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

  • I heard a lot about the Bolognese recipe. On pictures it looks delicious. We are family of vegetarians, will definitely try your recipe. Thx for sharing!
  • Thanks for sharing David. I want to try it so badly. Saving it!!!
  • the pictures look delicious.. must try it out!!
  • Hi guys, Thanks a mil for you blog! I really love all your recipes. Best, Lorene from Intovino
  • Corinne
    Made this for dinner and it taste great. I have tried your recipes for a week they are so good that I ordered your books.
  • This is a terrific idea! The recipe is easy to follow and remember. Its really simple and tasty. I topped it with a grilled chicken breast for an added smoky flavor which really complements the sauce. I also used Whale Shaped Colander for easily prepping the vegetables and draining the pasta.
  • Bri
    Just tried out Edamam.com to analyze your black lentil veg pasta sauce: assuming 6 servings (which is about right for my family), sauce is 204 calories/serving. Highlights of the analysis: 30% daily fiber, 18% protein, 25% daily potassium, 30% Vitamin A, 36% Vitamin C (though I doubt that as vitamin C is thermolabile...), 35% Vitamin K, etc. And so while I was a little down on the recipe because it wasn't "bolognese" tasting enough for my family, it's nonetheless a tasty and nutritious veggie pasta sauce that I will make again (and it improves by the next day). THanks!
  • Bri
    FYI. I just found your UNATTRIBUTED recipe copied (plagiarized in fact) into another site: http://naturallycurvy.com/black-lentil-vegetable-bolognese/ Not cool.
  • Bri
    Tried this tonight. Family rating 6/10, which translates to "wiling to eat once every few months". Primary complaint was that the dish fails to exceed the sum of its parts...as occurs in a true Bolognese. To be fair, as omnivores, we couldn't help compare with a the real thing, which is a high bar for anything, but taste wise, veg version lacks richness and depth (I had hoped the wine and olives would do this, but they didn't really share their magic) so not up to "bolognese" expectation. Perhaps better to call it pasta sauce...
  • Yummy! This looks SO delicious!! :-) I make lentil bolognese all the time, but I usually use red lentils (http://veganheaven.org/recipe/spaghetti-with-lentil-bolognese/ ) Can't wait to try your recipe soon! And I absolutely LOVE your food photography!!
  • Bri
    I saw this post, thought WOW I need to try that and a week later I've got my hands on black lentils (they are so beautiful, how have I not been cooking these??"). But by then, I'd lost track of the initial posting and am I blind???? I could not find this in your recepe index (FYI it would be helpful if the recipes were alphabetized). After much frustration hopping around between posts without success, I used the search with spaghetti as the key word, and found it, but dinner was almost scuppered!
  • This looks delicious. You've reminded me I need to use a packet of puy lentils I have sitting in my cupboard. Perfect for this recipe. Thanks for sharing your wonderful recipe and stories from around the world.
  • Daria
    Hi, I m back here to comment. Just prepared the recipe for the second time but as lasagna. Skipped carrots/ celery/ olives/ spices...like everything but lentils/ garlic/ onion cooked with tomatos though added some goat cheese& mozarella. It s just delicious the same!!! My husband, who hates lentils, took a second piece!!! My victory. Thank you very much once again for this idea!
  • Thanks for the great recipe. This looks really simple yet much more special to me. Thanks again and looking forward to new one.
  • Annika
    Don't know how my comment appears here (above) - supposed to be on another post!:)
  • Annika
    Great post! Will def try the two last ones. Thanks!
  • Genevieve
    This recipe was outstanding!! Never expected to be so enraptured by a vegetarian bolognese but life's surprises come when you least expect them ;) I have a horrible hob of doom that burns anything I try to simmer so I always do things like that in the slow cooker. Notes for future reference to myself... used half as much stock and 3/4 tomatoes stated in recipe. Added a bit of tomato puree after the red wine to make sure it would still be as tomato flavoured. Added the salt and fresh herbs after it was cooked. Transferred to the slow cooker once everything was in and brought to the boil then cooked 6 hours on low. Thanks for a great recipe!
  • Big thanks for sharing this recipe David. I am tired of trying those salads and soups. I thought I could try some different cuisine and this Italian combo will be a great pick I suppose. Let me crank it up and surprise my family :) Fingers crossed that it should come out very well.
  • Loved the recipe and the presentation. And also the story behind it. The image looks so delicious i can't wait more. I will try it now. thanks again.

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