Pasta night just got even more exciting and full of protein! I make a big batch of this Lentil Bolognese to serve over spaghetti the first night, but there are endless useless for the leftovers. Read on for recipe instructions, helpful tips and exciting ways to use the leftovers.
Anything that meat can do, lentils can do better! This is a cute jingle written by a girl who loves beans and lentils. You might know her; anyway, I'll wait for you to come back.
I love using lentils instead of ground beef in classic Italian dishes! Not only do lentils have slightly less calories than read meat, they contain none of the saturated fat that red meat has. Now, that said, I am a fan of all things in moderation, and we do eat ground beef occasionally over here. Especially in my chili mac, because it's delicious!
However, when I'm cooking for vegetarians, I find lentils are a great swap for ground beef in many recipes. Once you agree that lentils are better, make my lentil lasagna and please report back if don't love it as much as regular lasagna.
How to Make Lentil Bolognese
Truthfully, if you have ever made a bolognese sauce with regular ground beef, the process here is pretty similar!
If you've never made bolognese before, you should know:
- One of the key components of bolognese is a dairy product, stirred in at the very end of the cooking process. I have seen milk or cream in bolognese recipes, but I reach for thick, creamy ricotta. This is probably because I always have leftover ricotta from making my lentil meatballs, but I think lentils and ricotta go together so well!
- This is a tomato-based pasta sauce, and we'll reinforce it with tomato paste and crushed tomatoes.
- Authentic Italian bolognese contains ground beef. We're using lentils instead, and I know that might upset some people.
- Lentils. We need one cup of dry brown lentils. I like the brown ones, because they hold their shape while cooking. Sometimes, we want lentils to fall apart, like in our red lentil chili. But today, we want the lentils to resemble crumbled ground beef after cooking, so grab the brown lentils from the bulk. Also, please stop to compare the price of lentils per pound versus ground beef and thank me.
- Thyme. Dried thyme leaves (not ground thyme) seasons the lentils here.
- Onion. I've never made a pasta sauce without onion (wait, have I ever made anything without onion?), so grab a large white or yellow onion. We'll use one-third of it for cooking the lentils, and then chop the rest of it for the actual pasta sauce.
- Carrots. Three medium carrots bring a sweetness to help balance the acidity in any tomato sauce. We need one carrot for cooking the lentils and the other two for the pasta sauce.
- Celery. Just like the carrots, we will use one celery stalk to flavor the cooking water for the lentils, and then the remaining 2 stalks are for the sauce.
- Olive Oil. It doesn't need to be extra virgin olive oil, because we're just sautéing vegetables in it.
- Garlic. Four whole cloves of fresh garlic, smashed and minced. I really prefer fresh garlic over any type of garlic that has been pre-minced.
- Tomato Paste. I love when recipes use the entire can of tomato paste, so I don't have to worry about the leftovers! Six entire ounces of tomato paste makes this lentil bolognese super rich!
- Crushed Tomatoes. One 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes; fire-roasted crushed tomatoes are my preference. They bring so much smoky flavor here, but regular crushed is fine, too.
- Red Wine. My first choice is half a cup of dry red wine that you like to drink from a glass. If you don't drink, my second choice is an equal amount of vegetable broth with a splash of apple cider vinegar in it (to mimc the acidity of red wine).
- Ricotta Cheese. At the very end of the cooking process, we'll stir in half a cup of full-fat regular ricotta cheese. It melts and becomes the classic creamy component to a good lentil bolognese recipe.
- Noodles. You can serve this over any type of noodles (I use spaghetti for the photos), or place a scoop over a baked potato. See below for all ideas on how to use this pot of delicious, easy lentil bolognese.
First, we'll cook the lentils in a separate pot. Rinse and drain the lentils, and place them in a pot with about one-third of the onion, one of the carrots, and one of the celery stalks. Add the thyme, a big pinch of salt and pepper, and cover with water.
Bring the pot to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and partially cover the pot. It will take about 30-40 minutes for the lentils to become fully soft. Drain the lentils, and remove the cooked vegetables and discard; set the lentils aside.
In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the remaining diced onion, sliced carrots and celery. Let cook until the vegetables start to soften (lowering the heat if the onions start to turn golden brown around edges) for about 8-10 minutes.
Next, add the garlic, and saute for 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and stir while cooking for about 4-5 minutes.
Finally, add the crushed tomatoes, wine and cooked lentils to the pot. Bring this mixture to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes, just to blend the flavors.
Turn off the heat, and stir in the ricotta cheese. Serve this lentil bolognese over noodles of your choice.
Leftover Lentil Bolognese ideas:
Besides keeping cooked pasta (tossed wit the smallest amount of olive oil) in your fridge for eating this lentil bolognese, I have a few other ideas for you.
- A scoop of lentil bolognese over a baked potato is delicious.
- I love to bake this inside a pepper, like another version of my vegetarian stuffed peppers.
- Warm up leftover sauce and place it on top of a bowl of freshly cooked polenta. Shower the whole thing with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and olive oil, and dig in.
- You can also store this for a future easy meal. In a freezer bag, add 2 cups of leftover (cooled) lentil bolognese. Seal the bag very well, and then freeze flat on a baking sheet. Once frozen, you can stack the bags for storage.
Yes, just make sure you cook the lentils (like this recipe instructs) in a flavorful broth so that they bring flavor the pot of bolognese. Cook 1 cup of dry lentils, and stir it into any tomato-based sauce, like this bolognese.
Beyond using dried lentils like we have in this recipe, you can use use finely diced mushrooms. I have made this recipe using half a cup of dried lentils and 2 cups of chopped fresh mushrooms.
Spaghetti sauce can be anything from jarred tomato-based sweet sauce to blistered cherry tomatoes and garlic sliced. However, bolognese always contains meat and dairy products for a smooth, creamy sauce. In our case, we're using lentils instead of ground beef.
- 1 cup dry brown lentils*
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 large onion, divided use
- 3 medium carrots, divided use
- 3 stalks celery, divided use
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 6-ounce can of tomato paste
- 28-ounce can of fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
- ½ cup dry red wine
- ½ cup full-fat ricotta cheese
- For serving: cooked spaghetti noodles
- First, place the lentils in a small saucepan and add the thyme, about ⅓ of the onion (no need to chop), one carrot and one stalk of celery. Sprinkle in a big pinch of salt and pepper, and cover the whole thing with water.
- Bring the lentils to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and partially cover. Let cook until the lentils are fully soft, about 30-40 minutes. Taste a few lentils to ensure they’re done.
Drain the lentils and remove the onion, carrot and celery and discard. Set aside.
- In a large saucepan, add the olive oil and let it heat over medium-high heat.
- Meanwhile, chop the remaining onion, carrots and celery into a small dice. Add the chopped vegetables to the olive oil, and cook, stirring occasionally until softened. Lower the heat if the onions threaten to burn. Cook for about 8-10 minutes.
- Next, add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds, just until fragrant. Add the tomato paste, and cook while stirring occasionally for about 4-5 minutes. It should turn a slightly more orange color/ darken slightly.
- Finally, add the crushed tomatoes, wine and cooked lentils to the pot. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes, just to blend the flavors.
- Finally, turn off the heat and stir in the ricotta cheese. Serve over spaghetti noodles.
*I prefer the brown lentils, becasue they maintain their shape while cooking.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 164Total Fat: 6gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 8mgSodium: 79mgCarbohydrates: 20gFiber: 4gSugar: 6gProtein: 7g