Earlier this morning, I was still mourning the tragic loss of my sense of taste. Sipping on my black coffee — a cup that I would never choose to drink on an alternate occasion but not for the fact that its utter lack of flavor resisted any amelioration by a sweetener or cream — I may have felt a tear slide down my flushed cheek.
Testing positive for COVID-19 has been quite the teaching moment. As I tried to look on the bright side of things, I imagined the extra opportunities to cook with the absurd amount of lonesome time on my hands, yet I found myself disappointed. Cooking felt useless when the meals I plated all tasted like, well, nothing, and the process itself consumed all my energy. Yet, this experience has shown me how inextricably intertwined my life is with food. It has allowed me to be grateful for the joy it brings me in the evenings, with my neck crooked over the stove, and in the mornings, as I indulge in my first bite of oatmeal.
Fortunately, my pathetic reminiscence of food and cooking was put to a seizing halt, as on the night of the seventh day after testing positive with COVID, my taste buds reawakened, in fulfillment of my deepest desire: they ascended into flavor heaven.
So, here, brought to you live from my quarantine kitchen, is my rendition of a vegetable bolognese that promises to resurrect the most muted of taste buds. To be completely honest, this recipe is a by-product of “wow is this really all I have in the fridge” and “oh it feels good to smell oregano again.” But I was significantly impressed at the somewhat random occurrence in the saucepan. Still, given its creation by my mildly unreliable taste buds at the moment, if it is a miss, I urge you to blame COVID-19 and not the cook.
The dish is perhaps a misuse of its title as bolognese without its classic meat base, but if you’re looking to enjoy this Italian cuisine favorite in a vegetarian style (by choice or convenience) it mimics many of the same hearty flavors with its robust spices.
2 red bell peppers
1 package baby bella mushrooms (roughly 10 mushrooms)
1 white onion
4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 box pasta
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ tablespoon dried basil leaves
Parmesan cheese to taste
Thinly slice the mushrooms and peppers lengthwise, and then dice the white onion. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the vegetables and cook for roughly 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and hot red pepper flakes and cook for one minute. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1½ teaspoons of pepper, stirring until combined. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of olive oil to the pasta. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. I often use a shell-style of pasta for this recipe, as the shape helps scoop the sauce in every bite, but any type of pasta can be used.
While the pasta cooks, finish the sauce. Add the nutmeg and basil to the sauce and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes. When the pasta is cooked, transfer it to the pan with the sauce, saving the pasta water. Cook the sauce for one minute and then add ¼ cup of the pasta water. Let the sauce simmer for another 5 minutes, as the starchy pasta water helps to bind and thicken the sauce. Serve hot with Parmesan cheese on the side. Enjoy!
Cover photo courtesy of Dishingouthealth