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Transform a block of tofu and store-bought marinara sauce into a mouthwateringly delicious and nutritious tofu bolognese in just 40 minutes with several simple add-ins. It’s packed with protein, fiber, and flavor and 100% vegan!

completed Tofu Bolognese palted on a white plate
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Fiber and Protein-Dense Tofu Bolognese Recipe

Simple yet satisfying, budget-friendly pasta dishes are one of our favorite meals the entire family will love. Whether you’re looking for a super simple 20-minute creamy tahini pasta, decadent vegan alfredo, or this nourishing tofu Bolognese recipe, there’s a vegan pasta dish for every occasion and mood.

This super simple vegan Bolognese replaces ground beef with tofu (we also have a lentil Bolognese if you’re interested) and uses store-bought marinara sauce. But, with just a few simple added ingredients, this budget-friendly tofu spaghetti sauce is transformed into a ‘meaty,’ flavor-packed, mouth-wateringly delicious meal even meat eaters (and picky children) will enjoy.

Even better, by swapping out the meat, vegan tofu in tomato sauce is cholesterol-free, overall lower in fat, higher in fiber, and is a healthy, wholesome, well-balanced meal that will keep you feeling full and satisfied for longer. You can enjoy it all immediately or meal prep (in the fridge or freezer) for later, too!

The Ingredients

ingredients for Tofu Bolognese measured out against a white surface
  • Tofu: Use extra-firm/super-firm tofu, pressed and then crumbled.
  • Tempeh: (optional) We sometimes add crumbled tempeh bacon to the tofu pasta recipe for even more protein, flavor, and firmness.
  • Garlic: Fresh garlic cloves are best, but powdered garlic works in a pinch.
  • Mirepoix/sofrito: We use a classic, flavorful mirepoix/soffrito base of onion (red or yellow), carrot, and celery to make this flavorful vegan Bolognese.
  • Olive oil: To sauté the veggies. Other neutral cooking oils will work too.
  • Marinara: Use your favorite store-bought or homemade marinara sauce.
  • Smoked paprika: To add subtle smokiness and depth to the tofu.
  • Pasta: You can use regular, whole wheat, or gluten-free spaghetti/ tagliatelle or short-shape pasta like fusilli, penne, etc. Low-carb veggie noodles like zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash will also pair well with the tofu spaghetti sauce.
  • Water: Or vegetable broth (low sodium is best) for extra flavor.

What Else Could I Add to Tofu Pasta Sauce?

  • Spice: Add a pinch of red pepper flakes or chili/cayenne paper.
  • Tomato paste: To add deeper, highly concentrated tomato flavor.
  • Dried herbs: Depending on the marinara sauce you use, you may like to add a small amount of dried oregano, thyme, or Italian seasoning for flavorful depth.
  • Bay leaves: Add 1-2 for subtle, herby depth. Remove before serving.
  • Balsamic vinegar: (or apple cider vinegar/lemon juice) Add it towards the end for bright flavor and complex depth in this pasta with tofu recipe.
  • Soy sauce: (tamari if gluten-free) To add color and umami savoriness to the tofu.
  • Nutritional yeast: Added to the tofu, sauce, and/or garnish for a ‘cheesy’ flavor.
  • Fresh basil: Torn or cut into the tofu pasta sauce for a fresh, herby flavor.
  • Vegan butter: Stir in a small amount of plant-based butter just before serving for a velvety finish.
  • Vegetables: Bulk up the tofu Bolognese recipe with nutrients and flavor with:
    • Sauteed veg (leek, zucchini, mushrooms)Boiled/steamed with pasta (broccoli, cauliflower, peas)
    • Added at the end (kale/spinach)

How to Make Vegan Tofu Bolognese?

First, press the tofu for 30 minutes using a tofu press or under a heavy pan/heavy books. Then use your hands to crumble it into smaller, meat-like ‘crumbles.’

1) Peel and finely chop (or pulse in a food processor) the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic.

2) Meanwhile, heat a large saucepan over medium heat with the oil.

3) Once hot, sauté the vegetables until fragrant and slightly tender. Then transfer them to a bowl to set aside.

4) To the same pot, add the crumbled tofu (and tempeh if using) and cook it for 5 minutes over high until it browns and becomes lightly crispy, stirring often.

5) Then add the smoked paprika and cook for another minute, stirring constantly.

For more flavorful tofu, optionally add a splash of soy sauce and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast and/or chili powder (for heat).

  • 6) Add the marinara sauce and water (or broth) along with the mirepoix back to the pot and allow it to simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.
  • 7) Meanwhile, cook your pasta of choice and drain the water.

Reserve a ladleful or two of the pasta water if preferred to help the tofu pasta sauce cling to the noodles.  

  • 8) Finally, serve the pasta topped with the Bolognese sauce and optionally garnish with some nutritional yeast/vegan parmesan. Enjoy!

FAQs

How to make store-bought marinara sauce taste homemade?

We’ve used a few tricks to enhance store-bought marinara into a delicious Bolognese sauce that tastes practically homemade. To do so, we added a mirepoix base and garlic to help build flavor, then simmered the sauce for 30 minutes for all the flavors to meld, develop, and concentrate (while it reduces).

Add more flavor with red pepper flakes, fresh basil, and nutritional yeast.

Can I substitute the tofu?

A vegan mince substitute will also work well in this vegan Bolognese recipe.

How to thicken tofu Bolognese?

We usually simmer it until it naturally thickens. However, if you’d prefer it to be even thicker, add a cornstarch slurry (1:1 mixture of cornstarch and water mixed until lump-free – start with just a teaspoon of each, then add more if necessary), increase the heat, and stir constantly until thickened.

Top Recipe Tips and Notes

  • Use the right tofu: Use extra-firm tofu, which holds its shape better and has a ‘meatier’ texture than softer varieties. It’s important to also ensure you press it first for the best texture and to allow it to better absorb the flavors of the sauce.
  • Brown the tofu: Cook it until it’s browned and slightly crisp for texture that most resembles ground meat.
  • To save prep time: Use a pre-prepared mirepoix mixture or a food processor to blitz the veggies until chopped.
  • Don’t under-simmer: The simmering time brings all the flavors together, the sauce becomes more flavorful, and provides time for the tofu to soak up surrounding flavors for an overall enhanced dish.

What to Serve with Tofu Bolognese?

We love serving up big bowls of this vegan tofu spaghetti optionally with roasted/steamed veggies, vegan garlic bread or cornbread, and/or a light, leafy green side salad. You can also enjoy this tofu Bolognese without pasta, instead using it with:

You could also enjoy the tofu Bolognese as the filling for lasagna, shepherd’s pie, stuffed bell peppers, vegan sloppy joes, and more.  

Storage Instructions

Allow the tofu spaghetti to cool, and then store any leftovers (just the sauce or the sauce and pasta combined) in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

The tofu spaghetti sauce also freezes well. Transfer it, in portions, to freezer-safe containers or bags (spread flat) for up to 3 months. Allow it to thaw in the refrigerator overnight before reheating. Just note that the texture of the tofu will change slightly.

To reheat the sauce, use a microwave or do it gently on the stovetop. Add a splash of extra water/broth if it’s too thick.

completed Tofu Bolognese palted on a white plate

More Vegan Tofu Recipes

Or browse through our complete collection of vegan tofu recipes for more inspiration.

Photos by Alfonso Revilla

Tofu Bolognese

5 from 51 votes
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 40 minutes
Total: 45 minutes
Servings: 4
Transform a block of tofu and store-bought marinara sauce into a mouthwateringly delicious and nutritious tofu bolognese in just 40 minutes with several simple add-ins. It’s packed with protein, fiber, and flavor and 100% vegan!

Ingredients 

  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 small carrot, peeled, chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 (14-ounce) package of super firm tofu, pressed, and crumbled
  • 1 package of tempeh bacon, crumbled (optional)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of smoked paprika
  • 1 (15-ounce) jar of marinara
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 pound pasta

Instructions 

  • Pulse onion, celery, carrot, and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped.
  • In a large pot with a lid, heat the oil and add the processed veggies. Cook until fragrant. Transfer the cooked veggies to a bowl and set aside.
  • To the same pot, add the crumbled tofu and crumbled tempeh (if using). Cook for 5 minutes on high heat until the tofu and tempeh browns. Add the smoked paprika and cook for one minute, constantly mixing.
  • Add the marinara sauce and water. Cook over low leat for 30 minutes.
  • Serve pasta and top with the bolognese sauce.

Notes

  • Use the right tofu: Use extra-firm tofu, which holds its shape better and has a ‘meatier’ texture than softer varieties. It’s important to also ensure you press it first for the best texture and to allow it to better absorb the flavors of the sauce.
  • Brown the tofu: Cook it until it’s browned and slightly crisp for texture that most resembles ground meat.
  • To save prep time: Use a pre-prepared mirepoix mixture or a food processor to blitz the veggies until chopped.

Nutrition

Calories: 305kcalCarbohydrates: 26gProtein: 23gFat: 15gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 6gMonounsaturated Fat: 6gSodium: 1075mgPotassium: 1043mgFiber: 6gSugar: 11gVitamin A: 5507IUVitamin C: 20mgCalcium: 243mgIron: 5mg

Disclaimer: Although plantbasedonabudget.com attempts to provide accurate nutritional information, kindly note that these are only estimates. Nutritional information may be affected based on the product type, the brand that was purchased, and in other unforeseeable ways. Plantbasedonabudget.com will not be held liable for any loss or damage resulting for your reliance on nutritional information. If you need to follow a specific caloric regimen, please consult your doctor first.

Additional Info

Author: Toni Okamoto
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: American
Method: Stovetop
Diet: Vegan
Tried this recipe?Please tag us at @PlantBasedOnABudget! 🙂
About

Toni Okamoto

“They say you are what you eat, so I strive to be healthy.
My goal in life is not to be rich or wealthy,
‘Cause true wealth comes from good health and wise ways…
we got to start taking better care of ourselves ” – Dead Prez

More about Toni Okamoto

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Exploring the Tofu Bolognese recipe in this article has opened my eyes to a delicious plant-based twist on a classic favorite. The use of tofu as a protein source is not only innovative but also offers a healthier alternative. I’m excited to give this recipe a try and see how the flavors come together in a satisfying and nutritious way! 🌱🍝👩‍🍳

  2. 5 stars
    I’m trying to eat more plant based meals. Your detailed instructions and notes were really helpful. The dish turned out really good. Even my carnivore husband said this is a keeper.

  3. So delicious, was able to make this when tofu was all we had in the fridge for protein – still made for a hearty dinner.

  4. 5 stars
    I love a hearty and delicious vegan recipe, and this fantastic tofu bolognese didn’t disappoint! Great flavours and simple to prepare. My family certainly don’t miss anything with this meal, and all plates came back cleared 🙂

  5. 5 stars
    I do love a good bolegnese sauce and this is a really good one. My favourite sort of comfort food. Particularly love the crumbled tofu bacon on top.