How to Make a Vegan Pasta Sauce
To quote from the prison scene of Martin Scorcese's Goodfellas: "You've got to have pork. The pork is what gives the sauce the flavour."
However, this is not always necessarily the case; you can make a divine pasta sauce by adding no animal products whatsoever. This vegan ragu recipe enhances the nutritional value of a regular bolognese without sacrificing any flavour. There are some great mock meats available to vegans to substitute meat, but you would be amazed how flavoursome and meaty lentils can become when cooked along with certain ingredients.
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3 hours 20 min
- 100 grams plant-based bacon
- 1 red onion, chopped
- 2 small carrots, chopped
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 2 cups red wine
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 300 grams brown split lentils
- 1 kilogram tomato passata
- 2 cans chopped tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon rosemary
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon basil
- 1 teaspoon parsley
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 vegan beef-style stock cube
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon universal vegetable seasoning
- Chop the plant-based bacon up into little cubes (around a 1/4 inch). You want to make the "rashers" smaller to match the consistency of pancetta. Place into a large saucepan on medium heat and drizzle with olive oil. Leave to fry for 1 minute and fill your kitchen with its great aroma. As it's frying, add in the rosemary and 2 chopped cloves of garlic.
- Add in the chopped onion, carrots and celery. Ensure the pan is not too hot. You need these vegetables to sweat and become soft. Constantly stir to ensure the vegetables cook evenly. After a few minutes, you should notice steam coming from the vegetables. As everything in the pan begins to soften, add in the universal vegetable seasoning and nutmeg.
- Reduce the heat of the pan to low and add in 2 cans of chopped tomatoes. Stir in to cover all of the vegetables, then add in 500 grams of passata. Grind in a generous amount of black pepper, a teaspoon of sugar, and a sprinkle of salt. You will not need too much salt as there will already be salt from the bacon and vegetable seasoning. Follow in with the basil and parsley.
- Add 300 grams of brown split lentils to the sauce and stir in. You will now need to create the stock by using the two empty cans of chopped tomatoes. For the first one, place a tablespoon of tomato puree in the can, then fill it with red wine. Stir until the wine becomes a burgundy colour. For the second, place a beef-style stock cube in the can, then fill it halfway with warm water. Add both cans to the pan and stir in.
- Leave the sauce to blip away for at least 2 hours. You want to give the lentils time to cook and absorb all the wonderful flavours within the sauce. Constantly check on the sauce by stirring to ensure nothing sticks.
- After 2 hours, you will notice that the lentils have increased in size, and your sauce will become thick. To even out the texture, add another 500 grams of passata along with a splash of water. Stir in and season to taste. Leave to cook for a further 15–20 minutes for a perfect sauce.
My Favorite Vegan "Pancetta"
To reiterate, there are some great plant-based mock meats available to vegans. This is, without argument, one of the best. Many bacon alternatives tend to have a flavour base that's exactly like the flavour you'd find in bacon-flavoured crisps. Vivera's plant-based bacon, on the other hand, is miles ahead of its competitors' products. Its smokey paprika aroma matches the real thing in an uncanny manner. I often find myself using it to pep up sauce bases, and it truly works a treat when combined with rosemary in this ragu recipe.
- Be sure to soak your lentils overnight to ensure they become plump and soft when cooking. The last thing you want is a crunchy lentil ruining the texture of this dish.
- Many recipes, including those from top-quality chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Gennaro Contaldo, recommend using over a litre of water when producing the stock. From experience, this does dilute the flavour of the sauce, even on a slow cooker. I would recommend no more than 700 mL of water as you already have liquid from the sauce and wine that will allow the lentils to cook.
- There is no such thing as cooking wine. You can use any great-tasting red wine. Personally, I find that a Chianti compliments the flavours magnificently.
- Be patient and relax. This is a recipe that tastes better the longer it simmers. I even find it tastes better the next day. So do not rush it. Feel free to even enjoy the other half of the bottle of wine.
- Utilise the versatility. The sauce is not just limited to pasta. It compliments veggies very well, particularly aubergine and butternut squash. Place on top of a vegetable fritter or an eggplant-parmigiana, and you've got an amazing condiment.
© 2021 Andrea Sciambarella