Pasta With Tofu “Bolognese” {meat-free + vegetarian}

by Amy on 8 January 2014

Pasta with Tofu "Bolognese"Happy 2014, y’all! I hope that your 2014 is off to a fantastic start, + that it’s a fabulous, wonderful year for all of you. I know many people make food- and diet-related resolutions in the new year, so I’m starting off the year with a healthy, meat-free twist on the classic pasta bolognese. In this recipe, instead of beef, pork, or veal, I use crumbled tofu as the “meat.” And while I used traditional pasta here, if you’re eating low-carb, you can easily substitute spaghetti squash for the pasta.

The tofu gets sauteed until golden brown with caramelized onions, garlic, carrots, + celery, then slowly simmers with tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, broth, + herbs. The result is a wonderfully flavorful meat-free bolognese sauce that is so delicious, you truly won’t miss the meat! The crumbled tofu has a perfect slightly-chewy texture, which makes it a satisfying substitute for meat. My meat-loving husband, who tolerates tofu but doesn’t love it, was a huge fan of this meal, going back for seconds. And I was an even bigger fan – I had a huge portion the first night I made it, and loved it as leftovers – the flavors got even more delicious and complex after sitting overnight in the fridge.

So, if one of your New Year’s goals is to eat healthier, or to eat less meat, you must give this delicious meal a try! And even if it that isn’t one of your resolutions, you should still put this tofu “bolognese” on your to-try list — it’ll be a crowd-pleaser for both meat-eaters AND vegetarians!

Pasta with Tofu "Bolognese"

Pasta with Tofu “Bolognese”

serves 8, a Fearless Homemaker original recipe


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
kosher salt + black pepper
2 (14 oz.) packages extra-firm tofu
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 (28 oz.) cans crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
12 oz. pasta, such as linguine or fettuccine


First, prepare the tofu. Press the tofu blocks between paper towels to remove as much moisture as possible. Then, using your hands, crumble into smaller pieces. Don’t worry about making them super small – you’ll crumble them further during the cooking process. Set crumbled tofu aside.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat, then add in the onion, carrots, and celery. Saute for 10-15 minutes, until onions are translucent and vegetables are softened. Add in the garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes, until garlic is fragrant. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add the crumbled tofu and Italian seasoning to the pan and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook for about 30 minutes, breaking up the tofu into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon or spatula, stirring every 3-5 minutes. The tofu will gradually turn golden brown – be patient, as it takes some time! The less you fuss with it (especially in the first few minutes), the better the tofu will brown.

After about 30 minutes, once the tofu is broken down into ground meat-size pieces and golden brown, add the tomato paste. Saute for 3 minutes, stirring constantly to get everything well-combined. Then, add in the crushed tomatoes, bay leaves, red pepper, vegetable or chicken broth, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid, and drain pasta. Add the pasta to the skillet with the sauce and toss to combine well, adding some of the cooking liquid if needed to achieve your desired consistency.

Serve immediately, topped with vegetarian cheese and parsley, if desired.

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{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Katrina @ WVS January 8, 2014 at 7:27 am

This is such a neat dish! Love it!

2 danielle January 8, 2014 at 8:57 am

I would love to try this – I wonder if hubby and the kids would notice the difference.

3 amy January 8, 2014 at 9:08 am

Hi Danielle, they’d probably notice that it wasn’t beef, but I bet they’d think it was chicken/turkey. That’s probably what I’d think it was if I didn’t know! =)

4 Dixya @ Food, Pleasure, and Health January 8, 2014 at 9:10 am

saving this recipe..i love bolognese but using tofu will be such a healthy substitute. thank you.

5 Leah | So, How's It Taste? January 8, 2014 at 9:11 am

That is one gorgeous plate of pasta! I like your spin on a meat-free dish!

6 alexandra January 8, 2014 at 9:16 am

I LOVED this. And now I’m craving it for breakfast. Thanks for sharing the recipe. It was stupendously delicious. :)

7 amy January 8, 2014 at 9:19 am

Thank you so much, Alex! I’m so glad you liked it, and I’m thrilled that I can always call on you to be a taste-tester. =)

8 Megan January 8, 2014 at 10:09 am

Happy New Year! (and I hope you’ve survived the cold!)

This is an awesome idea. My first roommate in NYC cooked with tofu all the time. While I loved the meals she prepared, I’ve never taken the plunge into tofu-cooking-fun…this recipe has the wheels turning in my head for how to possibly incorporate it into some of my other favorite dishes (i.e., Mexican…)

9 amy January 8, 2014 at 10:18 am

We’re surviving the cold so far, thanks! =) You’ll have to let me know what fun tofu-centered recipes you come up with. I love tofu, but I almost always make it the same way – cubed, sauteed, with ginger/honey/soy. I’m trying to branch out and use tofu in new, creative ways. We’ll have to compare notes on the recipes we try!

10 wendy (the weekend gourmet) January 8, 2014 at 11:02 am

Our health goal for 2014 is to switch to a meatless diet for 2 days per week, starting in Jan with meatless Monday. This one’s been pinned to try…

11 amy January 8, 2014 at 11:16 am

Awesome, Wendy! Hope you love this recipe, and hope you have great success with your health goal! =)

12 Adri January 8, 2014 at 1:40 pm

What an interesting dish! I confess to an utter lack of familiarity with tofu, but I bet that the tofu soaks up the flavor of the ragu and winds up being really tasty. What a great idea! Happy New Year to you and best wishes for happy, healthy eating!

13 kelly January 8, 2014 at 2:29 pm

This looks amazing Amy! What a creative way to add tofu into a meal, I love the sound of this meatless pasta :) Pinning and can’t wait to try making this for my meat-loving hubby too! Thanks for sharing girl :)

14 Lesley Eats January 8, 2014 at 5:14 pm

This definitely looks delicious. But I might halve the recipe because this could feed an army! :)

15 amy January 8, 2014 at 5:30 pm

It makes a TON! Definitely halve it if it’s just for you + the family. Or prepare to have a ton of (super delicious) leftovers. =)

16 easyfoodsmith January 9, 2014 at 6:09 am

The tofu is a very clever idea! I love tofu but unfortunately I am the only one in the family who does. I would love to try this for myself 😀

17 Beth January 9, 2014 at 1:28 pm

It looks delicious! And even though I didn’t make any resolutions, I always try especially hard to eat well in January.

18 Kathryn January 9, 2014 at 3:47 pm

this sounds so interesting! I’ve never tried using tofu in this way but it sounds really tasty and just full of flavour.

19 Kumar's Kitchen January 10, 2014 at 2:58 am

vibrant,nourishing and soul warming dish…we can feast on it for days with happiness…looks so rich and tasty,thanks for sharing :-)

20 ashley - baker by nature January 10, 2014 at 10:09 am

You always make me swoon with your perfect plates of pasta!!!

21 amy January 10, 2014 at 11:19 am

Awww, thank you Ashley!

22 Gintare @Gourmantine January 10, 2014 at 12:17 pm

I have to try this with my hubs, he doesn’t fancy at all the idea of tofu, wonder if he’d notice it in :)

23 Sarah K. @ The Pajama Chef January 11, 2014 at 11:00 am

ohhhh this looks SO good amy! what a fun sub. and in a bolognese i bet it’s hardly noticeable :)

24 Amy (Savory Moments) January 13, 2014 at 5:54 pm

This sauce looks really creative and interesting! We try to eat a couple meat-free dinners each week.

25 Jen L | Tartine and Apron Strings January 22, 2014 at 5:51 pm

very original, Ms. Fearless Homemaker Amy! I like this idea, because I like tofu! Now why didn’t I think of this before?

26 michael January 26, 2014 at 1:45 pm

Looks delicious! I could eat a big plate of that right now! :-)

27 sophie January 27, 2014 at 3:13 pm

My sauce came out looking just like the picture. HOWEVER…the “browning” of the tofu basically meant burning it, and it didn’t add any flavor. I had to double the herbs and double the garlic, and add a little sugar to combat the bitterness of crushed tomatoes (and I usually don’t have a heavy hand with herbs or garlic). I finally came out tasting ok for a meatless bolognese, however, the tofu added nothing but tasteless protein (and not much, at that).
Won’t be making again, would rather have a veggie bolognese and a greek yogurt for dessert…more protein, more yummy.

28 amy January 27, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Hi Sophie, So sorry that this dish didn’t turn out well for you. Hopefully you’ll find another recipe on my blog that you like better!

29 elaine April 5, 2014 at 1:31 pm

AAArgggg! I hope you don’t serve this to vegetarians if you make it with the chicken broth alternative!!!!

30 amy April 5, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Hi Elaine, I would personally only use vegetable broth if serving this to vegetarians, but I do have some friends who consider themselves vegetarian and still consume chicken broth. So I’ll leave that up to the discretion of the particular vegetarian. I did add a note to the ingredient list about it, though – thanks for pointing it out.

31 helga April 15, 2014 at 8:09 pm

I used half the tomatoes and half the tofu, skipped the tomato paste, and added a bag of spinach to the pasta for the last minute of boiling. It easily served four generously, and it was fabulous. Served with grated cheese…..yum, will make this again, it is a winner!

32 amy April 15, 2014 at 8:11 pm

I’m so thrilled you liked it, Helga, and I love your addition of spinach. YUM!

33 Courtney August 12, 2014 at 11:45 am

I made this the other night for my 1 year olds triplets. They all loved it. One of them was refusing all food because she was sick, but she couldn’t get enough of this dish! I had the leftovers myself for lunch today…delicious! I haven’t eaten tofu before, but I would definitely make this again! Bookmarking and sharing this recipe!

34 amy August 12, 2014 at 1:54 pm

I am SO thrilled that you and the triplets loved it! My little girl was only about 5 months old last time I made this, so she was too little to try any it – you’ve definitely inspired me to make it again soon for her to try, because I bet she would love it, too! Thanks, Courtney. =)

35 Ain October 1, 2014 at 5:35 am

Thanx for the info Amy.. 😉 I’m ready now to cook for my hubby this weekend..yeah!Tofu Bolognese wit love 😉

36 Jonathan March 16, 2015 at 10:21 am

Great recipe. Thanks for sharing. However, should be noted that Parmesan contains animal rennet (Enzyme from calf intestine), and is not considered a suitable ingredient for a large number of vegeterians. Parmesan is an EU Protected Designation of Origin Product and will always contain animal rennet. Alternatives are available and it would be worth highlighting truly vegeterian options in the ingredient list. The list of animal content in every day products is both staggering and confusing. I hope this helps in some small way. Thanks again for the recipe.


37 amy March 16, 2015 at 12:58 pm

Thanks for the comment, Jonathan! I actually now know that some cheeses contain animal rennet vs. vegetarian rennet (and some cheeses can never be vegetarian) but I didn’t know that when I wrote this post over a year ago. I will definitely add a comment about that now – thanks for the suggestion, because I honestly wouldn’t have thought to look back at this recipe to check. Luckily, the parmesan in this recipe is simply a topping/garnish and can easily be omitted – it certainly isn’t a necessary/crucial ingredient. Thanks again for popping by with your comment – much appreciated.

38 amy March 16, 2015 at 12:59 pm

PS, Jonathan – if you have a suggestion for a cheese that would be good to top this with, that is vegetarian, I’d love to hear it so I can update the recipe!

39 Sally Caraganis April 2, 2015 at 3:33 pm

Can you make the sauce a day ahead then heat it up the next night? Or will the tofu get mushy?

40 amy April 2, 2015 at 3:56 pm

You can definitely make it a day ahead, Sally. I actually loved it leftover!

41 Annie June 17, 2015 at 3:43 pm

I haven’t tried it yet, but certainly will. I was wondering though, how long can you keep it in the fridge? Can you freeze it? Thanks :)

42 Amy June 17, 2015 at 3:54 pm

Hi Annie! Yes, you should be able to freeze this, no problem. Once you’re done simmering the tofu “bolognese” for the 15-20 minutes, remove it from the heat, let it cool down to room temperature, and then freeze it. I would NOT recommend freezing it already mixed with the pasta — pasta tends to get really soggy when frozen + reheated. In the fridge, this should keep for about 5 days. =)

43 New To Tofu July 30, 2015 at 6:58 pm

Someone brought this to a potluck at work. She used green peppers in place of the onions and she replaced the linguini with bow tie pasta. I didn’t know she used tofu instead of meat. I couldn’t tell the difference. It was delicious. I can’t wait to make this.

44 Amy July 30, 2015 at 9:58 pm

I am so thrilled to hear that! Hope you love it just as much when you make it yourself, too. And thanks so much for popping by to share – comments like this make my day!

45 Eileen November 4, 2015 at 8:41 pm

Omg, I made this for dinner for my mom and me tonight – it was totally delicious and a smashing success!! My mom LOVED it, and so do I. This is my go-to red sauce for pasta from now on! Thank you!!!

46 Amy November 4, 2015 at 8:43 pm

Awesome, Eileen! I am SO thrilled that you and your mom loved it! =)

47 Shannon February 1, 2016 at 2:51 pm

This sounds great. You suggest to serve immediately. Does this store well? I want to offer my vegetarian friends a spaghetti option on a camp trip, so it will need to store for up to 3 days (in the fridge, of coarse).

48 Amy February 1, 2016 at 3:01 pm

Yes, it does store well in the fridge and reheats nicely, Shannon. Last time I made it, I made a huge batch and ate it as leftover lunches for the week, and it was fantastic reheated. I hope your friends love it on the camp trip!

49 Hayley July 28, 2016 at 1:28 pm

Just made this..delicious! Didn’t have celery, added yellow pepper, mushrooms and used paprika for the crushed red pepper as wasn’t sure if it was American for paprika! So tasty and spag bog-loving hubbie loved it too. Every time I cook tofu it crumbles anyway, so perfect way to cook tofu for me! 10/10

50 Roberta Kleckner March 9, 2019 at 12:51 pm

Late to the vegan plate. I don’t know if Gardein was available in 2014, but I’m using Gardein ultimate ground meatless meat, which is tried and true, and very excited about it. I know this will be a favorite dish in my house.

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