Vegan Pumpkin Bolognese

This vegan pumpkin bolognese is creamy, hearty, and so flavoursome, and perfect with a big bowl of pasta on a cool Autumn day. Something between a pumpkin pasta sauce and a lentil ragu, it’s a great way to mix things up for cozy Fall dinners. It’s ideal for Thanksgiving too!

Close up photo of a bowl of vegan pumpkin bolognese with a fork it it, another bowl in the background

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A comforting vegan pumpkin bolognese

I love to make use of the great seasonal produce at this time of year. One of my favourite things to do is to visit the store or market and buy unusual squashes and pumpkins and figure out what to do with them. They’re my favourite seasonal veg as they taste great, keep for ages in the pantry, and there’s a seemingly endless amount of ways to cook them!

This dish is something a little bit unique. It’s perfect for pumpkin lovers, but subtle enough that you don’t have to be the season’s biggest fan to enjoy it. I mean, who doesn’t love pasta!? This pumpkin ragu is healthier than your classic bolognese, with lentils and the added veggie boost of a pumpkin pasta sauce. It’s nut free, and the sauce is gluten free, meaning everyone can enjoy it on a meat free day.

What is bolognese?

Bolognese is a popular meat based sauce which originates in Bologna (it’s also sometimes referred to as ragu). This isn’t a tomato sauce, but instead uses a base of ground meat with very little tomato. It’s the classic home comfort meal that we all know and love.

Vegan substitutes for bolognese often use lentils, beans, vegan mince or soy, mushrooms, or tofu. Lentils are my favourite as I love the slight bite that they keep, so for this pumpkin bolognese recipe I’ve cooked them with herbs until tender then stirred through a naturally sweet pumpkin puree. 

This is a little bit different to your classic bolognese because of the added pumpkin, but it’s delightfully thick and creamy. Inspired by my love of bolognese and of sweet and comforting pumpkin pasta sauce, this recipe will be going straight onto your Fall rotation.

Overhead photo of two bowls of vegan pumpkin bolognese on a wooden chopping board with a small bowl of thyme

Why I love this pumpkin bolognese

If loving pasta isn’t reason enough to love this vegan pumpkin bolognese, here are a few other reasons you should give this recipe a go:

  • It includes a good source of plant based protein, which you don’t get in a normal pumpkin pasta sauce. With the additional bonus of a portion of veg, it’s healthy and uses no added sugars unlike store bought pasta sauce.
  • It’s perfect for using up leftover pumpkin after Halloween, for trying out pumpkin for the first time, or as an unusual Thanksgiving dish. With both chunks and pumpkin puree in the sauce, it’s rich and sweet from caramelising during roasting. 
  • This makes a good 4 portions of pumpkin ragu, so it’s great for feeding a family but also perfect for stocking up the freezer. You can even double it up for even more easy freezer meals throughout winter.
  • It’s really easy to make, with only 15 minutes of hands-on time and 30 minutes cook time. Roasting the pumpkin makes it so much quicker than cooking it straight in the sauce. The pumpkin bolognese sauce doesn’t need to cook down to thicken as the pumpkin acts as a natural thickener.

What are the ingredients for the pumpkin pasta sauce?

Pumpkin– For this recipe you’ll need one medium pumpkin which weighs around 750g, or 500g once peeled and cubed. If you rather US measurements: peeled and cut into rough ½ inch cubes, the pumpkin will fill around 3 cups. I used a Japanese pumpkin. If you are using a pumpkin with a tender skin, you can leave the skin on half of the pumpkin if you would like.

Onion, garlic, celery– Aromatics which are lightly fried off to form the base of the pumpkin bolognese. I don’t ordinarily like celery, but when it’s cooked up in a sauce it’s a delicious addition.

Herbs– I’ve chosen thyme, marjoram, sage, and bay leaf for this recipe. They’re all great wintery flavours which compliment the pumpkin so well.

Lentils– Puy lentils are best in this pumpkin ragu recipe, as they cook to be tender but still hold their shape. They’re simmered in broth and don’t turn to mush like a red lentil would.

Stock– Use your favourite store bought stock or make your own homemade stock. A flavourful stock is really important as it gives the pumpkin bolognese a flavoursome base.

Soy sauce, tomato paste, milk– These are blended with the pumpkin to make it into a smooth paste. The tomato paste is a homage to a classic bolognese and the soy sauce adds umami and depth of flavour.

Pasta water– Added in at the end, this thins down the sauce and adds a surprising amount of creaminess and flavour. This is a great article, if you want to know more about the benefits of using pasta water.

A bowl of vegan pumpkin pasta with some grey fabric in the background and a small bowl of thyme

Equipment needed

The only special equipment which I would recommend for this recipe is some kind of blender. A small bullet style blender works well for this pumpkin pasta sauce recipe as it’s only a small amount of pumpkin. An immersion blender would also work, if you put the pumpkin into a small jug. 

If you don’t have a blender, is it worth getting one? Yes, definitely! Not only for this vegan pumpkin spaghetti bolognese recipe, but blenders are useful for so many things in the kitchen; making nut butters, oat flour, batter, smooth soups- the list goes on. 

If you don’t have a blender and aren’t quite ready to fork out for one, you could use a potato masher for this, if your pumpkin is soft enough.

How to make vegan pumpkin bolognese

To make this recipe, begin by roasting the pumpkin. Preheat the oven to 200c/390f, then peel and cut the pumpkin into ½ inch cubes. Lay the cubes out on a large baking tray, leaving plenty of space between them. 

Coat with ½ tbsp of olive oil and season with salt and pepper, then put in the oven to roast for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven after 15 minutes and allow to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, cook the lentils. In a deep frying pan, heat ½ tbsp oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and celery, and fry for 5 minutes until soft and slightly browned. Add the dried herbs and stir to combine, then add the bay leaf, lentils and stock.

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer, covered, for 25 minutes until the lentils are tender. 

Transfer half of the roasted pumpkin to a small blender along with the tomato paste, soy sauce and milk. Blend until it makes a smooth puree. 

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, then add your pasta of choice. Simmer for a minute less than the time stated on the packaging, then drain, reserving the water.

Add the pumpkin puree to the pan of lentils along with the cubes of roasted pumpkin. Stir everything to combine, then add 125ml/ ½ cup of the reserved pasta water to the pumpkin ragu. Stir, and add a little more pasta water if the sauce still seems too thick. Season to taste with salt and ground black pepper.

Serve the pumpkin bolognese pasta sauce with the cooked pasta, either stirring it through or serving it on top.

Close up overhead photo of a bowl of vegan pumpkin bolognese

What goes with pumpkin pasta sauce?

This vegan pumpkin bolognese is delicious served as it is, over a big bowl of pasta. The best pasta shape to serve it with is whatever you have in the cupboard! Keep it classic with spaghetti, or try fettuccine or another long pasta shape. Short tube pasta shapes are also great as the sauce really coats the inside and outside of the tubes. Sprinkle with a little bit of fresh thyme and serve. 

Or try these other serving ideas:

  • Coat some short pasta in the pumpkin pasta sauce, sprinkle with plenty of vegan cheese, and bake in a moderate oven for 20 minutes for a delicious pumpkin pasta bake.
  • To make this extra filling, serve with some vegan garlic bread on the side.
  • Pile the pumpkin ragu over a baked potato or use it to fill some sweet potato skins.
  • Layer the bolognese with vegan bechamel and pasta sheets to make a vegan pumpkin lasagne or pumpkin bolognese bake.
Overhead photo of vegan pumpkin bolognese in a bowl with a fork

My top tips for the best vegan bolognese

It’s really important that you cook the pumpkin until it’s soft and has a lovely caramelisation. This improves the flavour of the pasta and helps to create a lovely smooth pumpkin puree. 

Make sure that your oven is set to a high enough heat, and lay the pumpkin out with space between the cubes on the tray. This will make roasted pumpkin which will melt in your mouth.

Undercook the pasta slightly so it doesn’t turn to mush when you combine it with the pumpkin pasta sauce. Take a minute or two off the recommended time on the packet, or remove it from the water when it’s just al dente. 

Be sure to reserve the pasta once you drain it, as you will need to add some of this to the sauce.

Ingredient substitutes or additions

  • Any kind of pumpkin would work for this pumpkin bolognese recipe. Japanese, acorn or winter squashes would all work, or you can even try it with sweet potato if you’re feeling experimental! You could also make it into a butternut squash bolognese.
  • Change up the herbs in the recipe to your taste. If you prefer more traditional Italian flavours, go for dried basil and oregano, or go for some rosemary for a stronger flavour profile. 
  • Make the sauce gluten free by using tamari instead of soy sauce.
  • Lentils can be substituted with green or brown lentils whilst still retaining some shape. You could use canned lentils but they won’t absorb the flavours the same. If you do this, don’t cook them in water, just add to the fried onion, garlic and celery with the herbs and a splash of water to stop them sticking, cook for 5 minutes, then add the pumpkin.
  • Pasta- Spaghetti is most traditional, but I like to use whatever pasta I have. Make it gluten free by using rice, corn or spelt based pasta. You could even try mixing the pumpkin pasta sauce with ravioli, gnocchi, or vegetable noodles for a lower carb option.
A bowl of vegan pumpkin pasta sauce with a glass of water
Can I make this recipe in advance?

You can make this vegan pumpkin bolognese recipe up to 4 days in advance and keep it in an airtight container in the fridge. The flavours will develop with time, but it will thicken up even more. You can reheat it in the microwave or on the hob, adding extra water to bring it back to the desired consistency. Reheat until piping hot through.

Can I freeze pumpkin ragu?

This pumpkin pasta sauce makes a fantastic freezer filler, as you can make it in a big batch and it defrosts well without losing its texture. Keep it in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Defrost in the fridge overnight or at room temperature for a few hours, then reheat as above.

More delicious pasta recipes

If you love this pumpkin bolognese, then I think you’d love some of my favourite pasta recipes!

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Pumpkin bolognese featured image

Vegan Pumpkin Bolognese

Chloe from Forkful of Plants
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 45 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4
This vegan pumpkin bolognese is creamy, hearty, and so flavoursome, and perfect with a big bowl of pasta on a cool Autumn day. Something between a pumpkin pasta sauce and a lentil ragu, it’s a great way to mix things up for cozy Fall dinners. It’s ideal for Thanksgiving too!

Ingredients
  

  • 1 small pumpkin (approx 750g) peeled and cubed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium brown onion diced
  • 4 garlic cloves sliced
  • 2 stalks celery thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried marjoram
  • ½ tsp dried sage
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 200 g dried puy or green lentils ~1 cup
  • 500 ml vegetable stock ~2 cups
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 4 tbsp dairy free milk
  • 300 g pasta

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 200°c/390°f.
  • Place the cubed pumpkin on a large baking tray and coat with ½ tbsp olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Place in the preheated oven and roast for 15 minutes until golden and soft.
  • In a deep frying pan, heat the remaining oil over a medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and celery and fry for 5 minutes until softened.
  • Add the dried herbs and stir to combine, before adding the bay leaf, lentils, and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer, covered, for 25 minutes until the lentils are soft.
  • Once the pumpkin has cooled slightly, transfer half of it to a small food processor or blender (you could also use a jug with a hand blender to do this). Add the soy sauce, tomato paste and milk, and blend to a smooth paste.
  • Bring a saucepan of medium water to the boil, then add the pasta. Simmer for 8-10 minutes until cooked, then drain, retaining the pasta water.
  • Once the lentils are cooked, add the pumpkin puree and remaining cubed pumpkin to the pan. Stir to combine, and if needed, thin the sauce with some of the pasta water (I used around 125ml/½ cup).
  • Season to taste and serve with the cooked pasta.

Notes

STORAGE: You can make this vegan pumpkin bolognese recipe up to 4 days in advance and keep it in an airtight container in the fridge. The flavours will develop with time, but it will thicken up even more. You can reheat it in the microwave or on the hob, adding extra water to bring it back to the desired consistency. Reheat until piping hot through. You can also keep it in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Defrost in the fridge overnight or at room temperature for a few hours, then reheat as above.
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