Vegetarian Bolognese / Courtney Petley

Photographed by Izzy Rose Harisson

Growing up my family ate the standard New Zealand 80’s cuisine of meat and three veg. There were definitely some more adventurous meals in the equation, but without a doubt the most exciting culinary experience of my childhood was dessert. I have a real sweet tooth but I am not a baker nor do I make desserts. I can confidently say my mum IS a baker, and a dessert maker. Her pièce de résistance of desserts is her self saucing chocolate pudding. Oh my goodness! The most perfect sauce to cake ratio, as well as a beautiful balance of sauce soaked cake. But my personal favourite part was the warm, juicy raisins that go all soft and plump in the oven. I love raisins. Every bite that includes a raisin or two was pure heaven. I have tried many times to recreate this nostalgic, heart warming dessert, but I can’t, and I can now admit that. Dinner at home was always had around the table, I really enjoyed that evening ritual, there was comfort in it - even though I was probably dying to eat dinner on my lap while watching Shortland Street not talking to anyone. That childhood ritual has stuck with me, and it’s something that I automatically do now. I may eat by myself most nights but there is something so satisfying in the process of cooking dinner at a particular time and sitting down to really enjoy it - especially when you are eating alone, it’s even nicer to make an occasion out of it.

My favourite type of cooking is when it’s the end of the week and I am running on limited ingredients. I like being forced to be creative, I think it’s at these moments when I make some of my best meals. I need to start writing them down because I always forget.

The one meal that does need a proper plan is my Veggie Bolognese. I love pasta, and especially any kind of pasta with a tomato based sauce. I have to admit this recipe is not my own. I was gifted some very special recipes and culinary tricks by a lovely friend I met while living in London. He taught me that food is patience and that there is a beautiful moment of quiet enjoyment in that. I hope you enjoy this meal as much as I always do.


Veggie Bolognese

To make this Veggie Bolognese you will need two flat pans. Use the larger of the two for SAUCE TWO.



  • 50g butter, or more
  • One white onion
  • Two cans of tomatoes, chopped or peeled, or the equivalent amount in fresh chopped tomatoes which is about 8.
  • Two carrots


  • Cut your onion into half moons by cutting the whole onion in half through north and south poles, trim both ends, and remove the papery skin. Sitting the onions cut side down on the board with the cut ends facing away and towards you, cut the onion finely on the rounded side.
  • If you are using cans of tomatoes, open the cans. If you are using fresh tomatoes, cut the tomatoes into rough 2cm square pieces. Do not rinse and throw away the tomato cans. Once you have added the tomatoes to the pan, add about 1/4 cup of water to the tomatoey residue still in the can and set aside.
  • Grate the two carrots.


1.  Bring the smaller pan to a medium heat, then add the butter

2. Once butter has melted and starting to bubble slightly, add the half moon onions.

3. Enjoy slowly cooking your onions on a medium heat. You want them soft and translucent.

4. Pour either the canned or fresh tomatoes into the pan with the moon shaped onions and butter. Let the tomatoes, onions and butter sit and mingle for a while so the liquids naturally blend. Gently begin to fold together, once softly blended let the tomatoes simmer away while you make SAUCE TWO. Keep watching the pan and stir every now and then. Scrape the cooked tomatoes down from the edge of the pan while you stir.

5. At the same time you are adding the pesto to SAUCE TWO (step 9 below) add the water in the tomato cans to the pan of the simmering sauce, mix then add the grated carrots.

6. Simmer on a low heat for a good 10-15 minutes. This simmering will happen at the same time as SAUCE TWO is simmering.



  • 50g butter, and a bit more to add later if you so wish
  • One teaspoon chilli flakes
  • One white onion
  • Five garlic cloves
  • One tablespoon of capers
  • A few anchovies, two or three big ones (if you don’t eat fish its ok to exclude, just add in some extra capers and olives)
  • Half cup green olives (black olives are fine too), I like using olives with the pips in
  • One heaped teaspoon of wholegrain mustard
  • Eight or so large portobello mushrooms
  • One cup of white wine (red is fine too if thats what you have)
  • 250g tub of basil pesto (a smaller amount is fine too)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh basil and parmesan - optional garnish


  • I like to use a gluten free spaghetti. The bolognese sauce is quite rich and very more-ish, gluten free pasta doesn’t weigh you down as much as normal pasta. So this means you can eat more - trust me, you will want to.


  • Chop the onion using the same method as above. After both halves have been cut into moons, bring the moons together like fallen dominos and cut into rough cubes.
  • Peel and finely chop the garlic.
  • Clean mushrooms by wiping with a damp paper towel. Snap the stems from each mushroom and finely chop. Set aside. Finely slice the whole mushroom longways and set aside separately from the finely chopped stems.
  • Roughly chop the capers


1.   Bring the larger pan to a medium heat, then add the butter and chilli flakes.

2. Simmer together for a few minutes to release some of the warmth from the chilli flakes into the butter.

3. Add the onion and the garlic. The onions should take on a slightly reddish hue from the chilli infused butter.


4. Cook the onion and the garlic on medium heat until they are soft and translucent.

5. Add the capers and whole anchovies to the pan. Simmer for a good 5 minutes, or until the anchovies have almost melted into the butter and onions. half way through this simmer, add the olives.

6. Add the mustard and simmer again for another few minutes.

7. Add in the finely chopped mushroom stalks. Once the mushroom stalks begin to soften add a quick splash of white wine and continue to simmer until the wine has reduced.


8. Mix in the finely sliced mushrooms until they are fully covered in the chunky sauce, and begin to soak up the oils. Pour in the rest of the white wine, mix and simmer until the wine completely reduces and the sauce becomes thick and sticky.


9. Add in the entire jar of pesto. Slowly mix and let this simmer on a low heat for a good 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. This is also the point when you add the grated carrots into SAUCE ONE, so both are doing their final seperate simmer at the same time.

10. Once the pesto has settled into the sauce and the carrots in SAUCE ONE have softened, it’s time to mix the two together.

11. Scrape as much of SAUCE TWO as you can to one side of the larger pan that it is in. Slowly pour SAUCE ONE into the empty side of the pan. Simmer the two sauces side by side for a few minutes without stirring



12. Begin to slowly push the two sauces together. I like to push one sauce into the other to create a yin and yang, simmer and repeat the slow pushing of the sauces until they are completely combined.

13. I am a guts, so once the sauces have fully combined I will add more butter and a large drizzle of olive oil before letting the combined sauce sit and simmer for a final 10 or so minutes. This is probably a good time to taste and season with more salt and pepper if you think it needs it.

14. While the sauce is simmering cook your pasta.


This sauce is very rich, it doesn’t really require any parmesan on top - I will not judge you if you think otherwise, if i've got it, i always add it. I like to top with fresh basil, and make a rocket salad for a fresh and peppery contrasting crunch!