If you want to cut down on your pasta consumption, it’s delicious over polenta or even spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles

File this under winter comfort food, bolognese is a family favourite for a reason. And since it’s still February and that means it’s still Heart Month and that means we are still thinking about ways to improve our diets to protect our heart health. Today I share one of my most important fat-reducing cards in the old kitchen bag of tricks – ground mushrooms.

I have been using mushrooms that I pulse in the food processor to replace part of the ground meat in recipes for years as a recipe developer for Mushrooms Canada. It’s a great way to cut down on saturated fat and add more nutrients to your meals and nobody will ever know. Even the most ardent mushroom hater in my life has no idea that they are chowing down on mushrooms at least three or four times a week. You can use this technique that we call “blend and extend” in any recipe using ground meat. I do it in all of my meatballs, chilies, and meatloaves – they also add moisture when you are using less fatty ground meats- you can find many of those recipes here.

This healthified bolognese sauce feels really meaty – thank you ground mushrooms- and, because I decided not to skimp on the olive oil, it was still rich and thick. A bit of red wine and no sodium chicken broth also helped bump up the jam and if you want to leave out the MSG, leave it out but you will probably have to add quite a bit more salt to achieve the same results. If you really want to cut the fat, you can use lean ground turkey or chicken too.

Okay, regarding the MSG. There is no documented proof that MSG is any more harmful than salt. Here is a quick explanation of what MSG is about, good and bad and the bottom line, is that it is considered safe in moderate amounts, like salt. When used in tomato-based dishes (tomatoes are a natural source of glutamate, as are mushrooms and parmesan – see a common thread in this dish?), it allows you to use less salt without sacrificing flavour. If you skip it, you will probably have to use more salt.

“MSG is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, an amino acid found in your body and most foods.”

I could go on for an hour about the racist undertones of the anti-MSG rhetoric but you can google and read for yourself. Better yet, look up some of David Chang’s rants about MSG, inherent racism in food culture and public perception of “ethnic” food. Actually, most chefs have an opinion on these matters.

Heart Healthy Bolognese


*entire recipe has approx 1840mg of sodium, the beef had about 42g fat and 54 g fat in the olive oil the recipe makes enough for at least 10 generous servings – what a serving size looks like is up to you


1/4 cup olive oil

1 onion, small dice

1/4 cup fennel bulb, small dice

1/2 large carrot, fine dice

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

227 g mushrooms, pulsed in a food processor

250 g lean ground beef

1 tbsp tomato paste

3/4 tsp kosher salt (I always use kosher salt, but coarse sea salt is good too. Keep in mind that the finer the actual salt, the less volume you will use – if you are using table salt, just stop that right now)

1/2 cup red wine

1/2 cup no sodium chicken broth

5 cups no salt added passata

1 can whole san marzano tomatoes

1/2 tsp msg


Heat a large pot over med-high heat (medium or even a smidge lower if you are using enamelled cast iron like Le Creuset) and when it’s hot, add the olive oil and sauté the onion, fennel and carrot until softened about 4 or 5 minutes. Throw in the ground mushrooms and salt and continue to cook for a few more minutes until the mushrooms start releasing water. When the water is pretty much evaporated, add in the beef and keep cooking until the meat is no longer pink. Push all the solids to the side and add in the tomato paste and fry it for a couple of minutes until it starts to deepen in colour and when that happens, stir it into the mushroom/meat mixture.

Pour in the red wine, and let it cook off for a minute before you add in the tomatoes and the chicken broth.
You can either squish the whole tomatoes through your fingers or, if you want a smooth sauce, use an immersion blender or the food processor to puree the canned tomatoes roughly.

Let the whole thing simmer gently for at least 45 minutes but an hour is even better. Serve over your favourite pasta.

Keep in mind that if you add freshly grated parmesan, you are adding more sodium – approx 77mg sodium per tbsp of grated cheese, so keep that in mind.