Lentil Bolognese with Rigatoni
By Alexandra Caspero MA, RD, CLT, RYT
Growing up in an Italian household, there are a few things you can always find in my kitchen: jugs of quality olive-oil, copious amounts of garlic, and enough canned tomato products to fill a cupboard. There’s nothing like Italian cuisine; fresh, produce-centered and healthy. My new cookbook, Fresh Italian Cooking for the New Generation, is centered around that very idea. When stripped of crazy portion-sizes and mountains of cheese, Italian food is some of the healthiest on the planet.
Most of my recipes are centered around canned tomato products. Inexpensive and packed with flavor, canned tomatoes can transform the lowliest bowl of pasta into an extraordinary meal. You can always find canned whole, diced and crushed tomato products in my pantry; for use in soups, sauces and quick-ragu. In the below recipe, I pair crushed tomatoes with tomato paste for a deeply rich sauce that rivals any meat-based Bolognese.
As a vegetarian, cooked lentils are my favorite substitute for ground beef and this sauce is no exception. While it’s ready in under an hour, I prefer to make this on a Sunday afternoon to let it simmer on the stove for hours. The result is a complex, rich, stew-like sauce that goes great over thick rigatoni. Since the sprinkle of Parmesan cheese brings in additional umami flavors, don’t skip it.
Lentil Bolognese with Rigatoni (reprinted with permission from Fresh Italian Cooking for the New Generation (Page Street Publishing 2016)
1 cup (200g) dried brown lentils, rinsed
1 tablespoon (15ml) olive oil
1 white onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 medium-size carrots, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can (795g) crushed tomatoes
3 tablespoons (55g) tomato paste
2 tablespoons (30ml) red wine vinegar
1 cup (240ml) water
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
¼ cup (25g) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, plus more for garnish
1/3 cup (10g) fresh parsley leaves, chopped
12 ounces (340g) rigatoni pasta (roughly 4 ½ cups dried pasta)
Place the lentils in a medium stock pan and add water until lentils are covered by at least 2 inches. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer until just tender, about 30-35 minutes. Once tender, drain and set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon (15ml) olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrots and a pinch each of salt and pepper, and cook for 10 minutes or until the onion is translucent and vegetables are soft. Stir in the garlic.
Add the cooked and drained lentils, tomatoes, tomato paste, vinegar, water and dried herbs to the pot, along with the crushed red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt. Stir the mixture well and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for at least 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened and reduced slightly. This is definitely a Sunday-afternoon sauce, so feel free to let it simmer for longer, just make sure to stir occasionally. Just before serving, stir in the Parmesan cheese and parsley.
While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the rigatoni and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta but do not rinse.
Divide the pasta among 4-6 bowls and top with Bolognese sauce. Top with extra parmesan cheese, if desired.
Alexandra Caspero MA, RD, CLT, RYT is author of Fresh Italian Cooking for the New Generation (Page Street Publishing, 2016). As a consultant and spokesperson, she works with like-minded companies to develop nutrition communication strategies, wellness content and recipes. Her award-winning blog, Delish Knowledge, focuses on making whole-food eating deliciously simple.