There are milestones, there are millstones, as they sing in the Broadway musical Gypsy, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the two apart, but I clocked two milestones this week that I’m not undelighted to have out of the way: firstly I competed in my first cocktail competition finals, and secondly it was my 32nd birthday, the latter in swift succession of the former. I didn’t win the competition but in all honesty I’m quite okay with it because the real prize for me was all the attention and getting to stand in front of an audience with a microphone. I appreciate that public speaking is many people’s idea of actual hell incarnate, but for me there’s nowhere I’d rather be than in front of a crowd of people that I have to quickly win over using little more than charm and yet more charm. However, it also is a bit of a sigh of relief that it’s finally done. I’m proud of myself and I’m suuuuper proud of my friends who won in their respective categories, and I learned a honk-ton of information (did you know that Suntory was established in 1923 initially to sell imported wine? Did you know that Canadian Club was the most smuggled liquor into the states during Prohibition? Did you know Kid Rock did the forward to the book about Jim Beam that I read?)
And then it was my birthday, and I find them a bit stressful because while it’s just another day ostensibly, there’s also all this pressure (almost entirely self-directed to be fair) to have the time of your life, but to my mild surprise, I had a genuinely fantastic birthday. I’m feeling exceptionally calm about turning 32, despite having a general one-step-forward-three-steps-backwards existence I feel like I am every day growing gradually more focussed and able to cope with life to the point where I very occasionally even feel like I could kick a hole in the sky.
And another small but nevertheless achieve-y achievement: I made myself some food! WooooOO! It was actually a staff meal at work that inspired me to make this vegan take on spaghetti bolognese, we were given pasta with sundried tomatoes and pine nuts and there was something in the richness and bite of It all that made me want to extrapolate it out further. I figured that walnuts would provide texture and a little smokiness and mushrooms would add further depth and that if you blended them with said sundried tomatoes, so you couldn’t tell where one element started and another finished, it could be an extremely good time. All three of these ingredients have a kind of meatiness, not that they actually taste like meat, but they’ve got body and heft and savoury intensity and presence.
Anyway once you’ve got your ingredients together this is all extremely easy - you just blitz the mushrooms, tomatoes and walnuts in a processor and fry it with some tomato passata (which is like tomato purée and pretty easy to find in the supermarket). It honestly looks and tastes a lot like bolognese, all richly comforting and tomato-y, but also is extremely delicious in its own right, like, not just as a meat substitute. I don’t know why I feel like I’m bending over backwards to not insult a mushroom by comparing it to meat but you know what I mean? This is really good because it just is, not because it is quite successfully mimicking something. On top of which it’s been so icy cold lately which I actually love, I really enjoy that wintery vibe of getting covered in blankets or wearing enormous coats and doing cosy things like drinking cups of tea and googling “how to spoon yourself”, and mate, there’s nothing like some spag bol eaten in bed on a cold day.
vegan spaghetti bolognese
- six or seven large button mushrooms (or better yet, about four big field mushrooms)
- 10 sundried tomatoes
- half a cup of shelled walnuts
- four cloves of garlic
- olive oil
- a splash of red wine (optional)
- 250ml/one cup tomato passata (or use a can of chopped tomatoes)
- salt and pepper
- 200g dried spaghetti
- fresh basil leaves, to serve
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to the packet instructions, eleven minutes usually does it, then drain and tip it onto two serving plates. I use water from a freshly boiled kettle just to make the process faster.
Meanwhile, throw the mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, walnuts and garlic cloves into a food processor and blend it all together till it’s a roughly chopped paste mixture type thing.
Heat some olive oil - a couple of tablespoons, I suppose - in a large saucepan, and spatula the mushroom mixture into the pan. Stir over a high heat for about ten minutes - mushrooms tend to give off a little liquid when they cook and you want to get it to the point where this has all evaporated. At this point I add a splash of red wine to the pan which adds some wonderful depth to it all but if you’re strictly vegan and not sure on the origins of your wine just leave it out. Add the tomato passata and let it simmer away till it’s looking all thick and saucy. If too much liquid has evaporated add more passata or some water, just trust your instincts.
At this point give it a taste and add some salt and pepper if you think it needs it, and pile on top of your cooked spaghetti. Throw some basil leaves on top and eat. Serves two.
You can, as with most of my recipes, just take this and run with it: add any number of herbs that you feel like, use a mixture of nuts (although I really feel like walnuts are the best here, a mixture of Brazil and almonds could probably hold their own), have the sauce on toast or use it in a lasagne-type layered up fashion.
My birthday actually started early when I (started anticipating it the minute my birthday last year ended, wait what) had wine and takeaways with my best friends Kim and Kate on Sunday (Kim has since gone overseas on holiday for like, EVER or maybe three weeks or six weeks or something so please keep me in your thoughts during this difficult time while she’s away.) On the day of I had brunch with Kate and we had prosecco like fancy functioning humans, and then I had an absolutely banging nap, and then I went and saw my friend Dom’s play, Your Heart Looks Like A Vagina, and it’s super fantastic and if you’re in Wellington I strongly recommend that you go see it this week. You maybe wouldn’t think seeing a one-man play about chronic disease would be like, the most joyful way to spend a birthday, but there’s gallows humour and regular-level humour running all the way through it, promise.
If you’re on a vegan buzz then I recommend by way of further reading these other recipes I’ve blogged about: Vegan Apple Cake; almond feta; and this “fried chicken” recipe using jackfruit that I wrote about on my Frasier food blog.
title from: Dillon’s gently achey song Thirteen Thirty Five,
Car Seat Headrest, My Boy. A good song for wallowing, I know at least one of you out there other than just me needs this information.
California Soul, the Diplo remix of Marlena Shaw’s already excellent 1967 track.
Washington On Your Side from the cast recording of Hamilton, the Broadway musical. This song is so jaunty and banger-y and I literally can’t stop listening to it over and over, Daveed Diggs is an absolute treasure.
next time: yeah nah your guess is as good as mine.