I’m trying to embrace meat-free Monday every week now. I do feel like a little constraint is a bigger boost to my imagination than a wide open choice of what to eat. So forcing Monday to be meat-free in our house encourages me to try lots of new recipes. And I like the fact that many (but not all) veggie options are a great way to get tons of healthy goodies into our diet. But bigger than that, is the environmental impact of us all eating just one day less of meat a week. Other people can explain how all that works better than me so, to learn more, head to the campaign page.
There are a host of reasons to eat totally meat-free but, I’m afraid, I like eating good quality meat too much to revert to my full on teenage-angst vegetarian phase full-time. Funnily, my 14-year-old vegetarian self survived by eating Linda McCartney’s meatless meat pies (and listening to a lot of The Doors). Now my grown-up self is encouraged to be meat-free by Paul, Stella and Mary McCartney’s campaign. Full disclosure – I do have a bit of a crush on Stella McCartney so I’m easily influenced by her, in the same way I was by the cool veggie girls at school.
Anyhoo, I’m probably giving a bit too much of myself away now so let’s get back to cooking. I first made this lentil bolognaise when we were on a self-catering holiday and I wanted to have ingredients for dinner that would survive a long car journey without being chilled. So meat was out and lentils were in. All I did was use the same type of technique and ingredients as I would use for a classic meat bolognaise but substitute the beef with some Puy lentils. I do love a good lentil and they give a wonderful meatiness to a dish, their texture means they work well as a substitution to minced [ground] beef in many recipes.
If you are planning to make this, do double or even triple up the recipe as you might as well get a few dinners in the freezer for one lot of mess. I serve this sauce with some pasta – either brown rice pasta or regular wholegrain and a winter slaw of shredded carrots, fennel and cabbage in a yoghurty sauce. I also like to dollop some ricotta or greek yoghurt on top of the pasta too. You can also thin it down with some stock to make a lovely soup. My boys love it.
Don’t tell Stella, but I have been known to add some pancetta to this and it’s really rather yummy.
(To make enough for 4 people with pasta)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, sliced
4 large carrots, diced
1 bulb fennel, diced and fronds set aside
200g (1 cup) Puy lentils
400g (14oz) canned diced tomatoes, no salt added
1 glass red wine
1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon dried oregano
pinch chili flakes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
hot water to cover
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar to finish
1. Chop all your vegetables.
2. In a large lidded pan, heat the oil over a medium high heat. Add the carrots, onion and fennel and stir. Then cook for around 10 minutes on a medium high heat until the vegetables are starting to soften and turn golden. Stir every couple of minutes to make sure the vegetables are cooking evenly.
3. Add the garlic to the pan and cook for a further minute before adding the fennel seeds, oregano and lentils.
4. Throw in the red wine and balsamic and bubble it for a minute or two to burn off some of the alcohol then add the tomatoes.
5. Stir well then pour hot water into the pan so that the vegetables and lentils are almost but not quite covered (see photo).
6. Bring up to the boil, then drop to a simmer and cook for around 40 minutes or until the lentils are soft. If need be, remove the lid for the last bit of cooking to reduce the liquid – the lentils will absorb lots of liquid so this may not be necessary. You want a pretty dry sauce – the texture of bolognaise.
7. Taste then gradually add salt, pepper, chili flakes and red wine vinegar until it tastes perfect to you.
8. Serve tossed with pasta and a little of the pasta cooking water. I like to top mine with the reserved fennel fronds and a blob of ricotta (see below)
9. Leftovers can sit in the fridge for 3-4 days or can be frozen.