Hearty Vegetarian Bolognese and Polenta

This recipe is the brainchild of several consecutive rainy days here in Chicago. I was looking for something hearty and filling, and this dish is just that. In fact, we’ve already made it a few times. The leftovers are great the next day, too.

The other great thing about this dish is that you only need two pans – one for the sauce and one for the polenta. Less mess makes this dish a great one to add to your weeknight rotation. 

You can easily adapt this Vegetarian Bolognese to make it vegan by omitting the cheese and replacing the milk in the polenta with non-dairy milk or vegetable broth. Either vegetarian or vegan, this dish is packed with filling protein, fiber and heart-healthy fat. 

Vegetarian Bolognese and Cheesy Polenta

Recipe by Deborah Murphy, MS, RD


  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup chopped yellow onion (about ½ onion)
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • ½ cup chopped carrots (about 4 whole carrots)
  • 2½ cups chopped mushrooms (about 10 ounces)
  • 8 ounce package tempeh
  • 1 14.5-ounce can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 5-ounce can tomato paste
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • ¾ cup red wine
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 3-4 chopped fresh basil leaves

Cheesy Polenta

  • 1 cup coarse cornmeal
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 cups water
  • ⅓ cup shredded cheese (Parmesan is good!)


  1. To make polenta, combine milk and water in a medium-size saucepan. Bring to a boil and then whisk in cornmeal, stirring well to prevent any clumps. Turn heat to low and continue to stir until thick, about 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off heat, add cheese and stir mixture until cheese has melted. Cover and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet or stockpot, heat olive oil for 1 minute. Add onion, celery, carrots, mushrooms and tempeh. Sauté for 7 to 10 minutes or until all the moisture from mushrooms is cooked off and onion is translucent.
  3. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, red wine and vegetable broth. Bring to a simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender and sauce has thickened.
  4. Stir in garlic, thyme, basil and oregano. Cook another 1 to 2 minutes.
  5. Serve bolognese over warm polenta and top with additional cheese or chopped basil leaves. Serves 5.

Cooking Notes

  • To make the dish vegan-friendly, prepare polenta with water and vegetable broth or unsweetened non-dairy milk and omit cheese.
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Deborah Murphy
Deborah Murphy, MS, RD, practices clinical dietetics in Chicago. She shares practical nutrition tips and healthy recipes on her personal blog, Dietitian Debbie Dishes. In her free time, you’ll likely find her either shopping the farmers market or in the kitchen, camera and spatula in hand. Connect with Deborah on Twitter and Instagram.

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