Vegetarian Ragu alla Bolognese
One of the biggest challenges when me and my daughter decided to become vegetarians (or, for me, pescetarian) a couple months ago was to create a vegetarian ”ragu’ alla bolognese” with that genuine flavor. Not that I have been relying much on meat and poultry in my diet for the past few years. But this is a BIG family favorite in our house, so we had to find a vegetarian alternative that worked for everyone.
And after a few attempts, I ended up with a recipe that actually works! A ragu full of flavor and texture, very similar to its meaty counterpart. According to my daughter, even better! Thanks to mushrooms, three types of lentils, LOTS of veggies, white wine AND loooong cooking time of course... I hope you like it as much as we do. Enjoy!
Vegetarian ragu alla Bolognese
A big batch (about 2 liters) for a big party or for freezing portion sizes
2 Tbsp olive oil (don't use your best olive oil for this, use one intended for cooking)
500 g chestnut mushrooms, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves
2 large onions
1 large parsnip
2 medium carrots
3 celery sticks
1 small fennel bulb (or 1/2 if you have a big one)
2 fresh bay leaves
1/3 cup dried green lentils
1/3 cup dried beluga lentils
1/3 cup dried red split lentils
1,5 cup dry white wine
2 cups water (more to adjust consistency at the end)
200 g tomato paste
2 cups vegetable or mushroom stock
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
2 Tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp sea salt
1-2 tsp good quality tamari sauce
smoked salt (optional) adds a flavor similar to pancetta/bacon
1) Peel, rinse and trim garlic, onions, parsnip, carrots, celery and fennel and chop them up just roughly. Add all veggies (except the mushrooms) to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until everything is very finely chopped. You may have to do this in batches if you have a small bowl.
2) Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large heavy pot (minimum 3 liters) and add the chestnut mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Fry until they start to soften and give out liquid, stirring now and again. Keep frying until all the moisture has disappeared and the mushrooms have coloured to a dark golden brown. Don’t skimp on this bit as this will ensure you get maximum flavour in the finished sauce!
3) Scoop out the mushrooms then add the remaining veggies + bay leaves to the same pot with another tbsp of olive oil and stir well. Put on a lid and cook on medium heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring now and again, or until the veg has softened. Add the fried mushrooms back in.
4) Add the lentils, white wine and 2 cups of water and simmer without the lid for about 10 minutes.
5) Stir in the tomato paste + 2 cups veg/mushroom stock, nutmeg, oregano and black pepper and bring to the boil. Cover, lower the heat and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Take a look now ana again to assure the sauce doesn't cook dry - if it looks like it needs it, add a little more water. Remove the lid and cook for a further half hour.
6) Taste and season well with sea salt, tamari sauce and a little bit of smoked salt if you fancy. Add more black pepper too if it needs more spice.
7) Serve with wholewheat spaghetti on a weeknight and fresh tagliatelle if it's the weekend ;-) Grated parmesan does of course taste great on this too, but consider using a variety without animal rennet if you are vegetarian.