If bacon is the gateway meat for vegetarians, this mushroom and eggplant ragu from the Oakville Grill & Cellar’s Max Robbins just might be its opposite: sufficiently hearty and savory to make you question what you need meat for, anyway. Like the best vegetarian cooking, it was devised not to approximate meat, but rather to celebrate produce. “We didn’t set out to make a meatless dish,” says Robbins. “We just started by cooking our favorite vegetables low and slow to draw out all their deep umami flavor and ended up with a near-classic Bolognese. If we didn’t say anything, you might never know.”

Max Robbins’s Mushroom and Eggplant Ragu

Active time:1 hour 10 minutes
Total time:1 hour 35 minutes

1Large eggplant, peeled and diced
4 cupsVegetable oil
1 lb.Cremini mushrooms, finely chopped in a food processor
10 Tbsp.Unsalted butter, divided
¼ cupFinely diced onion
1Small carrot, peeled and finely diced
1Celery stalk, finely diced
2Garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp.Italian seasoning
1 Tbsp.Truffle seasoning (like Sabatino Tartufi, available on Amazon)
1 pinchNutmeg
1 tsp.Salt
1 tsp.Sugar
2 Tbsp.White wine
125 oz. jar marinara sauce
½ cupMilk
9 oz.Dried pappardelle
1 cupGrated Parmesan, divided
¼ cupItalian breadcrumbs
16Basil leaves

1. Cook the vegetables: Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Combine eggplant and oil in an oven-safe lidded pot, cover, and cook until golden brown, 55 to 60 minutes. Strain eggplant over a heat-safe bowl and set aside. Spread mushrooms on a rimmed pan and roast, stirring every 5 minutes, until darkened and dry, about 25 minutes. Set aside.

2. Prepare the ragu: Bring a large pot of water to a boil for pasta. Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and sauté, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly caramelized, about 15 minutes. Stir in eggplant and mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes. Add seasonings, nutmeg, salt, and sugar. Cook 1 minute, then add wine and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in marinara sauce and milk and simmer for another 5 minutes.

3. Cook the pasta and serve: Cook pasta for 1 minute less than the package indicates. Reserve ¼ cup pasta water, then drain. Stir pasta, pasta water, remaining butter, and ½ cup Parmesan into simmering ragu and cook for 1 minute. Taste, adjusting salt or sugar if desired. Divide pasta and sauce among four bowls and serve immediately, with breadcrumbs, basil, and remaining Parmesan for topping.