Inspired by Laura’s awesome example, I made a resolution to post a picture to Instgram every day this year. It’s a small thing, maybe, but I’ve found it to be a really good exercise to take the time to look for something that I think is beautiful or that makes me smile each day. And on the days when nothing really pops up and presents itself (Laura warned me that there would be many a time when I’d contemplate just saying to heck with it and snapping a pic of a box of cereal), I of course turn to my food for inspiration. Which usually works, except. There are some meals that will just never be Insta-worthy. Food that might be delicious, but is visually blah…or even on that boarderline of gross looking. The awesome lentil bolognaise recipe I recently discovered is fantastic example of this–the original post even calls is “deficient in the looks department,” and to say it looks like a pile of mud would almost be a disservice to mud. But boy is it tasty.
This recipe was another random internet find, discovered when I fell down the rabbit hole of Series Eats’ “Cook the Book” series. I was in a mood for expanding my vegetarian dishes list (though I did go ahead and use beef broth here, rather than the suggested veggie), and since I never ever cook with lentils, this was especially intriguing. It’s from Nigel Slater’s Eat, and it’s enough to make me want to buy the book. The ingredient list is pretty simple: carrots, onions, lentils, broth, crème fraîche, balsamic vinegar, and the crucial addition of some saved pasta water. It’s certainly not a traditional bolognaise (not according to any tradition I know, at least), but it’s something great and hearty and comforting in it’s own right.
This dish reminded me of one of my other favorites, butternut squash and goat cheese pasta, because for a good chunk of the cooking time I was seriously doubting the flavors. I was pretty sure it was going to not only be blah looking, but blah tasting. I felt like the least glamorous stereotype of a hippie, making a bunch of seemingly tasteless brown lentil mush. But with the generous time given to the carrots and onions and then the lentils to cook together, and the additions of crème fraîche and balsamic vinegar, this is rich and earthy and just plain good. And lets be real, that beef broth substitution probably didn’t hurt. This will definitely never be a picture perfect dinner, but it is a perfect winter comfort food.
adapted (slightly) from serious eats
2 carrots, peeled and diced small
3 tbs olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced
1 cup French lentils, rinsed if necessary
4 cups beef stock–the original recipe calls for veg, but I had a hunch I would prefer beef
enough pasta of your choice for dinner for two and lunch leftovers (no judgement on how much pasta that actually is)
2 tbs crème fraîche
1 tbs balsamic vinegar
salt, to taste
Add olive oil and carrots to a deep skillet over medium heat. Let the carrot cook while you slice the onion, then add onion to the pan and cook for at least 15 minutes. Add the beef stock and and bring to a boil. Drop heat to a simmer, and cook until lentils are soft, 25-40 minutes (start checking around 25, but I’ve usually let it go closer to 40). Season with salt to taste.
While the lentils are simmering away, cook your pasta. Be sure to reserve some pasta water when you drain.
Once the lentils are soft, it’s time to mush up about half of them. The original recipe recommends blitzing half of the mixture in a food processor or blender til it is “a coarse puree.” I used my immersion blender to puree half of my skillet. If things are looking a bit too thick / not sauce like after your half-blending, stir in a ladle or two of reserved pasta water to thin the mixture back to smooth. Stir in the crème fraîche and balsamic vinegar, and check for seasoning. Spoon the lentils over pasta, and dig in.
One more note: I’d recommend holding on to some of the pasta water even after you have your first serving. The mixture can thicken up as it sits, and you might want to add a bit more starchy water back in if you go back for seconds.