Two weeks of doing nothing over the holidays was quickly forgotten as soon as I stepped into work last Monday morning. I guess I can’t really say I was surprised. I work in design operations for a luxury designer, and the name of the game is pretty much consistent chaos. So although I can’t be surprised, I can safely say, I was mentally unprepared.So after a week, I’ve finally settled back into the routine and it’s time to heal my soul with some good ole, home-cooked, comfort food. Specifically, a huge bowl of rich and creamy Bolognese-style sauce and [whole wheat and flax] pasta. Since dining at the infamous Cunetto’s House of Pasta while in St. Louis over Christmas, I’ve been dreaming of creating a vegetarian-friendly version of this classic Italian favorite. For me, obviously, this dish is not about the meat. Rather, it’s the slow-cooked, intense flavor and the dense, creamy texture over carb-a-licious pasta that I crave.
So because I just love the challenge of turning a traditionally meat-heavy dish into a vegetarian-friendly recipe that hits all of the same flavor and texture notes, and because I’ve had Cunetto’s on my mind, I decided that vegetarian Bolognese was the way to go. Two ingredients replace the meat in this recipe; chopped mushrooms and brown lentils. Together, these two ingredients add hearty texture, beefy flavor, and a rich color to the sauce. And even better, the lentils are also a total superfood, adding protein, fiber, and iron to this sauce.
The lentils and the mushrooms (and lack of meat) are really the only difference between my sauce and a traditional Bolognese. The sauce starts with a combination of carrots, onions, and celery. Then garlic and mushrooms are thrown in and cooked down before adding whole milk. Bolognese is known for being a slow process. This becomes apparent right about now when the sauce needs a good 45 minutes to simmer the milk until it’s thick, creamy, and slightly sweet. Then in goes crushed tomatoes, spices, the dried lentils, and some water. Another 45 minutes to an hour of simmering and this sauce is finally done. I know what you’re thinking…how can it take that long?? Don’t be discouraged. The waiting time is the hardest part of this dish, and it’s totally 100% worth it. So if you find yourself needing some classic comfort food and an activity to release some stress, then slip into something comfortable, play some feel-good tunes, and get to chopping. Trust me, two hours later you’ll feel relaxed and ready to stuff your face with this healthy(ish) and delicious version of classic Italian Bolognese sauce.
Vegetarian Bolognese Sauce
Serves: 4-6 Start to Finish: 2hr 30min
1/4 cup Olive Oil
2 cups finely chopped Onion (1 large onion)
1.5 cups shredded Carrots (1-2 large carrots)
1 cup finely diced Celery (4-5 stalks)
3 cloves Garlic, minced
10-12 ounces chopped Mushrooms (I used Baby Bellas)
2 cups Whole Milk
1/2 cup Brown Lentils, dry
1 28oz can Crushed Tomatoes
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Dried Oregano
1/2 tsp Dried Basil
1/4 tsp Dried Parsley
Salt & Pepper
In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, celery and salt/pepper to taste. I added 3/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Cook for 7-10 minutes until veggies are softened, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and mushrooms. Cook for 2 minutes stirring occasionally. Add milk. Cook uncovered for 45-60 minutes until milk is reduced and thick, stirring occasionally.
Add remaining ingredients, tomatoes through parsley, plus 1.25 cups water and salt to taste (I added another tsp). Bring to a simmer and adjust heat to keep at a simmer for another 45-60 minute, until sauce is a thick and creamy pink sauce. Toss with 10-14 ounces pasta and grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.