Pavarotti’s “Nessun Dorma” (none shall sleep) is blasting on repeat in my headphones. But it’s the opposite case here. All the children are finally asleep and while Luise is taking care of the dishes, I’m trying to channel my inner Italian so we can publish this recipe before another year has passed. We wrote our last blog post in Copenhagen and this one is brought to you from a house we are borrowing, on the slope of the Table Mountains in Cape Town, South Africa. If we keep this trend of travelling south for every post, we will be writing the next one on Antarctica.
It feels a little weird writing about these comforting and wintery pasta bowls from here, but I’m trusting that Pavarotti will help me channelling my inner Italian and get me in the right mood. It’s summer in South Africa, we’ve got lemon trees growing in the garden, there is a small pool, a cute kitchen and Elsa and Isac are keeping occupied by throwing grapes at each other. In short, we are very happy and grateful to spend a month here. Apart from the children’s fights, the scene is vastly different from two weeks ago when we shot this recipe. Isac had pneumonia, Elsa and Gabriel were snoring with colds and we were all cozied up (or more like stuck) in our Stockholm apartment – pale, tired and gloomy, surrounded by cold winter. The only thing we craved then were simple and comforting pasta dishes like this. It’s perhaps not one of our most unique recipe ideas but it is January food at its best, so we thought it might be something you’d also be interested in trying.
We often make a kids pasta sauce that contains tomatoes, grated carrot, grated zucchini and red lentils. As it simmers, the lentils dissolve into the tomato sauce and it all becomes quite sweet and smoothly textured. It’s a simple way to sneak extra nutrients in a meal that our kids always are happy to eat.
This is a slightly more adult approach on that dish. The sauce has more texture and chunks and a deeper flavour from herbs and red wine. We use black lentils as they stay intact in the sauce. The lentils work as replacement for the meat in the classic bolognese ragu – they both add protein and have a nice and soft, chewy consistency. We combine chopped and grated carrots to get a mix of textures.
You can of course add more veggies if you prefer. We kept it simple and used what we had at home because of sick kids and cold weather, but also because it is what Italians do. “Pochi ingredienti, tanto tempo” (few ingredients, long cooking time) is an Italian expression that I just invented, but I’m pretty sure Pavarotti would agree. Simple cooking with great ingredients is key in the Italian kitchen. However, if you have some mushrooms or an eggplant/aubergine at home, either of them would work excellent in this recipe as well as they add meaty texture to the dish and make it even more vegetable packed.
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 large carrots, peeled
2 sticks celery, rinsed
4 tbsp green olives, stones removed and slightly bruised
1 tbsp fresh basil (or 1 tsp dried)
1 tbsp fresh oregano, rosemary or marjoram (or 1 tsp dried)
125 ml / ½ cup red wine
100 g / ½ cup uncooked beluga lentils (or puy), rinsed
400 ml / 1 ½ cup vegetable stock (or water)
2 bay leaves
2 x 400 g / 14 oz tins crushed tomatoes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
pasta of choice (we used a lentil flour spaghetti)
vegetarian parmesan style cheese
Heat the oil in a large saucepan on medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté for a few minutes. Meanwhile, chop one of the carrots and the celery into 1 cm / 1/2 inch chunks and add them to the pan along with olives and dried herbs (if using). Let soften for a couple of minutes, add the red wine and let cook until the alcohol evaporates. Add lentils, half of the vegetable stock, bay leaves, tinned tomatoes, fresh herbs (if using) salt and pepper. Grate the remaining carrot and add it as well. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and let simmer for 30 minutes or until the lentils are cooked, stirring from time to time as not to burn the base of the sauce. Add the remaining stock or water, little by little, to loosen the sauce whenever it is looking dry.
Cook your pasta of choice. Serve the sauce stirred through the pasta, topped with a sprinkling of grated cheese, fresh parsley or other herbs and a drizzle of oil.
PS. We will share some photos and tips from Cape Town in our next post, but meanwhile you can see some snapshots on instagram.