This is a vegan pasta sauce. It was delicious.
When I was growing up, the go-to food of vegetarians was presumed to be eggplant, and the only things staving off protein-deficiency were mushrooms. I went to school with people who would automatically assume that anything that had one or the other was automatically "weirdo hippy food" devoid of flavour and necessitating a special trip the health food store. While it's true that I harboured some silly notions about vegetarian food myself, when I was a kid, I eventually found myself eating a lot of vegetarian meals - not because of any stance on eating animals, but because I had discovered so many tasty, inexpensive meals that happened to be vegetarian.
Vegan food, however, was still random and weird-seeming, primarily because I could not fathom an existence without cheese. I love cheese to such an extent that I could not possibly see myself embracing a cheese-free lifestyle without absolute dire need, and I am pleased to report that such need does not appear to exist at this time. Still, I've noticed that quite a number of my meals, or substantial courses thereof, are turning out to be vegan. I blame the lentil salads, myself.
So, when it turned out that the last of the parmesan was petrified beyond belief (let alone grating) I simply shrugged and sliced up more basil. The thing of it was - much as I adore a good parmesan - this pasta sauce didn't need the cheese. It was exactly what I wanted - light-tasting, chunky, flavourful, healthy, full of herbs, and deliciously satisfying.
If that's hippy and weird, sign me up - at least part-time...
Chunky Mushroom Spaghetti Sauce
The secret to this recipe is in the browning of the mushrooms
20 - 25 very small fresh cremini mushrooms
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 cup canned diced tomatoes, with juices
1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons dry white vermouth (or water)
salt & pepper, as needed
fresh basil, torn or sliced into chiffonade as you see fit
pinch of red chile flakes (optional)
Prepare your mushrooms by cutting the stems short and wiping with a damp cloth. If any are on the large side, you may cut some of them in half, but you want most of the mushrooms to be whole.
This comes together fast, so I usually start cooking when I've dropped my pasta. This is about the right amount of sauce for 225 g. / 1/2 lb. spaghetti.
In a large, non-stick sauce pan, over medium flame, heat the olive oil just until it crackles slightly when a drop of water is flicked on it. Add the mushrooms, caps-down, and let them sizzle, untouched for a couple of minutes, until the caps start to turn golden brown. Give them a stir, and let them sit in their new configuration for another minute or so, and then add the onion. Stir and saute until the onion is somewhat translucent, and then deglaze with vermouth. Add the vermouth all at once, and stir around briskly. Add the garlic and chile flakes (if using), stir, then add the three types of tomatoes. I try to have tomato paste in a tube on hand, just for recipes that use these small amounts. Let simmer for about five minutes, stirring periodically. If it gets too dry, add a little splash of water to keep it on the loose side. When it appears done, taste and adjust for salt and pepper. Add the basil and stir it through.
When the pasta is cooked, drain it and add it to the pan with the sauce. Toss/stir well to combine, and then dish up. For a very Roman touch, add a little more extra virgin olive oil as a splash on top of the finished dish.