Ragu is traditionally a thick meat-based tomato sauce. Italian origins. Very traditional. Enjoyed with pasta and / or bread.
While I would never try to say that either lentils or mushrooms can replace meat in one foul swoop, they do the trick for me in this recipe (and many others). Think lentil “neatballs”… lentil loaf… both or which may have mushrooms.. Mushroom burgers… I could go on and on, but you get the idea. I’m sure you’ve seen it too whether at a vegan or vegetarian restaurant, or just as a vegan / vegetarian option at any restaurant. These two often fill the plant based protein shoes of their animal protein counterparts.
Both are highly nutritious and easy for our bodies to absorb the nutrients from. And have a dare I say “meaty” vibe to them. They’ve got substance for sure. I mean, I’m still full from my too much ragu on my plate and then some bread too…
Lentils are an easy and cheap legume as well. A pantry staple. It is SO rare that I use canned lentils. They cook SO fast (20 minutes give or take) and don’t need to soak in advance. They’re our “OMG we’re moving through our legume too fast and we don’t know if we’ll make it through this rush” emergency legume at Superfresh! (we rotate our “legume of the day” featured in many dishes and ALWAYS soak all of our other non-lentil legumes) - not to say we don’t consciously choose to cook with them frequently. We also love them dearly.
I have to say I don’t eat tomatoes all too frequently because they can give me acid reflux, if I’m sharing a little too much. So I have to be careful. But I love them so. Especially fresh in season. I highly recommend only using organic tomato sauce from a glass jar that is literally JUST tomatoes (MAYBE a little salt is okay). Tin cans + acidic tomatoes are not a good combo. Think about what that acid is doing to the can over time and leaching into the tomatoes… into your food… into your body… we don’t want that if we can avoid it.
While my friends in Napoli would say we can’t find ANY good tomato sauce in the US, I’d argue that with many good brands from Italy straight up tomato sauce. I’m not going to say it’s exactly the same. But it’s not a bad second place. No added herbs or fillers or anything. But even better, grow a bumper crop and make some to can and store for later! I actually used a jar I had hiding in my basement from a case of canned goods my mom had brought me back in 2017. STILL good. SO GOOD. Fresh homemade mama’s magic. Time to dust off those jars hiding in your pantry / basement friends! Might as well use them while they’re still good! They won’t last forever. I’m kind of surprised it was still good. My mom was too.
Note: I save all my veggie scraps *most of the time (kale + chard stems, onion peels, carrot butts + peels, celery ends + butts, broccoli stems, parsley stems, etc.) and store them in a freezer bag or container. Once I have a nice amount I make homemade veggie broth that I can use to cook my grains, legumes, soups, etc. to infuse more flavor, nutrition, and plant medicine into each bite. I freeze some of the broth in smaller containers or ice cube trays to preserve for future use. Recipe coming soon. You can always sub water in exchange for veggie broth, it just won’t be quite as flavorful or nutrient dense, but still PLENTY good.
Lentil Mushroom Ragu
Yields 3-4 servings (depending on how large a serving)
1 cup dried green lentils (you can use a 16oz can of lentils if you don’t have dry, just remove 2 cups of veggie broth from this recipe)
3 cups vegetable broth OR filtered water
2-3 stalks celery, diced
2/3 cup sweet yellow onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic*
1 tbsp + 1/2 tsp salt (I use fine ground pink Himalayan)
1-2 tbsp cold-pressed olive oil
2 cups crimini mushrooms, sliced (feel free to sub other mushrooms, I just like these the best for this recipe)
1-2 bay leaves
2 cups tomato sauce
2 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
4 cups dried pasta (I use Tinkyada organic brown rice spirals)
*When I was visiting friends in Naples, Italy early this year I learned that they don’t cook with garlic like we do… MIND BLOWN. WHAT?! What does it even mean… I haven’t processed that yet and I’ll save that for another tangent… but they add the whole garlic cloves to their oil amp; sauces when cooking to infuse the flavor in. They don’t mince it or chop it or anything. Just whole cloves straight in the oil or sauce. And then they remove it before eating the dish. It feels so strange to do this… but I’m trying with some of my recipes, especially the Italian dishes. I eat the garlic after, whether they do or not… soft slushy yummy infused with all the other goodness. YUM. Try it out! I promise you’ll probably feel so weird… but when cooking ragu, do as Italians do? Why not. I’ll someday learn more about this crazy practice and share with you.
Add green lentils and 2 cups of vegetable broth to a small sauce pot. Bring water to a boil and lower heat to a low flame. Cook until lentils are done (about 20 minutes). They should be soft.
Heat olive oil in a medium sauce pot. Add celery, onion, garlic, and salt. Cook for a few minutes until veggies begin to soften / onions become translucent.
Add mushrooms to the cooking veggies and cook for 5-10 minutes on a low heat until mushrooms begin to brown.
Add lentils, tomato sauce, remaining 1 cup of vegetable broth, oregano, bay leaves, and thyme. Stir and cover with a lid. Cook down until the sauce is thick.
For the pasta: fill a medium sauce pot half way with water. Add a drizzle of olive oil and a hefty pinch of salt. Bring the water to a boil. Add pasta to the boiling water, stir, cover with lid, and cook for about 8 minutes (check your pasta packaging for specific time instructions as different varieties and brans vary in times). When pasta is al dente, strain. Add pasta to ragu, stirring gently to incorporate, and serve.
Garnish with fresh or dried herbs, brazil nut “parm” (recipe coming soon), and a pinch of salt. Drench a slice of bread in olive oil and dip it in ragu for extra carb satisfaction. Reminders of my childhood. Enjoy!
Store any leftovers in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 5 days. This is great to have for a quick lunch or dinner on the go! Freezes well (if I knew I was going to freeze some, I’d make less pasta and only freeze the ragu, making fresh pasta when the time came to defrost).