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white plate filled with zucchini noodles and a vegetarian red meat sauce

Pecan Bolognese over Zoodles

gluten-free grain-free low-carb lunch/dinner paleo Jan 14, 2021

This recipe was inspired by the Meatless Walnut-Cauliflower Bolognese with Zucchini Pasta over at Fit Mitten Kitchen. U Rock Ashley!

If you grew up in the United States and are NOT of Italian heritage, you probably had spaghetti and meat sauce in the regular dinner rotation. For busy moms, it was a pretty easy-to-assemble dinner that could get on the table in 30 minutes. Cook ground meat in a jar of marinara sauce and serve over cooked spaghetti. Sprinkle some parmesan cheese on top (you know, the nasty stuff in the green cylinder) and dinner was served.

Not terribly exciting, especially if you grew up as a picky eater and would’ve rather had plain pasta.

Fast forward a few decades and now We are the MOMS! In the daily juggling act of balancing work, family, and self-care, we know that the struggle to get a nutritious and delicious dinner on the table at a decent hour is REAL! It’s so much easier to bring in from the local restaurant or grab the kids something on the fly, but we know how important it is to carve out time to cook a meal that will nourish everyone. 

In our years developing recipes for U Rock Girl, Clean Eating magazine, and our cookbooks, we often reached into the archives of our youth to find inspiration for the present. The basic recipes of the past receive some major tweaks in order to serve up more nutrition and flavor. That way, you’ll finish the meal feeling both satiated and satisfied. 

One of our favorite recipes from our cookbook, “No Excuses! 50 Healthy Ways to ROCK Lunch & Dinner!” is our Spaghetti Squash Bolognese. Bolognese is the fancy/Italian term for meat sauce. We use ground organic turkey that’s been slow-simmered in marinara sauce and lots of fresh thyme, then served over spaghetti squash and topped with fresh basil and parmesan cheese. Hello umami and comfort food!

Meatless Monday

While this meal is in our regular dinner rotation, every now and then we want a plant-based meal (for Meatless Monday or any time the urge strikes) that delivers the same level of flavor and satisfaction. We’ve made meatless marinara in the past using finely chopped mushrooms and it was a total success! It delivered on both the meaty texture and flavor of ground meat. 

But we recently came across a meatless bolognese recipe (over at Fit Mitten Kitchen) that used walnuts and cauliflower in place of the meat. Genius! We knew that chopping both of those ingredients would mimic the mouthfeel and texture of ground meat/turkey/chicken. So we went to the fridge to make the recipe. Unfortunately, we were out of walnuts, but we did have a big bag of raw pecans! Score! (sorry, walnuts, we just like pecans better)

Developing Flavor

The key to a great marinara sauce is using quality ingredients and tons of herbs and spices for FLAVOR! The more flavor your food has, the more satisfied you will be when you are done. That means you won’t be raiding the pantry for chips (and all that salt) an hour after dinner. 

Flavor comes in many forms. The most commonly used flavor enhancer is salt. While salt is important in a recipe to heighten flavor, most recipes call for way too much salt. We prefer to boost flavor with fresh or dried herbs, spices, onions, garlic, black pepper, and acid. Yes, acid. Lemon juice, lime juice, and different flavors of vinegar add brightness to a recipe and is often sadly lacking. If you’re ever watched Top Chef or any other cooking show, the two most common criticisms of any recipe are 1) lack of acid, and 2) not enough flavor.

Key Ingredients

To assemble your Pecan Bolognese, you’ll need to gather the following ingredients:

  • Raw pecan pieces – when you know you will be chopping any nut, save $$ by buying pieces instead of whole nuts. Also, always buy RAW nuts as they will be much fresher than roasted nuts and immediately store them in your refrigerator or freezer.
  • Riced cauliflower (or a whole head of cauliflower) – for convenience, we always keep bags of riced cauliflower in the freezer. You never know when you’ll want to make Cauliflower Fried Rice or a Cauliflower Pizza Crust (both recipes in our Cookbook).
  • Dried or fresh oregano and thyme – If you go with dried herbs, make sure to bring the flavor back to life by rubbing the dried herbs between your palms before you add them to the pot. This helps to release their essential oils and flavor. If you use fresh herbs, just give them a quick chop with your knife. We encourage you to add copious amounts of herbs for more flavor. *Health bonus – herbs are excellent sources of antibacterial, antiviral compounds.
  • Garlic powder (or fresh garlic) – Do we really have to explain the importance of garlic? If you aren’t a vampire, add as much garlic as you can tolerate! Kick it up a notch by roasting your garlic first and then adding it to your sauce. Flavor city!
  • Pink Himalayan salt – We prefer pink Himalayan salt for its flavor and trace minerals. You can also use sea salt, Celtic salt, or kosher salt. Do not use the iodized salt you grew up with! It’s time to upgrade you salt game.
  • Black pepper (we like the Lemon Pepper from Trader Joe’s)- pepper is like salt – it enhances the flavor of what you’re cooking. We prefer whole peppercorns that can be freshly-ground.
  • A really good quality organic marinara sauce – Whether you buy them in a BPA-free can or jar, choose an organic marinara with no or minimal amounts of added sugar. Of course, you get bonus points if you make your own from scratch! TRY: Rao's Homemade Marinara Sauce
  • Optional: red chili flakes (you can control the amount of heat, if any) – We like a little heat in our sauce. Of course, this is a very subjective matter. You can add a little, a lot, or no heat at all. You do you!
  • Zucchini Noodles a.k.a, Zoodles – If you’re looking to replace pasta with something more nutritious and delicious, welcome to the world of spiralizing your veggies! All you need is a spiralizer to make zucchini noodles (“zoodles”) or a vegetable peeler to make zucchini ribbons. Trust us, you will want to own a spiralizer 
  • Lots of fresh basil – Fresh herbs have so much flavor and basil tops the list in Italian cuisine. We always keep a basil plant on our window sill so we have plenty of it available when we make this recipe or pesto sauce.
  • Nutritional yeast or parmesan cheese – Parmesan cheese adds a hit of umami to this dish. If you are dairy-free, vegan, or following our 28-Day Real-Food Reboot, you can substitute nutritional yeast for the parmesan cheese. It gives the same “cheesy” taste as parm.