Vegan Marsala cream sauce that tastes just as amazing as your favorite restaurant – but with the added umami of shiitake mushrooms!
My favorite sauce ever at all the Italian restaurants I used to work at (a handful) was Marsala cream sauce. It’s perfectly sweet and acidic, smoky, well-rounded, and lusciously creamy. I hadn’t had it since going vegan, so I set out to make one that would compare to my glory days.
And boy did I. This one is modeled after the Carrabba’s recipe – but uses shiitake instead of button mushrooms.
Marsala cream sauce itself is fairly simple. It gets big flavor from the Marsala wine – an Italian fortified wine. It’s reduced down so it becomes beautifully concentrated. It’s paired with sweet onions or shallots, then usually some smoky prosciutto is added, along with some button mushrooms and herbs. Butter and olive oil and heavy cream are added to give it a velvety creaminess.
It’s just perfection.
Normally in the US, we have Marsala sauce over chicken breast and with pasta. But I will eat it with just about anything I can find in my pantry. Sopped up from a bowl with some fresh-from-the-oven rosemary peasant bread? HECK YES. Drowning some bowtie pasta with it was another of my favorites.
Ingredients and Substitutions:
As I said before, the ingredients here are really simple! (even if there are quite a few of them). Don’t be scared or intimated though, this recipe is really easy to make.
- Marsala Wine – You want to get a dry Marsala, not a sweet one. And make sure that it’s vegan! (most wines are not). Check barnivore.com for the veganness of whatever wine you want to use, or just go with Lombardo. It’s vegan and what Carrabba’s Grill uses for their Marsala sauce. 😉
- Butter – I use Country Crock’s Olive Oil Plant Butter sticks. You can use whatever butter you love and is safe for you, though. If you don’t use an olive oil based on, then just substitute one tablespoon of butter (that we sauté the onions in) for good olive oil. Chop it into half-tablespoons.
- Onions – Speaking of onions! I use sweet onion. Either Vidalia or Walla Walla onions are great here. If you can’t find them, shallots are wonderful instead. Yellow onions can be used in a pinch. Thinly sliced, no matter which you choose.
- Shiitake – I use dried shiitake mushrooms. You can find them in the Asian section of the supermarket or a dedicated Asian market. Don’t like shiitake? Use sliced button or portabella mushrooms instead.
- Bac’n Bits – I’m using these to replicate the smokiness of the prosciutto in the original recipes. Bac’n bits (the ones they make for salads) are usually vegan and soy-based. Always check your labels, though! If you can’t find or don’t want to use them, use your favorite bacon instead.
- Bouillon – I use “Better than Bouillon” paste. Use whatever concentrate you have that’s enough to make one cup (about 240ml) of broth. If yours is dry, make a paste with it. If you can’t find a concentrate, reduce a cup of broth down to about a teaspoon. Or make a paste with a vegan ramen seasoning packet. 😉
- Broth – Use veggie broth or mushroom broth – depending on how much you love mushrooms.
- Mayo – I use Hellmann’s vegan mayo in mine, but whatever you have will work! For soy-free, I recommend Sir Kensington’s vegan mayo.
- Parsley – You want fresh Italian parsley here – if you can get it. Finely chopped. If you can’t find it, use a teaspoon of dry instead. But fresh really is better.
- Parm – I use my recipe for vegan parmesan, but use whatever you like. If it doesn’t have any starches added, you may want to add a teaspoon of your preferred starch to it before adding to the sauce.
- Salt and Pepper – Taste test at the end and add if you’d like.
How to make our vegan Marsala cream sauce with shiitake:
The first step in making this sauce is soaking our shiitake mushrooms. As I said above, I use dried mushrooms for this recipe. You need to soak them in warm water for 30 minutes and then squeeze them dry. After that, remove the stems and slice them.
In a large skillet, melt a tablespoon of butter over medium heat and add in your sliced onions. Stir it around until they’re floppy and translucent, and then add in your shiitake. Keep stirring until the mushrooms start to brown slightly – around five minutes for me.
Stir in the bac’n bits and bouillon paste. Everything should turn a delicious caramelized hue and smell FANTASTIC. Stir constantly for about 3-4 minutes until it starts to stick to the bottom and you get lots of delicious caramelized glaze on the bottom of the pan. (this is replicating the glaze the chicken breast makes in the pan in the non-vegan version)
Deglaze with your Marsala wine. Pour it in and stir constantly until the bottom of the pan is clean. The mushrooms will absorb a lot of the wine – turning into little Marsala flavor explosions! Keep stirring until the Marsala all but disappears.
Once there’s no more liquid left in the pan, just glaze, pour in half of your broth.
When your broth comes to a simmer, add in your butter – one piece at a time. Stir and melt the butter before adding the next piece. Then add the mayo and stir to incorporate it fully.
Once everything is totally mixed, add in the remaining half of your broth and stir. The sauce will be thin and milky.
At this point, I recommend adding in your protein to simmer in the sauce if that’s what you choose to do – before we thicken it. Make sure you turn the heat to low and cover it so your sauce doesn’t evaporate away. For my tofu pockets, I simmered 10 minutes on each side.
After your protein is done simmering, remove it and place on a plate on the side.
Return the heat to medium and stir in your parsley and parmesan. Stir until the sauce thickens. Add salt and pepper to taste, and enjoy however you’d like! Garnish with more chopped parsley.
If the sauce is too thick for your liking, just stir in a little of your favorite unsweetened plant milk. If it’s too thin, add in extra parm to bring it to your preferred consistency.
What if I don’t like mushrooms?
If you don’t like mushrooms, just leave them out! I promise the sauce will still be delicious without them.
What veggies can I add to the Marsala cream sauce?
The top choice for veggie additions is always going to be spinach. It’s mild and doesn’t overpower it. If you don’t like spinach, chopped asparagus or sliced green bell pepper is also a good choice.
One of my favorite add-ins is sundried tomatoes. Chop or slice them up small and mix them in at the end. If you cant do nightshades, try mincing some dried cranberries up and using those instead.
Pine nuts and toasted sunflower seeds are absolutely fantastic in this to add a bit of texture, too. (Yes, I know they’re not veggies)
Is this safe to feed children? It has alcohol in it!
The alcohol from the wine cooks off until very little is left. Alcohol evaporates faster than water does (at 172F), so adding it at the beginning of the recipe ensures that the recipe is safe for anyone to enjoy – even if they’re under 21!
For those who are recovering from alcoholism or who may have other ethical/moral reasons for not using alcohol though, a good substitute would be white grape juice. Add a splash of prune juice, a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, and a dash alcohol-free vanilla for a convincing faux-Marsala.
How do I store my finished sauce?
Store your finished sauce in an air tight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. You can also freeze it for future use.
- 1 oz dry shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated, stems removed and sliced
- 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) vegan butter, cut into 8 pieces (substitute 1 tbsp with olive oil if desired)
- 1/4 sweet onion, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp bac'n bits
- 1 tsp bouillon paste
- 2/3 c (160ml) dry Marsala wine
- 1 c (240ml) broth, divided
- 3 tbsp vegan mayo
- 2 heaping tbsp vegan parmesan
- 1 tbsp chopped Italian parsley, plus more for garnish
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Melt 2 pieces of your butter - or olive oil (1 tbsp) in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Add your sliced onions and saute until translucent.
- Add sliced shiitake and saute until they start to brown.
- Sprinkle in bac'n bits and bouillon paste; stir until a hard glaze starts to form on the bottom of the pan.
- Pour in the Marsala wine, and stir until the bottom of the pan is clean and the wine disappears or turns into a thick syrup.
- Add 1/2 cup of your broth and stir until combined.
- Once the broth returns to a simmer, add your butter pieces in one by one, and then the mayo. Stir to make sure everything combines well.
- Add in the remaining broth.
- Sprinkle in the parm and parsley, and stir until the sauce thickens.
- Salt and pepper to taste, and serve over whatever your heart desires. Garnish with chopped parsley.
Please see the blog post for ingredient substitutions and additions - including an alcohol-free version.
Add unsweetened plant milk to thin it, and extra parm to thicken it if you prefer a different consistency.
Keep in a covered dish in the fridge for 3-4 days or in the freezer for 3 months.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 215Total Fat: 18gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 2gUnsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 609mgCarbohydrates: 9gFiber: 0gSugar: 4gProtein: 3g