finely chopped
                                                  1 8-oz. package tempeh, crumbled
                                                  8 oz. cremini or white mushrooms, chopped
                                                  1/2 t. crushed red pepper flakes
                                                  1 6-oz. can tomato paste
                                                  1 bay leaf
                                                  1 t. dried oregano
                                                  1 t. dried basil
                                                  1/2 c. dried red lentils
                                                  1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
                                                  1 28-oz can whole tomatoes, undrained, chopped
                                                  1 c. dry red wine
                                                  1/4 c. chopped flat-leaf parsley
                                                  1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
                                                  1/2 t. fennel seed
                                                  1/2 t. salt, or up to 1 t., to taste

                                                  Heat the oil over medium heat in a large dutch oven. Add the garlic, onion, bell pepper, carrot, celery and crushed red pepper, and saute for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn the heat up a bit, add the mushrooms and tempeh and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Lower the heat back to medium, stir in the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the remaining ingredients except salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until the lentils are just tender. This usually takes 20 minutes, but I’ve had some lentils take an hour – possibly because my tomatoes were salted, which can toughen the lentils. So keep tasting it along the way to determine when it’s done. If the sauce gets too dry, add a bit of water. Add salt at the end of the cooking time. Serve on whole wheat spaghetti or use in lasagna.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                    1. re: cathyeats

                                                      i liked your blog. your recipe looks interesting. i haven't used tempeh.