It’s the time of the year again when we all start craving comfort food, don’t we? The evenings are cold, there is a wintery bite in the air, it’s raining more and more often and the air smells of smoke and dry leaves crushed underfoot. I personally really like autumn and everything it has to offer, with the exception of the dark clouds which tend to gather over our heads more often these days, threatening us with some serious rain.
As I am planning future recipes, I am instinctively drawn to pastas, stews, curries, cookies and cakes. Anything that makes the kitchen a cosy hangout again and warms you up after a run in the cold. Speaking of running, I love running in my local woods right now. The trees are starting to shed leaves, which rustle pleasantly under each step and there are plenty of cheeky little squirrels making a dash for it everywhere. They are such adorable twitchy little things, I don’t know how you could hate them.
My usually lovely and very kind neighbour has a bee in his bonnet about the need to exterminate grey squirrels, as according to him, they are pests. I usually tell him that humans are pests too, making far more damage to the Earth and its ecosystems than all of the tiny little nut munchers put together and that usually causes a welcome change of subject.
Today’s recipe is one of our favourite comfort eats – a hearty lentil and mushroom bolognese served with tagliatelle pasta and a generous sprinkle of my vegan parmesan. It’s easy to make (although it does require a fair amount of chopping) and if you have a large Dutch oven style pot and some space in the freezer, I recommend spending some of your weekend prepping a double portion of the sauce and freezing leftovers for the week ahead. Not only does the sauce taste better after some resting time, but it is also a life saver on the nights when you are too knackered to cook yet still want a warming and nourishing meal to tuck into.
- 20 g / 0.7 oz dried shiitake or porcini mushrooms
- 2 tbsp / 30 ml olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 4 large garlic cloves, finely diced
- 2 short celery stalks, very finely diced
- 2 small carrots, very finely diced
- 125 g / 5 oz chestnut mushrooms, finely diced
- 2 sprigs rosemary, leaves chopped finely
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/3 tsp grated nutmeg
- ½ tsp chilli flakes, adjust to taste
- approx. 1 tsp salt, adjust to taste
- 1 cup / 240 ml vegan red wine
- 2 x 400 g / 28 oz tins quality peeled plum tomatoes
- 100 g / ½ cup dry Puy (or green) lentils, rinsed
- 2 tsp date syrup or sugar (optional, adjust to taste)
- black pepper, to taste
- fresh thyme or parsley, to garnish
- homemade vegan parmesan, to garnish (optional)
- 500 g dry tagliatelle (GF if required), cooked
- Put a kettle on. Rinse the dried mushrooms well to get rid of any grit and place them in a small bowl.
- Cover the dried mushrooms with boiling water. Set aside for later.
- Heat up the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the diced onion and sauté on a low heat for a few minutes, until the onions are almost translucent, but not coloured.
- Add the chopped garlic and sauté for another 1-2 minutes.
- Finally add the diced celery, carrot and chestnut mushrooms. Sauté, stirring frequently, for another 5 minutes or so.
- Meanwhile, chop the re-hydrated dry mushrooms (do not throw the liquid away) very finely.
- Add the diced dry mushrooms to the pan, together with the chopped rosemary leaves, whole thyme springs, smoked paprika, nutmeg, chilli (if using) and 1 tsp of salt. Stir everything around for a minute or so.
- Add the dry mushroom stock, being careful not to tip the grit that sometimes gathers at the bottom of the dish over.
- After the mixture comes to a gentle simmer, add the wine and allow it to bubble gently for a few minutes so that the harsh taste of alcohol cooks out, for about 10 minutes.
- Add both tomato cans and about 1 cup (240 ml) of water (I like to rinse my cans with it first).
- If you used plum tomatoes, like I did, break them up with a spoon first. Put the lid on and allow the sauce to bubble on a low-medium heat until the tomatoes have broken down (about 30 minutes).
- Half way through the simmering, add the dry lentils into the pan (they take about 25 minutes to cook).
- Once the tomatoes have broken down, take the lid off and start reducing the sauce on a low-medium heat. If the pan is starting to look a bit too dry, add another cup of water (pasta cooking water is best) and cook until you achieve the desired consistency. Remember to give the sauce a good stir from time to time to ensure that the middle of the pan does not burn.
- Season with more salt if needed, date syrup or sugar (if needed) and black pepper.