Lentil Ragu Packs Protein & Veggies Into A Sauce The Whole Family Will Love
“It’s not weird and I like it,” was my youngest son Leo’s final judgement when we ate this tossed with spaghetti. You would have to know the boy to understand what high praise this is.
I set myself the challenge of creating a meat-free bolognese that Leo would eat without complaining that it wasn’t as good as what he still calls the “real” kind. It took many attempts and tweaks before I succeeded in getting something to satisfy him.
I tried to keep the flavor profile similar to an Italian beef or veal ragu by using a base soffritto of celery, onion, and carrot plus a grating of nutmeg and some bay leaves for that all-is-well-with-the-world homely lasagne taste. The other crucial ingredient was some hidden blitzed mushrooms, a vegetable Leo generally hates but that add meatiness here without actually tasting mushroomy. There is sweetness from Marsala (or use the dregs of a bottle of port or dessert wine if that’s what you have), and I decided to use red lentils instead of Le Puy or green because they cook down quicker and have a mushy nursery-food charm.
Leo’s lentil ragù
- 2 medium onions, peeled (about 121/4 oz/350g but don’t fret if it’s more or less)
- 51/4 oz/150g carrots, trimmed and peeled
- 31/2 oz/100g celery, trimmed
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 9 oz/250g white button mushrooms
- 1 14-oz/400g can of whole, peeled tomatoes
- 1 cup/200g red lentils
- 7 tablespoons/100ml Marsala or dessert wine or port (or red wine plus 1 teaspoon sugar)
- 1/4 cup/55g tomato paste
- A grating of nutmeg
- Cut the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic into big pieces and blitz them in a food processor until very finely chopped. (Or finely chop them by hand.) Heat the oil in a wide shallow pan, add the blitzed vegetables, and cook until softened—5–10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, blitz the mushrooms. When the other vegetables are softened, add the mushrooms and cook for 2–3 minutes. While this is happening, blitz the canned tomatoes in the food processor. Add the lentils to the pan, followed by the Marsala, blitzed tomatoes, tomato paste, nutmeg, 21/2 cups/600ml of water and 1/2–1 teaspoon of salt. Give it a good stir and bring to simmering point.
- Cook over the lowest possible heat for 20–30 minutes, or until the lentils are completely soft. Check and stir often. You may need to add an extra splash of water toward the end.
- If you don’t want to have this with spaghetti, it’s especially good made into a vegetarian shepherd’s pie crowned with mashed potato or a vegetarian lasagne, layered with bechamel.
Excerpted from “The Secret of Cooking: Recipes for an Easier Life in the Kitchen.” Copyright © 2023 by Bee Wilson. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
Bee Wilson is the author of six books on food-related subjects. The co-founder of TastEd, a food education charity aimed at giving children opportunities to experience fresh vegetables and fruits in a joyful way, she writes for a range of publications, including the Guardian and the Wall Street Journal.