This puy lentil bolognese is a brilliant meat-free Monday dinner and freezer filler. 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 alongside my veggies 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.
How Puy lentil bolognese is a great change from a traditional meat sauce
I first made this lentil bolognese 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 bolognese 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.
Fill your freezer for future dinners
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 puy lentil bolognese with some pasta – either brown rice pasta or regular wholegrain and a winter slaw of shredded carrots, fennel and cabbage in a yoghurty sauce (see how to prep your slaw here). 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.
Puy lentil bolognese ingredients
(To make enough for 4 people with pasta)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 red onion, diced (video of how to chop here)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced (video of how to chop here)
4 large carrots, diced
1 bulb fennel, diced and fronds set aside (video of how here)
200g (1 cup) uncooked 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
Optional – a Parmesan rind
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar to finish
To serve – This puy lentil bolognese stands up well to a wholegrain pasta. Choose a shape that will hold the sauce such as a shell or penne. I make some slaw to serve alongside.
To make the puy lentil bolognese:
1. Chop all your vegetables (see my videos if you need to brush up on your knife skills).
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. If you have a Parmesan rind, and you’re not vegetarian or vegan, throw that in too. It will impart a mellow cheesy undertone to the finished beans – think of it as a cheese tea bag!
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 40-50 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 bolognese.
7. Taste then gradually add salt, pepper, chili flakes and red wine vinegar until it tastes perfect to you.
8. Serve tossed with cooked pasta, stir it together and add a little of the pasta cooking water, stirring until the sauce is sticking to the pasta. I like to top mine with the reserved fennel fronds, a drizzle of balsamic and a blob of soft goats cheese or a handful of grated Parmesan (see below). A bowl of slaw will take your veg quota up another level and will brighten up your dinner time.
9. Leftovers can sit in the fridge for 3-4 days or can be frozen.
You can now buy the equipment I use in this recipe through my shop. I’ve spent years testing my favourite bits of equipment so rest-assured that whatever I recommend is the best tool for the job and will give you great results without cluttering your kitchen with unused tools.
Get more recipes like this
If you’d like to get my newsletter every couple of weeks, packed with recipes like this and my meal plans, please sign up here.