I’ve eaten bolognese maybe a handful of times in my life. And that’s a guess, because the meals weren’t particularly memorable. Actually, I’m really just going off of this photo from the summer my family spent a month in the south of France when I was 17. As evidenced by this photo of me eating what looks like pappardelle bolognese (with Sam, though clearly I was more interested in my meal at the moment), I’ve always loved food. Though back then, I didn’t know a thing about it. (Case in point: When I ordered spaghetti carbonara in Nice and was served a plate of pasta with a raw egg perched on top, I thought the chef was totally deranged, and possibly trying to kill me.)
I became vegan shortly after coming home from this trip, for reasons unrelated. Though the vegan thing didn’t last, I haven’t eaten meat in almost ten years—so no more bolognese.
The other week, Austin’s approximation of winter finally descended (for a few days, anyway, then it got warm again). In addition to relishing in the opportunity to wear socks and a jacket, I started wanting cozy winter food in a big way. Soup, definitely, and a really hearty, filling pasta that would make me curl up on the couch afterwards and fall asleep.
I thought of pappardelle bolognese, with the wide, chewy noodles and sauce so thick you could barely call it that. And the super-concentrated tomato flavor, and lots of salty cheese on top. This lentil version, made richer with ground walnuts, is the outcome, and I urge you to try it.
I don’t know how close it is to “real” bolognese, but delicious and deeply satsifying. Quicker and cheaper to make, too, which is always nice. I’ll be turning to it throughout the next few months whenever winter comes around.
I used a Grüner Veltliner because it was what I had around, but any clean, mineral-y white wine works.
1 cup green lentils
1/3 cup walnuts
1 medium onion, quartered
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 cup white wine
1 cup vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
Place the lentils in a medium pot with enough water to cover by about an inch. Cover, bring to a boil, then simmer, partially covered, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until tender.
While the lentils finish cooking, put the walnuts in a food processer and process until very finely chopped, like a coarse flour. Set aside in a bowl. Add the onion, carrots, and garlic to the food processor and process until very finely chopped.
In a large, deep skillet, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the vegetable mixture with a big pinch of salt and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the lentils, walnuts, and tomato paste with another pinch or two of salt and cook 2 to 3 minutes more. Pour in the wine and vegetable stock, stirring until the tomato paste is evenly distributed. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Taste for seasoning.