Eating healthfully is easier for me than it might be for a lot of people. I really like vegetables – I always have. I clearly remember my older sister making me an avocado + colby + alfalfa sprouts sandwich when I was 9 or so and just thinking it was the greatest thing since the sliced seeded bread on which she served it (our mom was a bit of hippie and we ate avocados way before Instagram told us to). My love of vegetables even transcended my teen years when I lived with my bachelor father and our veggie of choice, most nights, was a baked potato.
The problem is that I think of vegetable-based meals as a summer thing and that is one thing that London is not at the moment – a summer thing. I see pictures coming in from around the globe telling a different tale. I see the summer dresses and I see the bi-weekly pedicures taking the place of hot chocolates and wool coats. I even see the Instagram captions from New Orleanians already complaining about the heat. Over here in The Big Smoke it was 36°F when I left for the school drop-off this morning. THIRTY SIX DEGREES. I grabbed my 2nd warmest winter coat and began the five-minute walk to school that includes at least seven minutes of complaints about the weather from my children.
So even though one part of my brain can see the sunshine and the monthly heading of “April,” the other part of my brain, the part that controls what we have for dinner, feels winter and just wants to stay warm at the stove chopping and simmering and baking and reducing and making meals that cook all day and create aromas that drift out of the windows and under the doors and tickle the noses of passers by. I am not really complaining. Nothing beats sitting down at the end of the day – after bathing the kids, and making sure homework is done, and adjudicating disputes – and pouring myself a tall glass of red wine to have with dinner.
Well finally, a perfect compromise. A meatless spaghetti sauce. A concoction that can bubble away for hours (but doesn’t need to), that forces that lovely aroma up, over, around and under, and that pairs with that extremely well deserved glass (or bottle) of red wine winking at me from the kitchen counter.
This recipe was inspired by one in a recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated. I used theirs as a basis (the main two ideas came from them: mushrooms and chickpeas standing in for ground beef) but I then tailored it to my personal preferences for my meat sauce, including the addition of carrots, Worstershire sauce and red wine. Additionally I recently put my food processor in storage so where Cooks Illustrated sticks everything in the food processor (amazingly simple!) we will be doing all of that cutting by hand. Very lastly I think what really gives the recipe *umph* is my tendency to cook over a higher than necessary flame and I would encourage you to make your pot look nice and funky brown like mine does in that pic down there before deglazing with the stock. Oh, be warned that I happily use chicken stock where you might be expecting veggie stock but I do that because this isn’t claiming to be a vegan recipe – just meatless. Of course you can substitute vegetable stock if you like, with an extra pinch of salt and your eyes closed you are unlikely to ever notice the difference.
I rarely get as excited about recipes as I did about this one — I made it on Saturday and then again on Monday just to make sure my tastebuds weren’t deceiving me. The kids devoured it, my husband didn’t event mention the lack of red meat and I’ve committed this one to my permanent record. Wine definitely not optional.
- 10 ounces button mushrooms diced very small
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 1 carrot, diced
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 ¼ teaspoons dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup tomato paste
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon Worstershire sauce
- 2 cups chicken broth (you can use vegetable)
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and diced small
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- plenty of freshly grated parmesean
- Heat 5 tablespoons of the olive oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the mushrooms and a teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are browned, about 8 minutes.
- After the mushrooms have browned add the onions and a teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring only occasionally, until onion is soft. About 5 minutes. Then add another splash of olive oil, garlic,dried oregano and pepper flakes. Stir and cook for a minute.
- Make a clearing in the bottom of the pan and add the tomato paste and garlic to pot and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture begins to darken. At this point you pot should have quite a bit of bowning with food stuck to it from the heat (if you don't then increase your heat and cook for 1 to 2 minutes). Continue to cook the tomato sauce for about 2 minutes and then add the broth and the red wine deglazing the pan as you add the liquids. Add the tomatoes and then reduce heat to low and cook for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes add the chopped up chickpeas to pot and simmer until sauce is slightly thickened, about another 15 minutes. Stir in the freshly chopped basil and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Best served with classic dried "spaghetti"