January 20, 2014 by Dewi
A frugal but delicious vegetarian alternative to the usual meat-based Italian sauce.
January is a month full of contrasts. Some philosophical, like the disappointment that the festive period and partying is over, matched by the excitement that a new year can bring. Others more conspicuous: a steaming bowl of soup on a frosty day. Another such contrast is that need – following the expense and over-indulgence of Christmas – to tighten one’s belt whilst it insists on needing to be loosened…
Cue the humble lentil.
These little pulses are wonderful. Healthy and cheap; they personify the first month of the year like no other ingredient. A bag of lentils, much like a new year, is like a blank canvas waiting to be made into anything you want. Lentils make superb vegetarian curries, but they’re also perfect to replace (or just bulk out) the meat in an Italian ragu.
For this simple dish I use green lentils because I like how they remain distinct from one another when cooked, without turning to mush. To give the pulses a saucy consistency I blitz around a third of the mixture in a blender before returning to the pan – I find this gives a better texture: a silky sauce with the majority of the lentils remaining whole.
This ragu is lovely to eat just on its own from a bowl, topped with a grating of fresh parmesan and mopped up with some good crusty bread. If you’d like something a little more substantial then of course you can serve the ragu with pasta. I ate mine with fusilli because the ridges hold the sauce well.
- 300g green lentils
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 1 celery stick, chopped
- 1 large white onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, crushed and finely chopped
- 1.5 litres vegetable stock
- 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (I use Verini Munari)
- 1 bay leaf
- Tsp dried oregano
In a large pan, sweat the onion, carrot and celery, in olive oil or butter, over a medium heat for around 15 minutes, until softened and the onion is translucent.
Add the garlic and bay leaf. Cook for a further 5 minutes.
Add the lentils and stir to coat them in the flavoursome oil.
Pour in the stock and add the oregano and season with salt and pepper.
Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for aroun 35-40 minutes, until the lentils are soft.
Transfer a third of the mixture to a blender and blitz to a liquid (you may need to add some water)
Return the liquid to the pan and add the balsamic and allow to cook out for 2 minutes.
If the mixture is a little dry then add water until it’s loose enough for your liking.
Serve with pasta, or with some good crusty bread.