Ragù di lenticchie (Lentil Ragu)

Frankpasta, primi piatti40 Comments

Ragù di lenticchie (Lentil Ragù)

As long time readers may remember, my very favorite pasta when I was a kid was Angelina’s austerely simple but delicious pasta e lenticchie (Pasta with Lentils). I liked it so much so that most of the time I’d prefer to eat pasta e lenticchie even over her extraordinary Sunday lasagna.

So when I found out about this vegan version of the classic Bolognese ragù using lentils instead of ground meat, I just had to try it, even though I’m not vegan myself. And I certainly wasn’t disappointed. This meatless ragù is incredibly flavorful and interestingly quite different from Angelina’s dish.

Every bit as appealing, if you ask me, as the classic dish that inspired it, you can serve ragù di lenticchie in just about all the same ways: to dress tagliatelle as pictured here, and many other pastas— even in Bolognese style lasagne. (See Notes below for some recommendations.)

And if you have lentils leftover from New Year’s Eve, there’s a way to recycle them as ragù. For the economy minded like me, that may be the best news so far this year…

Ingredients

  • 250g (1/2 lb) lentils (see Notes)
  • 1 small onion, finely minced
  • 1 small carrot, finely minced
  • 1/2 stalk celery, finely minced
  • A splash of white wine
  • 500g (1 lb) passata di pomodoro or milled canned tomatoes
  • 500 ml (2 cups) water, plus more as needed
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • A bay leaf (optional)

Directions

In a casserole, preferably made of terracotta or enameled cast iron, gently sauté the onion, carrot and celery in abundant olive oil until the vegetables have softened.

Add the lentils and mix. Let it all simmer gently for a few minutes, then add a splash of the wine and let it evaporate.

Add the passata and water, along with the bay leaf if using. Simmer gently, uncovered, for a good hour or more, until the lentils are fully tender but not falling apart. Add more water as needed to keep the lentils just barely covered with liquid. (For me, I needed more water every 15 minutes or so. Lentils absorb a lot of liquid as they cook.)

Perhaps 15 minutes or so before the lentils are done, season to taste with salt and pepper. Adjust also for liquid. Your lentil ragù should be thick but pourable, just as a meat-based ragù would be.

Ragù di lenticchie (Lentil Ragù)

Notes on Ragù di lenticchie (Lentil Ragù)

For making your ragù di lenticchie, you’ll want a smaller lentil will keep its shape while it cooks. In Italy, you might opt for the famous lenticchie di Casteluccio, from the eponymous small town not far from Perugia, in the central Italian region of Umbira. (In the US, you can order them online from Amazon; Gustiamo carries a different but similar lentil from Poggio Aquilone, also in Umbria.) Easier to find on these shores, the French green lentils will also work admirably. While some recipes call for pre-soaking the lentils, these days I find most lentils don’t really need it.

As in many Italian recipes, the measurements vary widely, can in particular as regards the amount of tomato vs lentil. Most recipes hover around the 2:1 ratio by weight given here, but you’ll find some with less, down to 1:1, for a version that’s practically in bianco. But then, you risk losing the whole conceit that you’re preparing a ragù. I like a middle ground, with enough tomato to add color and some flavor, but letting the lentil “star” as the main ingredient, just as when I’m making a meat based ragù.

Besides bay leaf, other herbs can be added to perfume your ragù di lenticchie. Rosemary is particularly popular, as it pairs well with lentils and other legumes. Personally, however, I find its flavor a bit too assertive for this dish. A sprig of fresh thyme is a popular option as well.

Choosing Your Pasta

As for types of pasta to dress with your ragù di lenticchie, I’d go for the same shapes that you might consider for a ragù made with meat: ribbon shaped pastas like tagliatelle, as pictured. here, fettuccine or pappardelle, or else a short pasta like rigatoni, are all classic choices. But I’ve seen recipes for ragù di lenticchie with all sorts of pasta shapes: calamarata, ditali, conchiglie, fusilli, casarecce, farfalle—and even used in Bolognese-style lasagne as you would a meat-based ragù. But as with a classic ragù alla bolognese, it’s best to avoid long thin shapes like spaghetti or linguine. The popularity of “spag bol” across The Pond notwithstanding, it’s an awkward match.

Making Ahead and Using Leftover Lentils

Ragù di lenticchie can be made ahead. In fact, like a lot of legume dishes, it only develops better flavor the next day. Just adds some water to loosen it up (lentils absorb a lot of liquid and just keep absorbing even when they’re fully cooked) and gently reheat them.

And if you have some leftover cooked lentils—say, from New Year’s Eve—you can turn them into a ragù by following the above recipe but holding back the lentils and water, as if you were preparing a sugo finto. When the tomatoes have well reduced, add the lentils and perhaps a glassful of water. Let everything simmer together until the lentils have reheated. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

Ragù di lenticchie

Lentil Ragù
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Primo
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: braised, legume, vegan

Ingredients

  • 250g 1/2 lb lentils
  • 1 small 1 small onion finely minced
  • 1 small 1 small carrot finely minced
  • 1/2 stalk 1/2 stalk celery finely minced
  • A splash of white wine
  • 500g 1 lb  passata di pomodoro or milled canned tomatoes
  • 500ml 2 cups 500 ml (2 cups) water plus more as needed
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • A bay leaf optiona

Instructions

  • In a casserole, preferably made of terracotta or enameled cast iron, gently sauté the onion, carrot and celery in abundant olive oil until the vegetables have softened.
  • Add the lentils and mix. Let it all simmer gently for a few minutes, then add a splash of the wine and let it evaporate.
  • Add the passata and water, along with the bay leaf if using. Simmer gently, uncovered, for a good hour or more, until the lentils are fully tender but not falling apart. Add more water as needed to keep the lentils just barely covered with liquid.
  • Perhaps 15 minutes or so before the lentils are done, season to taste with salt and pepper. Adjust also for liquid. Your lentil ragù should be thick but pourable, just as a meat-based ragù would be.

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40 Comments on “Ragù di lenticchie (Lentil Ragu)”

  1. Ciao signori Fariello!

    I’d planned to prepare your recipe for Spaghetti alla Nerano tonight but I felt that the cheese I’d purchased wasn’t a very good substitute for the provolone di monaco you’ve suggested, and thus I decided that I should just wait until I can obtain the proper ingredients. What’s the point in making something that’s only halfway there, am I right?

    Instead, I made your ragù di lenticche which surprised me because it seems like, well, it actually is, a very healthy recipe, but it turned out to be fantastic over linguine. I followed everything gram to gram and mil to mil with the exception of the onion, carrot, and celery which is a bit of a guess but if you look at everything side by side you can usually determine if it looks right.

    I know it contains carbs, but it’s meat-free and it doesn’t contain that much fat via heart-healthy extra virgin olive oil.

    Thanks, I’ll be making this one again.

    1. So glad you liked it, James! Sometimes healthy and tasty do come together, and I definitely agree this dish is one of those. And do let us know how you like the Nerano when you have a chance to try it out. Happy cooking! Frank

  2. I’ve been making lentil ragu for a few years now…since I first saw a recipe for it and I think the lentils are wonderful used for a pasta sauce. I always manage to pick up a few bags of Casteluccio lentils each time we are in Italy…they really are so good and worth the extra weight in the luggage! Buon natale to you and your family Frank…all the best!

  3. Nice looking dish of pasta to start out the New Year, thank you Frank. My Italian husband enjoys pasta e lenticchie but enjoys it even more when I add a little pancetta. Not meatless and certainly not as healthy but it does add lots of flavor. 😊

  4. Thank you for this recipe. I have a love/hate relationship with lentils, having grown up with my mom (mis)using a pressure-cooker to make lentil soup based on her Sicilian family’s recipe. The lentils were always mushy and I hated it as a kid. But I’ve loved lentil salads as an adult. So I was eager to try this recipe. There must have been a run on the Umbrian lentils you mentioned on Amazon because they were all out! Hope you get a little on that. So I tried with some French lentils. And as much as I hate reading reviews where they adjust the recipe, I will say that I added a little butter to the veg sauté and some milk to replace a bit of water so it had more of the bolognese “texture” I knew. So still 90% yours. It was very good and my husband who thinks bolognese I usually make is the best ever (not my recipe), loved it! This will be in the monthly rotation. Aloha!

  5. I have used French lentils du Puys as a meat substitute in lasagna so I know this would be awesome. I find I don’t miss the meat with lentils. Great recipe!

  6. Made and eaten! Delicious. We used Puy style lentils and grated on some Parmesan cheese for the finish. Thanks for a tasty dinner.

  7. I’ve read about pasta e lenticchie for a long time but haven’t gotten around to trying it myself. Your recommendation and recipe make me want to try it soon. I used to be able to buy great lentils from Abruzzo when I traveled there, but alas, will now have to be content with the ones I can buy in the states.

    1. Alas, it will be a while before we can travel again, it seems. But happily you can get excellent imported lentils online. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. I really like this idea, Frank! I’ve never heard about making a ragu out of lentils, but it makes sense. This would be a great way to enjoy healthier meals after the holidays without sacrificing flavor! Happy New Year, my friend!

  9. Happy New Year, Frank. I’m going to make this with my leftover lentils … a brilliant way to use them, thank you! All the best for 2021. Linda

  10. Tried this this evening. Very nice. Used penne pasta. Needs watching to balance the lentil doneness with the sauce’s “pourability”. Love the site and your descriptions. Thanks.

    The recipe has a typo. The amount of pasta is listed as 250 grams. I used 500 grams (1/2 lb).

  11. this is fabulous. During the years my husband was a vegetarian, I’d often add lentils to a red sauce, to make it more “meaty.” Now I do it just because it’s so delicious, especially when you use good tasting lentils, not the basic store kind. Those are horrible. My pasta sauce is always thicker and there’s more of it on the pasta than yours. I guess that’s an American thing !

    1. Thanks, Mimi! Lentils are fabulous! And yes, Americans tend to put a *lot* more sauce on their pasta than Italians do. Subject of much joking by Italians, in fact…

  12. I will be getting lentils tomorrow when I do the grocery shopping. After a meat-laden holiday celebration, I think this is going to be just what we need. I’m glad to read you like it as much as a traditional ragù. Of course, I will report back.

  13. Lovely and healthy dish to kickstart the year on a healthy note. Great way to add proteins and lentils to pasta and enhance the flavor. Thanks for sharing and wish you a great year ahead!

  14. As I also love lentils and use them often this new to me but interesting dish will soon be tried . . . all the usual classic Italian culprits seem to be lined up. Actually added cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg mentioned below also sound inviting . . . and, writing this Down Under on the third day of the year, may the latter bring health, peace and happiness into your home . . .

  15. What a great dish! I love lentils, and use them all the time. Haven’t made a ragu with them, though — but I will. Really like the idea of this dish. I’m not vegan (or vegetarian) either, but eat meatless often — just because the dishes can be so good. As this one is. Thanks!

  16. What a concept! I would never have thought of doing this, but really, why not? I love lentils and I’m sure I’d love them done this way as well! Happy new year, Frank!

  17. This sounds delicious – I’ll probably try Angelina’s pasta e lenticchie first, perhaps with the Lentejas de Pariina (small Spanish lentils) that I have in the cupboard. Happy New Year!

  18. lovely food. I make this but I use it as a minestra or a secondo generally (with polenta for instance). I like it also with red wine, of which I use more than a splash and I occasionally (it is never the same) I add the spices I would use in meat dishes: black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg — in small quantity. .. and .. some lard too 🙂 (defying perhaps the scope of this recipe). Buon anno a tutti, btw

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