Stretch Spaghetti Bolognese With These Pantry Staples

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

While everyone has the right to enjoy a dish precisely as they like it, à la Meg Ryan's character in "When Harry Met Sally," there is a good argument for experiencing the dish as it was intended first. That can be difficult with particular foods that are adapted to fit different people's palates or due to the availability of certain ingredients. Take Bolognese sauce, for example. The well-known Italian recipe, seen on menus nationwide, likely doesn't resemble the authentic ragú the Bolognesi are so famous for.

The original version of the slow-cooked meat sauce, ragù di carne, was registered with a notary to be "true and authentic," according to Oretta Zanini De Vita and Maureen B. Fant's cookbook "Pasta the Italian Way, Sauces and Shapes." It's often served as a meat-filled thick marinara sauce, so it may surprise you that an authentic version doesn't contain tomato sauce beyond a scant tablespoon of tomato paste in a few cups of ragù. Bolognese sauce should be a dark dish of crumbled meat with specks of red throughout that you could eat with a fork instead of a spoon.

But for various reasons, such as high meat costs, home cooks may be looking to stretch their Bolognese sauce. They need to search no further than their pantry. With a few swaps, they can create a cheaper version that's rich and comforting. (But please don't serve it with spaghetti in Italy. Apparently, that's just for tourists.)

Add legumes and mushrooms

Whether it's factors like the drought impacting 60% of U.S.-based cattle as of September 2022 (via NPR), inflation, or allegedly unnecessary price hikes by corporations (per CBS News), meat has gotten much more expensive in recent years. That means making a meaty sauce can be hard on a wallet, especially when you need enough to last a little while. Bolognese sauce recipes can call for a variety of meats, including ground beef, ground pork, pancetta, chicken liver, and prosciutto, according to "Pasta the Italian Way, Sauces and Shapes." Plant-based food blog Forks Over Knives recommends using a variety of legumes in place of meat to mimic the different textures and mouth feel. To mirror the size and shape of ground beef, the blog suggests swapping lentils in all your ground beef recipes, using 2 cups of cooked lentils for 1 pound of ground beef.

Fungi absorb sauce quickly with a texture similar to meat, making them another great substitute. Chopped white button and cremini mushrooms work well in Bolognese sauce when you replace half of the ground beef with 8 ounces of cooked mushrooms up to a 1:1 ratio (per Midwest Living). Using your favorite Bolognese sauce recipe, try swapping half the meat the recipe calls for with a mix of lentils and chopped mushrooms for the best results. Since legumes take less time to simmer, recipes will be done quicker — a delicious win-win.