Bolognese sauce was a revelation for me the first time I tasted it. Silky and slightly sweet from the slow cooking, it was so different from the full tomato (infused with shredded carrots and sauteed ground beef) that I grew up on. I got my first taste of Bolognese sauce while cooking my way through Marcella Hazan's Classic Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking cookbook that I rescued from the "books to throw out" (can you imagine...) pile while working at Borders many years ago. The book looks like it went through a major apocalypse with its stained pages and markings. I have since adapted the recipe to be much more vegetable based and came up with an equally delicious sauce using lentils in place of the meat and giving a meaty undertone by using pancetta as my cooking fat. I have served atop polenta, stirred into risotto, pasta, made a pizza from it, and eaten it directly from the cooking vessel with a spoon. Any which way, it is delicious. —testkitchenette
4-8, depending upon how big portions are
green or black lentils, picked through and washed in a colander
large red onion, finely chopped
garlic cloves, finely chopped
carrots, peeled and diced
stalks celery, diced
small bulb of fennel, diced
small red pepper, diced
black pepper, to taste
the cooked lentils
white wine or stock of your choice
can of best quality canned tomatoes, crushed is fine
Cooking the Lentils: Put the lentils in a saucepan and cover with the water. Bring the water to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for about 15 minutes, until they are al dente (not mushy). Drain extra water and reserve.
In large heavy pot (I break out the Le Creuset for this), brown and render out the fat from the pancetta. Remove the pancetta from the pan and put it aside. You will be cooking the vegetables etc. using the pancetta fat.
Add the onion, garlic, carrots, celery, fennel, red pepper, salt and pepper to the pancetta fat (add a tablespoon of butter or splash of olive oil if necessary) and cook until aromatic. Cook for about 5-8 minutes over medium heat.
Add the milk to the vegetables and stirring most of the time, cook it until it has almost all cooked away. Stir the cooked lentils in. Add the wine and cook it the same way as the milk. Cooking the milk and wine down will take some time.
Stir in the tomatoes and reserved pancetta and let the sauce come to almost a boil. Knock the heat back to low and let simmer for about 20-30 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add a pinch of crushed red pepper if you want. Add the chopped basil.
Serve over pasta, on polenta, to complement a poultry, meat, and/or fish dish. If serving with pasta or polenta, serve with a dollop of fresh ricotta or Parmesan cheese on the top.