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Black Lentil & Vegetable Bolognese

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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.

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