Mushroom & Lentil Pappardelle Bolognese

If there is one thing that I really, really miss, it is Bolognese sauce; one made properly from an authentic and traditional Italian recipe. By definition a Bolognese sauce is thick, aromatic and meaty, my wife is a vegetarian so by definition she cannot and will not eat Bolognese.

I do make a proper Bolognese occasionally, when we have a large family gathering for example, but that doesn’t cover those evenings when I have a yearning for forbidden fruit. I have experimented with making my own vegetarian versions, and scoured the recipe books for more ideas, but I have never quite managed to nail it.

Yesterday evening it finally happened, and I have Jamie Oliver to thank for it. Tucked quietly away in a quarter page of the Jan/Feb 2017 issue of Jamie Magazine is this amazing recipe which, with just a couple of tweaks, hits the nail absolutely on the head. The secret, I find, is mushrooms. By the time this sauce is finished there is no visible sign that they were ever there, but their impact is huge, imparting a succulence to the finished dish that is the closest you will ever get to a true ragu while completely avoiding meat.

My vegan daughter will be visiting soon, I can’t wait to see her reaction to this.

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RECIPE – serves 4

for the tomato sauce:

2 tbsp olive oil

2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 tsp dried oregano

2 tins of chopped tomatoes

1 tsp fish sauce

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

for the soffritto:

1 carrot

1 onion

2 cloves of garlic

1 stick of celery

olive oil

fresh bay leaves

½ a bunch of fresh thyme, leaves picked

for the ragu:

4 large portobello mushrooms

100 g dried Puy lentils

400 ml dark vegetable stock

to serve:

350 g dried pappadelle

½ a bunch of fresh young basil leaves

Parmesan cheese

to make it vegan:

use wholemeal pasta, and a vegan cheese substitute


METHOD

First, prepare the tomato sauce: add the garlic with 2 tbsp oil in a large cold pan and heat over a medium flame, cook gently for a minute or two until aromatic, then add the chilli flakes and oregano. Cook for a further minute, allowing the flavours to infuse the oil, then add the tomatoes and fish sauce. Mix thoroughly, bring to the boil, then simmer gently for an hour to allow the sauce to reduce, thicken and intensify. It should have reduced by about half in this time.

After an hour, add the red wine vinegar and cook for a couple of minutes. Do not season the sauce at this point. You can set the sauce aside for a few hours or overnight to allow the flavours to develop further. You can of course just carry straight on…

While the tomato sauce is bubbling away, make the soffritto: peel the carrot, onion and garlic, trim the celery and roughly chop it all. Add to a food processor and pulse until everything is finely chopped.

Heat a good splash of oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the chopped veg mixture and bay leaves, pick in the thyme leaves, turn the heat down low, cover with a cartouche and soften for around 20 minutes.

*Tip: Sweating vegetables under a piece of parchment is known as using a cartouche. It is a way of cooking that simultaneously sweats and steams the vegetables, extracting maximum flavour in minimum time.

Cut a square of baking parchment that is slightly larger than the surface area of your pan, push it down so it sits on top of your sweating vegetables and then tuck the sides down so the vegetables are completely covered. Keep the heat low and after a few minutes check to see that nothing is catching on the bottom of the pan, then re-cover and continue to sweat them until they are as soft as you need them to be and the aroma is filling your kitchen.

Blitz the mushrooms in the food processor until finely chopped. Add to the pan and cook for 3 minutes, until softened.

Stir in the lentils and stock, reduce the heat to low and pop a lid on. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. If you made your tomato sauce earlier then add it now, if it is still reducing then just add it when it is ready.

When the lentils are almost done, cook the pappardelle according to the packet instructions in salted water at a rolling boil, until al dente.

Season the Bolognese sauce now, once the lentils are fully cooked, then drain the pasta and stir it through the Bolognese sauce. Pick the basil leaves and sprinkle over the Bolognese with a good grating of Parmesan to serve.

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