Thanks to his Wine Spectator Grand Award–winning Le Bernardin in New York City, chef Eric Ripert is globally renowned as a master of seafood. But vegetables are what stand out in his mind when he thinks back to his childhood in southern France.
“It was something that I grew up with and loved very, very much,” says Ripert, who recalls a veggie-heavy diet and trips to the market with his grandmother. “The cooking was very simple, but it was about highlighting the quality of the vegetables.”
Ripert hasn’t stopped drawing from that style of cuisine. In the summers, he hosts dinner parties at his home in the Hamptons that are completely centered around a medley of vegetable dishes, showcasing his finds from the farmstand that morning. “I take great pleasure in making seven, eight, 10 different recipes with what I find, and I put them in the center of the table,” he says. “It's very convivial. Everybody helps each other, and we have some fantastic meals like that.”
All this led Ripert to publish Vegetable Simple earlier this year, a departure from his previous five cookbooks focused on seafood. While the recipes are exclusively vegetarian, he stresses that the book is not anti-meat or -fish, nor is it based on the health and climate benefits of a plant-based diet (though those are an added bonus). “This book is not to be preachy; if you want to make steak and chicken and have vegetables with it, I'm happy,” he says. “I'm not judging anyone. It's just a testimony to vegetables that I wanted to highlight and pay homage to.”
Still, some of the recipes prove that vegetables can be an exciting stand-in for hearty proteins when treated correctly, like the mushroom Bolognese Ripert suggests for New Year’s celebrations.
The traditional meaty rendition is Ripert’s go-to room service order whenever he’s traveling, since it’s so comforting and satisfying. But at home, he developed a mushroom-based version that skews lighter yet still has the consistency and depth of flavor of its counterpart. He was pleasantly surprised by the results, and that’s what wound up in the book, as well as on the menu at Aldo Sohm Wine Bar, adjacent to Le Bernardin. “I was amazed by the texture, and I was amazed by the flavor,” he says. “I served it to my family, and nobody knew there was no meat in it!”
One of the reasons this dish works well for a holiday dinner is that it is, of course, simple. Mushrooms get pulsed in a food processor until the pieces resemble ground beef; they are then cooked with aromatic garlic and shallot and browned a bit for caramelization and color. The tomatoes join in with some seasonings before the sauce meets the tagliatelle, or any pasta shape you like.
After experimenting with various kinds of mushrooms, Ripert found that inexpensive, widely available button mushrooms are an excellent choice. “You don't need to complicate the recipe with expensive fungus,” he says, but if you have others like cremini or maitake on hand, feel free to add them. Fresh tomatoes can be used in the late summer months, but for the rest of the year, go with high-quality canned ones.
If you’re entertaining a larger group, you can double the recipe, pulsing the mushrooms in batches if your food processor isn’t large enough. For a surefire way to make the feast festive on a special occasion, Ripert suggests shaving white or black truffle over the top.
Ripert highly advises making this day-of. “If you do the sauce too much in advance, or if you cook it for too long, the mushrooms will give a brown color to your sauce. It will not be as vibrant,” he says. “And the mushrooms are powerful, so they will also take over the flavor of the tomato, and what you want is a good balance between the tomato flavor and the mushroom.” If you have time, let the finished sauce simmer or sit for about 10 minutes before serving immediately to maintain the brightness of the tomatoes.
When it comes to the wine pairing, Ripert’s pick is exactly what he’d recommend for a standard Bolognese at a celebratory meal: “A nice Italian super Tuscan, maybe a Gaja or Sassicaia,” he says. “The dish is light, but it’s powerful in flavor, so you need a wine that can sustain the power of the dish.” Go with an older vintage if you can (Ripert prefers at least 15 years of age), or see Wine Spectator’s additional picks below for recently released Italian reds that are accessible but still bold enough for this very “meaty” meatless dish.
Excerpted from VEGETABLE SIMPLE by Eric Ripert. Copyright © 2020 by Eric Ripert. Excerpted by permission of Random House, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 4 cups whole button mushrooms, ground or pulsed in a food processor
- 3 maitake mushrooms, ground or pulsed in a food processor (about 1 1/2 loosely packed cups)
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
- 1 cup red wine, reduced to 1/4 cup
- 16 ounces canned tomatoes, pureed in a food processor
- 1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
- 12 ounces tagliatelle
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
1. In a medium pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic, reduce the heat to low, and sweat the vegetables for 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Add the mushrooms and stir well. Increase the heat to medium-high and season the mixture with salt and white pepper. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes until the mushroom liquid releases and begins to reduce.
3. Add the reduced wine and cook until the mixture is nearly dry. Add the tomatoes, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the Sriracha. Adjust the seasoning with salt and white pepper to taste, cover, and keep warm while you cook the tagliatelle.
4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a large pinch of salt, add the tagliatelle, and cook to al dente, according to the package directions.
5. Drain the pasta and divide it among four warmed bowls. Ladle the sauce over each portion of pasta and serve. If desired, garnish with parmesan. Serves 4.
10 Robust Italian Reds
Note: The following list is a selection of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More options can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.
IL MOLINO DI GRACE
Toscana Il Volano 2019
Score: 91 | $16
WS review: Dark black cherry, blackberry, plum, eucalyptus, earth and iron flavors are embraced by beefy tannins in this red, which comes together on the lingering finish. Sangiovese and Merlot. Best from 2023 through 2030. 3,000 cases made. From Italy.—Bruce Sanderson
TENUTA SETTE CIELI
Toscana Yantra 2019
Score: 93 | $25
WS review: A mouthful of black currant, blackberry, violet, cedar and iron lends immediate gratification in this polished red. Vibrant and balanced, with a long, firm finish that echoes dark fruit and mineral. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Best from 2023 through 2035. 5,000 cases made. From Italy.—B.S.
Toscana Belnero 2017
Score: 92 | $29
WS review: Ripe black cherry fruit is at the core of this red, along with accents of iron, tar, eucalyptus and spice. This is balanced, lingering on the finish with elements of fruit, wild herbs, mineral and spice. Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Best from 2023 through 2033. 7,500 cases made. From Italy.—B.S.
Cabernet Sauvignon-Sangiovese Toscana San Pio 2017
Score: 91 | $31
WS review: The black currant and plum flavors are framed by cedar, earth and oak spice in this sleek red. The finish is compact now, courtesy of its dense, dusty tannins. Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese. Best from 2024 through 2037. 2,000 cases made. From Italy.—B.S.
TENUTA DI ARCENO
Toscana Il Fauno di Arcanum 2017
Score: 90 | $35
WS review: A smoky version, whose black cherry, earth, wild thyme and cedar notes are tightly bound with the dense matrix of tannins. An accent of licorice seeps in as this winds down on the finish. Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Drink now through 2025. 11,000 cases made. From Italy.—B.S.
Toscana NC 2018
Score: 90 | $23
WS review: A bit reserved, with ample black cherry, black currant and spice flavors set within a solid structure. Fresh and focused, it lingers, echoing the fruit and adding an iron note. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Sangiovese. Drink now through 2032. 12,500 cases made. From Italy.—B.S.
LUCE DELLA VITE
Toscana Lucente 2018
Score: 90 | $30
WS review: Reserved, this red holds black cherry, plum, herb and iron flavors close, with dusty tannins putting a lock on the finish. Has depth, with the fruit elements lingering on the finish. Merlot and Sangiovese. Drink now through 2025. 7,500 cases imported. From Italy.—B.S.
POGGIO AL TESORO
Toscana Mediterra 2019
Score: 90 | $30
WS review: A pretty red, bursting with blackberry, violet, bacon and black pepper flavors, matched to a firm yet refined structure. Vibrant and balanced, with oak spice accents lingering on the finish. Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Best from 2023 through 2033. 10,833 cases made. From Italy.—B.S.
Toscana Modus 2017
Score: 90 | $28
WS review: Broad and concentrated, revealing black cherry, blackberry, iron and oak spice flavors. Dense tannins provide plenty of structure, and the fruit holds its own in the end. Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Best from 2023 through 2030. 37,340 cases made. From Italy.—B.S.
Toscana Al Passo 2017
Score: 90 | $27
WS review: A mix of black cherry, black currant, cedar, iron and tobacco flavors grace this taut red. Nicely balanced and vibrant, ends with a long, tobacco- and spice-tinged finish. Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Drink now through 2027. 8,850 cases made. From Italy.—B.S.