Ahh spaghetti bolognese, a definite comfort food in many countries but particularly a British staple (although the version most Brits make is nothing like a classic ragu all bolognese – especially as we usually serve it with spaghetti which would be blasphemy in Italy).
When writing my second book I included a recipe for a fennel & lentil ragu with caramelised onions. That is what this ragu is based on with some tweaks like swapping the fennel for celery to make it more of an approachable, everyday recipe. That said, if you do like fennel and can get it, it’s a great addition to this sauce for even more flavour.
Through trial and error of cooking vegetarian replacements for ‘meaty’ dishes, I’ve managed to get that savoury flavour into the sauce quite easily. I use miso, dried mushrooms and Worcestershire sauce (or mushroom ketchup) for their richness. They really do help bring this dish from a tomatoey lentil sauce up a notch to something with much more depth.
I hope you give this one a go, it’s a favourite of mine as it’s so versatile. I’ve used it in veggie lasagne, stuffed cannelloni, veggie shepherd’s pie, as a filling for homemade ravioli and even served over cheesy polenta. All delicious, comforting food for when you’re craving something super savoury and satisfying.
- 1 red onion, finely diced
- 2 sticks of celery, finely diced
- 2 tablespoons refined olive oil or vegetable oil
- pinch of salt
- 3 cloves garlic, minced or grated
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander seed
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- a (400g / 14 ounce) can chopped tomatoes
- 800ml (3 1/4 cups) vegetable stock (made with 1 low-salt stock cube)
- 125ml red wine (or more veg stock)
- 2 tablespoons vegan Worcester sauce or mushroom ketchup (see notes)
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 heaped tablespoon miso paste (I prefer to use dark miso here but light/medium is fine too)
- 50g walnuts
- 90g puy lentils or 'French' green lentils
- 1 tablespoon dried shiitake/porcini mushrooms, blended into a powder (optional)
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons dried mixed herbs or dried oregano
- Heat the olive oil in a large, deep frying pan over a medium heat. Once hot, add the onions and celery. Stir occasionally and cook until softened and slightly translucent, about 7-10 minutes.
- Add the garlic to the pan and stir in for 30 seconds. Then add the ground coriander seed and fennel seed and stir again for 30 seconds to toast.
- Add the chopped tomatoes to the pan and swill out the can with a little water then pour that into the pan too. Add the vegetable stock, wine, Worcester sauce/mushroom ketchup and balsamic vinegar. Mix the miso with a few tablespoon of water in a small bowl or mug to loosen it, then pour that into the pan as well. Stir together.
- Chop the walnuts so they are the texture of minced meat (not to small, not to big). Add the chopped walnuts, the lentils, mushroom powder, bay leaves and dried herbs to the pan. Stir together then bring the mixture to a boil.
- Once boiling turn down to simmer, cover with a lid and let it cook for 30-40 minutes until the lentils are softening but not mushy. Remove the lid and let it simmer for another 10-20 minutes so the liquid can reduce.
- Meawhile cook your pasta in a large pot according to the directions on the package. Reserve a mugful of pasta water then drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add a few scoops of the lentil ragu, along with a splash of pasta water as needed to help the sauce coat the pasta.
- Divide the pasta between 4 bowls and top with the remaining ragu.
- Serve with grated parmesan or vegan parmesan on top.
- Worcester sauce note: regular Worcestershire sauce is not vegetarian as it contains fish. So if you are vegan or veggie, use a vegetarian alternative. You can also use mushroom ketchup which most UK supermarkets sell - sometimes it's in the 'speciality ingredients' section, sometimes near the hot sauce or sometimes next to the Worcester sauce. Or you can get it online. If you can't get any of them, use 1 teaspoon of dark soy sauce instead.
- Miso note: If you don't have miso you can use 2 tbsp of dark soy sauce or 1 tbsp marmite instead.
- Wine note: ensure you're using a vegan red wine, if needed