Make Ahead

Lentil Bolognese

December 30, 2010
4 Ratings
  • Serves 4-8, depending upon how big portions are
Author Notes

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

What You'll Need
  • Lentils
  • 1 cup green or black lentils, picked through and washed in a colander
  • 2 cups water
  • Bolognese Sauce
  • 1/4 cup pancetta, cubed
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1/2 small bulb of fennel, diced
  • 1 small red pepper, diced
  • 1 pinch salt
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup milk
  • the cooked lentils
  • Cup white wine or stock of your choice
  • 1-28 ounces can of best quality canned tomatoes, crushed is fine
  • 1 handful fresh basil, chopped
  • fresh ricotta and/or grated Parmesan cheese
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • TheWimpyVegetarian
  • testkitchenette
  • drbabs
  • hardlikearmour
  • mrslarkin

15 Reviews

pulcinella #. July 1, 2011
I made Lentil Bolognese two weeks ago, and I'm ready to make another batch this weekend! I served it to guests atop pasta, and they asked for the recipe. Because we are trying to eat more meatless meals, I used 1/4 c. olive oil instead of the pancetta. I used that much because my sister, who has lived in Firenze for the last 34 years, always pours olive oil generously. Somehow cooking the veggies in milk seemed odd to me, so I used the reserved lentil water, which was left out of the directions. Because I knew I was using it as a pasta sauce, I also added a 28 oz. can of tomato puree at the end. My husband even said he prefers it to marinara sauce! Thanks, testkitchenette!
rfernstrom January 9, 2011
Looks fantastic. I will be making it this week. Is the sauce something you could make a double batch, then freeze half? I'm sure it wouldn't quite hold up to the fresh version, but I love having a quick go-to for the hectic weeknight meals.
testkitchenette January 9, 2011
Thanks for your kind comment! You can certainly make a double batch and freeze half and it will taste just as good!
ellencf January 9, 2011
What would happen if it was made without the pancetta - I don't eat meat, esp ham.
testkitchenette January 9, 2011
Ellen, Just leave the bacon/pancetta out completely and use an additional tablespoon of olive oil. It will be just as tasty.
TheWimpyVegetarian January 2, 2011
I made this tonight and just had it with a salad and a piece of bread and it was the perfect dinner for me. I used red wine since that was what was opened and I didn't have any fennel. But I just loved it! Thanks for a great recipe, testkitchenette! And Happy New Year!
testkitchenette January 2, 2011
Thanks ChezSuzanne! I am so glad you liked it and red wine and white wine are interchangeable almost all of the time. I have a batch all cooked for my lunch this week. Happy New Year to you too!
TheWimpyVegetarian January 1, 2011
This looks great - I'm going to make this one this week for sure!
testkitchenette January 2, 2011
Thank you ChezSuzanne! I look forward to hearing how you liked it.
testkitchenette January 1, 2011
I notice a typo here...the recipe is supposed to read 1 cup white wine...sorry about that!
drbabs January 1, 2011
Love. Great recipe.
testkitchenette January 1, 2011
Thank you drbabs!
testkitchenette December 31, 2010
Thanks mrslarkin and is a virtuous dish before the gluttony of New Year's decadence! Happy New Year!
hardlikearmour December 30, 2010
great idea!
mrslarkin December 30, 2010
sounds yummy!!