This vegan Bolognese is full of familiar, comforting flavours

Joe Yonan

THE WASHINGTON POST – You may have picked up two things about me and my food tastes over the years: First, that I’m a fan of tempeh, the traditional Indonesian fermented soy cake that I think should be more popular than it is. Second, that I’m not a fan of spaghetti squash, which I have (even recently) referred to as watery and bland.

Well, a recipe that uses the former got me to re-examine my thinking about the latter. And maybe it can do the same for you, whether you’re a fan of both or neither.

Let’s take tempeh. It can seem mysterious if you haven’t cooked with it before, and in its raw state it’s perhaps not too pretty (at least in some beholders’ eyes). But it’s a nutritional powerhouse, and when you know how to cook it (just like with anything, really), it can surprise you with its versatility.

Here, you grate it, brown it and combine it with a lot of garlic, plus onion, tomatoes for a vegan take on Bolognese sauce that comes together much more quickly. It absorbs the flavours of the sauce, and believe me, you don’t take a bite of this and think, “Is that tempeh?” You think, “Yum.”

Next up: spaghetti squash. My colleague Becky Krystal recently wrote a piece about being more open to learning how best to use it, and I stumbled on a technique that changed my mind: You roast it at fairly high heat, with no need for the typical water in the roasting pan, and it keeps the squash drier, which better concentrates its flavour.

Spaghetti squash with tempeh bolognese. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

For this dish, you shred it for a pasta-like base for the tempeh Bolognese, but I won’t fault you if you want to put the sauce on anything else you’d like: pasta, of course, or polenta, or mashed or roasted or baked potatoes.

This, then, is really two recipes in one. Pick and choose: One, the other – or both.

If you’ve never cooked tempeh, this is a great starter recipe, because its grated crumbles absorb the flavour of the sauce. Rather than the classic slow-simmered Bolognese, this version comes together in less than a half-hour. It pairs well with strands of roasted spaghetti squash, but feel free to serve it instead over pasta, polenta, potatoes or grilled eggplant.

STORAGE NOTES

The roasted spaghetti squash and the sauce can each be refrigerated, separately, for up to one week or frozen for up to six months.

INGREDIENTS

One large (two-and-a-half pound) spaghetti squash

One-and-a-quarter teaspoons fine sea salt, divided, plus more to taste

Half teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, divided, plus more to taste

Four tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

One (eight-ounce) package tempeh, grated on the large holes of a box grater

One medium yellow onion (about 10 ounces), finely chopped

Four cloves garlic, finely chopped

One teaspoon dried oregano

One (28-ounce) can no-salt crushed tomatoes or tomato puree (three cups)

Three tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chopped

STEPS

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.

Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise, and scrape out and discard the seeds (or save them for roasting). Sprinkle with a quarter teaspoon of the salt and a quarter teaspoon of the pepper, and place, cut-side up, on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Roast for about 40 minutes, or until the squash feels soft when pressed. When the squash is cool enough to handle, use a fork to scrape the stringy flesh into a medium bowl.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat three tablespoons of the oil until shimmering. Add the tempeh and saute until it starts to turn dark gold, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pan, eight to 10 minutes. (The tempeh will quickly soak up the oil; that’s okay.)

Stir in the remaining one tablespoon of oil, the onion and one teaspoon of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften, about five minutes. Add the garlic and oregano and cook until fragrant, about two minutes. Deglaze the pan by scraping off all the stuck-on bits on the bottom and sides of the pan. Let the liquid simmer until it is nearly evaporated, about four minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes, reduce the heat to medium, cover the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce darkens and thickens and the flavours meld, about 20 minutes. Taste, and add more salt and pepper, if needed. Stir in the basil and serve over the roasted spaghetti squash.

NUTRITION

Calories: 402; Total Fat: 21g; Saturated Fat: 4g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 819mg; Carbohydrates: 48g; Dietary Fibre: 10g; Sugar: 17g; Protein: 16g.