Adam Liaw’s umami bolognese

There are so many vegan and vegetarian pasta dishes to choose from that the idea of converting a classic meat-based pasta dish to a vegan version almost seems unnecessary. But bolognese isn’t just any ordinary pasta, it’s a part of our heritage. Many of us grew up with bolognese as a staple on our family tables, and even if we choose not to eat meat later in life, we shouldn’t have to give up on our favourite dishes.



Note: + 15 minutes soaking time



  • 8 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 tbs shio kombu or nutritional yeast (optional)
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil, plus extra to serve
  • 1 brown onion, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, 1 grated and 1 finely chopped
  • 1 celery stick, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 500g button mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1 tbs tomato paste (concentrated purée)
  • 1/2 tsp Vegemite or other yeast-extract spread
  • 1 tbs soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) red wine
  • 4 cups (1L) tomato passata (puréed tomatoes)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 500g spaghetti
  • Parsley leaves, to serve



Soak five of the dried shiitake mushrooms in 2 cups (500 ml) hot water for about 15 minutes. While they are soaking, transfer the remaining dried shiitake to a spice grinder and grind to a powder (see tip below) with the shio kombu, if using. Set aside. 


Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat and add the onion, carrot and celery. Fry for 5 minutes or until fragrant, then add the garlic and fry for a further 3 minutes.


Remove the shiitake from the soaking liquid, reserving the liquid. Chop them and add to the saucepan along with the button mushrooms. Fry for about 10 minutes or until the button mushrooms have softened. Stir in the shiitake soaking liquid, tomato paste, Vegemite, soy sauce, red wine, passata, bay leaf and oregano.


Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes until the sauce is reduced and thick. Season with salt and black pepper.


When the sauce is nearly ready, bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and salt it well. Add the spaghetti and cook according to the packet directions, but start to test for doneness about 2 minutes before it says it will be ready. Once al dente, drain the pasta, reserving about 1/4 cup (60 ml) of the pasta water.


Add the drained pasta to a large frying pan, along with the reserved pasta water, an extra 3 tbs olive oil and as much bolognese sauce as you like. Toss it all together and transfer to a serving platter. Serve scattered with the mushroom powder and parsley.

Tip: If you don’t want to grind the dried shiitake mushrooms in a spice grinder, you can finely grate them with a microplane to create an easy, umami-rich powder that is a great substitute for parmesan.

This is an edited extract from Tonight’s Dinner by Adam Liaw, published by Hardie Grant Books & SBS, RRP $45. Available in stores nationally.

Check ingredient labels to make sure they meet your specific dietary requirements and always consult a health professional before changing your diet. View dietary information here.