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Wait, stop! Don’t scroll past this one just because the name of the recipe contains tofu and pasta in the same sentence. Hear me out. I promise you this recipe for Veggie Tofu Pasta actually tastes good and every member in my family requests that I make it.
WHY YOUR KIDS MIGHT LIKE IT
Spaghetti with bolognese sauce (AKA meat sauce) was my go-to Italian restaurant I-don’t-need-to-look-at-the-menu-before-I-order before I started eating whole food plant-based. So trust me when I say, I’ve had many variations of this sauce. The texture of tofu bolognese is quite similar to a traditional bolognese sauce.
I’ve tried many iterations of plant-based pasta recipes before finally landing on this Veggie Tofu Bolognese Pasta recipe. I’ve tried going all in with lentils as a meat replacer in spaghetti, but it was a definite no-go for my family. (I’ll admit I still have lentil spaghetti goals and will try this recipe by Cookie + Kate some day.) I find the tofu bolognese to be a good transitional recipe to go from all meat to all plants.
HOW TO TRANSITION FROM MEAT TO PLANTS
Anyone who has attempted to change their family’s eating habits knows that it isn’t for the weak of heart. You may experience complaints, refusal, and the good ‘ol, “No thanks, I’ll pick something else up.” I have found the most likely way I’ll get my family to eat some of the “weird hippie food” as (as my husband calls it) is to make transitions very slowly.
I talked about how to slowly convert a recipe in the post Transitioning to a Plant-Based Diet: How to Slowly Eliminate Ground Meat in a Recipe with my bolognese sauce. This is where I started with an all meat recipe and turned it into an all plants recipe.
As a reminder, I took the recipe from this:
What I didn’t do yet was share the actual recipe for Veggie Tofu Bolognese Pasta. Well, the day has finally come that I am posting my recipe so you can try it for yourself. For those with babies and toddlers, I didn’t forget about you! I will also share how to convert this one to be both baby and toddler friendly.
First off, marvel in the glory of all the veggies that are going to end up in the pasta. I’m going to show you how to feed this even to your I-don’t-eat-anything-green kid.
I combined three recipes to make this recipe for Veggie Tofu Bolognese Pasta. The meat sauce came from World’s Best Lasagna from Allrecipes, the veggie sauce from Veggie Pasta Sauce by Healthy Little Foodies, and the Tofu Bolognese from It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken.
Step One: Tofu Crumbles
The first step is to bake the tofu crumbles. I prefer using high protein super firm tofu because it is already dry but extra firm tofu would also work. Mix the sauce for the tofu crumbles first in a bowl into a paste-like consistency. Crumble in the tofu and mix well before baking. I use an air fryer to speed up the process, but you can also bake it in the oven. This is the air fryer I have. I chose it because it uses a metal tray instead of a nonstick tray.
Step Two: Veggie Sauce
I simultaneously chop the veggies and cook the sauce to save time. I chop the onions, carrots, and celery first and sauté them in a dutch oven or stock pot while I chop the zucchini and bell peppers.
Side note: Learning to chop onions quickly is one of the best skills I learned from taking classes at the Culinary Institute of America. I’ve been there twice. First for the Healthy Kitchen Healthy Lives medical conference and then for a Culinary Boot Camp. I’d highly recommend both! Here is a short video by Serious Eats on the method I learned to dice onions.
Add the rest of the veggies and sauté until soft. After adding the rest of the sauce ingredients, simmer for 30 minutes. The tofu crumbles go in after the sauce is done cooking. Serve immediately over your favorite whole grain pasta.
Instant Pot option
I usually make the sauce on the stove in a Dutch oven or stock pot while the tofu is baking. I’ve even made it with the Instant Pot. The Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker that will shave off time from recipes that need to simmer for long periods of time. You can use it for so many things from beans to rice, to braising stews, chili and soup.
I sauté the veggies in the Instant Pot on sauté mode then add the rest of the sauce ingredients and cook at high pressure for 15 minutes. Quick release will be fine – just watch out for the steam! I like to cover the top with a dish towel to avoid getting burned from the steam.
HOW TO MAKE THIS BABY/TODDLER/PICKY EATER FRIENDLY
If you are going to give this to a baby, I’d suggest taking out their portion before adding the salt and maple syrup. As a whole, I recommend to avoid salt and sugar in babies when possible since they are just developing their palate and we don’t want them to prefer salty and sugary foods.
I love using scissors such as this pair to cut noodles shorter. Depending on where your baby is at in their solids journey, you may want to cut the veggies smaller as well or even puree the sauce. I would recommend adding additional liquid before blending to get it to the right consistency. I used the Vitamix to puree the sauce but a stick blender would also work.
Here’s the trick for the picky eaters who would pick those vegetables right out as soon as the plate is set in front of them. Puree the sauce first then add it on the pasta. This trick works with soup too. Pack ’em with veggies, puree, then serve. I always suggest to continue serving the veggies also in whole form for the purpose of exposure. Even if they don’t eat it, they’ve seen it and maybe touched it. That’s the first step!
Well, there it is! My family’s meal staple that I make at least once a month when I’m in the I-don’t-feel-like-thinking mode. I almost always have all these ingredients available in my pantry and refrigerator and I buy extra when on sale. The only part I sometimes don’t have available is all the vegetables in which case I substitute with vegetables I do have in the amount that will give an equal volume of the vegetables in the recipe. Have fun with it and you might find a vegetable combination you like better!
Please use the hashtag #wellnesspediatrician or tag me @wellnesspediatrician on Instagram if you make this. Would love to see what you create!
Veggie Tofu Bolognese Pasta
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
- 1 tsp chili powder or sweet paprika for less spice
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ¼ tsp liquid smoke optional
- 1 block extra firm or high protein tofu
- 3 celery stalks diced
- 2 large carrots diced
- 1 large onion diced
- 1 red bell pepper diced
- 1 zucchini diced
- 1 tsp garlic minced
- 28 oz can crushed tomatoes San Marzano if possible
- 15 oz can tomato sauce
- 6 oz tomato paste
- ½ tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp italian seasoning
- 1½ tsp dried basil
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tsp sea salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- ½ cup water
- 1 package whole grain pasta of your choice
- Preheat air fryer or oven to 350 degrees
- Add all the ingredients to a medium sized bowl except for the tofu
- Mix together until they form a paste
- Crumble the tofu into the bowl and mix with the paste
- Place in the air fryer pan or spread evenly on a pan then place in the air fryer/oven
- Bake for 15 min in the air fryer or 35-45 min in the oven. Oven temperatures may vary so watch it carefully and remove when browned. Place aside.
- Dice the onion, carrots, and celery first. You can get these cooking while you finish dicing the red bell pepper and zucchini to save time.
- Heat stock pot or Dutch oven on the stove at medium heat, add oil (avocado, canola, or olive are my preferred), then add the onions, carrots and celery and saute until softened.
- Add the red bell pepper and zucchini to the pot and saute until softened.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and all the spices to the pot. Add 1/2 cup of water.
- Allow the sauce to get to a low boil then cover and reduce the heat to simmer for 30 minutes.
- Cook the pasta per package instructions while the sauce is simmering.
- When sauce is ready, add the tofu crumbles until heated through then turn off the heat and top the pasta with the sauce.
- INSTANT POT NOTE: If using the Instant Pot, follow the above directions using the saute mode to cook the vegetables first. Turn off when done sauteeing while you add the rest of the sauce ingredients. Cook on high pressure for 10 minutes. I would prefer to allow it to naturally release but if you are short on time, you can quick release. Be careful not to get burned from the hot steam! I like to cover it with a dish towel.
- BABY & TODDLER NOTE: Purée the sauce ingredients in a high speed blender or a stick blender to your preferred consistency. You may need to add extra water. Mix with the pasta. If using noodles you may want to use scissors to cut to smaller pieces.