Black Lentil & Vegetable Bolognese

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Pavarotti’s “Nessun Dorma” (none shall sleep) is blasting on repeat in my headphones. But it’s the opposite case over here. All the children are finally asleep and while Luise is taking care of the dishes, I’m trying to channel my inner Italian so we can publish this recipe before another year has passed. We wrote our last blog post in Copenhagen and this one is brought to you from a house we are borrowing, on the slope of the Table Mountains in Cape Town, South Africa. If we keep this trend of travelling south for every new blog post, we will be writing the next one from Antarctica.

It feels a little weird writing about these comforting and wintery pasta bowls from here, but I’m trusting that Pavarotti will help me with that. It’s summer in South Africa, we’ve got lemon trees growing in the garden, there is a small pool, a cute kitchen and Elsa and Isac are keeping occupied by throwing grapes at each other in some kind of never-ending grape war. In short, we are very happy and grateful to spend a month here. Apart from the children’s fights, the scene is vastly different from two weeks ago when we shot this recipe. Isac had pneumonia, Elsa and Gabriel were snoring with colds and we were all cozied up (or more like stuck) in our Stockholm apartment – pale, tired and gloomy, surrounded by cold winter. The only thing we craved then were simple and comforting pasta dishes like this. Vegetarian bolognese is perhaps not one of our most unique recipe ideas but it is January food at its best, so we thought it might be something you’d also be interested in making.

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We often make a kids pasta sauce that contains tomatoes, grated carrot, grated zucchini and red lentils. As it simmers, the lentils dissolve into the tomato sauce and it all becomes quite sweet and smoothly textured. It’s a simple way to sneak extra nutrients in a meal that our kids always are happy to eat.

This is a slightly more adult approach on that dish. The sauce has more texture and chunks and a deeper flavour from herbs and red wine. We use black lentils as they stay intact in the sauce. The lentils work as replacement for the meat in the classic bolognese ragu – they both add protein and have a nice and soft, chewy consistency. We combine chopped and grated carrots to get a mix of textures.

You can of course add more veggies if you prefer. We kept it simple and used what we had at home because of sick kids and cold weather, but also because it is what Italians do. “Pochi ingredienti, tanto tempo” (few ingredients, long cooking time) is an Italian expression … that I just invented, but I’m pretty sure Pavarotti would agree. Simple cooking with great ingredients is key in the Italian kitchen. However, if you have some mushrooms or an eggplant/aubergine at home, either of them would work excellent in this recipe as well as they add meaty texture to the dish and make it even more vegetable packed. Enjoy!

That’s it, blog post number two of the year. And no babies were neglected this time. I even managed to mention Pavarotti three times, talk about grape wars and make up my own Italian food expression. If that doesn’t qualify me as a full-blooded Italian, I don’t know what does. You can call me Davide from now on. 

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Vegetarian Bolognese
Serves 4-6

2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 large carrots, peeled
2 sticks celery, rinsed

4 tbsp green olives, stones removed and slightly bruised
1 tbsp fresh basil (or 1 tsp dried)
1 tbsp fresh oregano, rosemary or marjoram (or 1 tsp dried)
125 ml / ½ cup red wine
100 g / ½ cup uncooked beluga lentils (or puy), rinsed
400 ml / 1 ½ cup vegetable stock (or water)
2 bay leaves
2 x 400 g / 14 oz tins crushed tomatoes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve
pasta of choice (we used a lentil flour spaghetti)
vegetarian parmesan style cheese
fresh parsley
olive oil

Heat the oil in a large saucepan on medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté for a few minutes. Meanwhile, chop one of the carrots and the celery into 1 cm / 1/2 inch chunks and add them to the pan along with olives and dried herbs (if using). Let soften for a couple of minutes, add the red wine and let cook until the alcohol evaporates. Add lentils, half of the vegetable stock, bay leaves, tinned tomatoes, fresh herbs (if using), salt and pepper. Grate the remaining carrot and add it as well. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and let simmer for 30 minutes or until the lentils are cooked, stirring from time to time as not to burn the base of the sauce. Add the remaining stock or water, little by little, to loosen the sauce whenever it is looking dry. Taste and adjust spices to your preference.

Cook your pasta of choice. Serve the sauce stirred through the pasta, topped with a sprinkling of grated cheese, fresh parsley or other herbs and a drizzle of oil.

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PS. We actually prepared one more blog post before we left and we will try to share it soon,  along with some photos and tips from Cape Town. Meanwhile you can see some snapshots from out trip on instagram.

67 Comments

  • haha fantastic Davide! My father sat next to Pavarotti on the plane once on their way to Hong Kong (my dad is Italian) and Pavarotti had packets of pasta in his hand-carry just in case. You never know in "China"! My dad told him they had pasta in Hong Kong too and Pavarotti told him, "well, sometimes after a show I like to make my own bowl of pasta in the hotel." haha HE was definitely attached to REAL "home/hotel-cooked" italian food no matter where he was. ;-)
    • Haha, what a fantastic story - Pavarotti with pasta in his hand luggage! Epic! Hilarious! Thank you for sharing!
  • As always, this recipe and photographs are so so beautiful! That's amazing that you're in South Africa (my home country). Hope you enjoy your time there. Cape Town is so beautiful and there are such divine places to eat and markets to see. Thank you for your constant magical inspiration! Taryn Xxx
  • love the sound of using black lentils - I can imagine they add such an extra richness! As always, your photography and recipes make me so inspired and hungry haha... i'm going to have to plan a bolognese dish for some time soon!
  • You two and your travels with THREE KIDDOS in tow is seriously inspiring. Also, totally whipping up this bolognese for dinner tonight. I'll keep you posted. Hugs to you and the fam, Davide. ;)
  • Here I sit under a big blanket with a bowl of oatmeal and a handkerchief (cause I have a cold), the wind is blowing, the rain is pouring and I am dreaming of the huge bowl of black lentil pasta i will devour at dinner. It is wonderful to hear that there is sunlight where you are. Keep the wonderful recipes coming. all the best Johanne
  • Oh my this looks insanely delicious! I'll have to try this asap!!
  • Marpy
    I'm so looking forward to trying this recipe! My poor family is going to have to suffer through Pavoratti if they want to eat it! 😀
  • marzia
    I am not Pavarotti, but I am Italian, and I do agree with your expression.....
  • Silvana
    I Just cooked this recipe and it tasted really good. Thank you!
  • This looks amazing. I love vegetarian bolognese and this looks so rich and delicious.
  • Love the idea! Will try this very soon. And I adore the pictures :)
  • What a lovely post and it sounds like your having a wonderful time, except for those colds. I love how you add some extra veggies to your sauce. I've never tried lentils in sauce but will have to give it a try. Extra protein power! Cheers!
  • Laura B_S
    All I can say as an italian is: Bravo Davide, è delizioso! You guys are seriously the best. Love from sunny (and cold) Milano Laura
  • Dana
    Looks good, I am a bit of a baby with the lentils, can I swap for red lentils? Do I add a touch more water to do in a slow cooker?
  • I don't cook nearly enough with black lentils, this sounds absolutely delightful! x www.chevronsandeclairs.com/blog
  • Blipping away for hours on end, sure is the trick to the best bolognese. We're not vegetarian in our house I I get a good quality mince (to please the carnivore in my dad) and bulk it up with lentils for lots of fibre!! I'll make it completely with lentils next to see if he will notice!! Have an amazing time in Cape Town and make the most of the sun!! X
  • bree
    epic looking and sounding pasta bowls!! have never tried lentils with spaghetti before but will do it asap.
  • Lentil bolognese is the best kind of bolognese, and I love your addition of olives to this. Cape Town sounds magical- I hope you're having a marvelous time.
  • love your blog and this recipe, it looks amazing!! www.justabigail.com

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