Chef Eric Ripert is famous for the elegant seafood dishes served at his award-winning New York restaurant Le Bernardin. But seafood hasn’t always been central to his culinary life. One of his most cherished dining experiences growing up in France was enjoying hearty bowls of classic pasta Bolognese made by his Italian grandmother.
“[Bolognese] has this kind of magic feeling of being home,” says Ripert. “It’s funny because when I travel, if I order room service because I’m too tired and I stay in my hotel, I order Bolognese. And I feel good immediately.”
While the traditional meat-and-tomato sauce is still a favorite, he admits that sometimes it’s a bit too heavy for him. So, about five years ago, he developed a Bolognese to make for his family that substitutes maitake and button mushrooms for the meat.
“I thought maybe I could use mushrooms and chop them and cook them almost exactly like a Bolognese,” he says. “So I tried, and I was very pleasantly surprised because it has a lot of the flavors of the Bolognese, but obviously it’s much lighter.”
It quickly became “one of the favorites for the family” that he now makes on a regular basis. It’s also one of the recipes he knew he had to include in his latest cookbook, Vegetable Simple, which was just released. In recent years, he’s been “eating more vegetables than ever” and returning to the traditions of his childhood when many of the meals were vegetable based. That is except for fish on Fridays and the Bolognese on Sundays.
Vegetable Simple: A Cookbook
His mushroom Bolognese is “healthy because it’s light, and you can feel good about your meal after,” he says. “You don’t feel heavy, and it has many other benefits to the planet—of course, animals love the fact that we are not killing them.”
Here is Ripert’s recipe and advice for making his mushroom version of classic Italian pasta Bolognese.
To emulate the texture of a traditional Bolognese sauce, Ripert turns to chopped maitake and button mushrooms. Not only does this give the mushrooms a similar consistency to ground meat, but it also adds an earthy note to the sauce.
Ripert prefers button mushrooms for their low cost and ubiquity and maitake for their rich flavor. The two also have a slightly different firmness, which helps create the final consistency. If you can’t find maitakes, he says it works just as well with all button mushrooms or even with creminis.
He recommends chopping the mushrooms with a knife “if you have the patience.” You can also pulse them in a food processor but keep a close eye on how they’re breaking down “so hey don’t become a paste. Be very cautious not to chop or grind them too thin. This is most important.”
Now it’s time to build the sauce. Ripert cooks down the mushrooms with shallots, garlic, a red wine reduction and tomatoes. He also likes to add a bit of spice to the sauce. But instead of grabbing the crushed red pepper, the chef turns to the deliciously spicy and now ubiquitous condiment: Sriracha.
“Sriracha has some garlic in it—it’s not only peppers—so it does have some quite nice flavor,” says Ripert, who uses the “staple” hot sauce in recipes throughout Vegetable Simple. “It makes it very addictive. You get burned by it, but you want to be burned again and so you go back.”
Ripert says the resulting sauce has the “same consistency” and a similar umami flavor to its meaty counterpart. “You have this basically vegetable Bolognese that is extremely satisfying exactly like a normal bowl of Bolognese.”
If you don’t plan to eat the dish immediately, Ripert suggests freezing the sauce, since the mushrooms will intensify in flavor and change the color of the sauce if it’s refrigerated.
When it comes to serving his mushroom Bolognese, Ripert leans toward the traditional: a nest of tagliatelle pasta and “a lot of parmesan on top,” he says.
Then, he’ll serve it with a glass of not-too-strong red wine—usually whatever’s left from making the red wine reduction that goes into the sauce, like a Pinot Noir.
“I have this kind of feel-good effect when I eat it,” he says. “It brings me back memories from my childhood. I also love the labor that goes into it. It’s simple and it’s very rewarding.”
- 2 Tbsp Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 Shallot, finely chopped
- 1 Garlic clove, finely chopped
- 4 cups Button mushrooms, chopped or pulsed in a food processor
- 3 Maitake mushrooms, chopped or pulsed in a food processor (about 1.5 loosely packed cups)
- Fine sea salt
- White pepper, freshly ground
- 1 cup Red wine, reduced to .25 cup
- 16 ounces Canned tomatoes, pureed in a food processor
- 1 tsp Sriracha sauce
- 12 oz Tagliatelle pasta
- .5 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (optional)
- In a medium pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic, reduce the heat to low, and sweat the vegetables for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the mushrooms and stir well. Increase the heat to medium-high and season the mixture with salt and white pepper. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the mushroom liquid releases and begins to reduce.
- Add the reduced wine and cook until the mixture is nearly dry. Add the tomatoes, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the Sriracha. Adjust the seasoning with salt and white pepper to taste, cover, and keep warm while you cook the tagliatelle.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a large pinch of salt, add the tagliatelle, and cook to al dente, according to the package directions.
- Drain the pasta and divide it among four warmed bowls. Ladle the sauce over each portion of pasta and serve. If desired, garnish with grated parmesan.
Excerpted (or Adapted) from VEGETABLE SIMPLE by Eric Ripert. Copyright © 2021 by Eric Ripert. Excerpted by permission of Random House, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.