This bolognese is a bit cheaty, given that most of its component parts come from tins, but then sometimes that’s exactly what we need. Rich and winey (not to be confused with ‘rich and whiny’), you can throw this together and pretty much ignore it entirely until it’s time for dinner. The longer it cooks for, the deeper and meatier the flavour – ironic for a vegan dinner, I suppose. The stuffing crumbs are my favourite cheat ingredient for when a pinch of herbs, a smattering of onion and a little thickening is required; I keep a jar of the cheapest ones beside the cooker top and they come in handy for a whole variety of dishes. Dried lentils are cheaper to buy (currently £1.15 for 500g of dried lentils which would make 1kg of soaked and cooked ones, compared to 55p for a drained weight of 240g of lentils) and you can swap tinned mushrooms for fresh ones if the thought of tinned mushrooms repulses you, but honestly, get over yourself, it’s all going in the pan anyway and you really won’t notice the difference.
285g mushrooms, 41p (41p/285g tin, Everyday Value at Tesco)
400g tin of green lentils, 55p (55p/tin, Tesco)
6 fat cloves of garlic or a squeeze of garlic paste, 10p (75p/4 bulbs, Tesco)
400g chopped tomatoes, 31p (31p/400g, Everyday Value at Tesco)
75ml red wine (optional, you can use a dash of vinegar instead), 27p (£2.75/750ml Tempranillo, Tesco)
1 vegetable stock cube, 3p (30p/10, Everyday Value at Tesco)
1-2 tbsp stuffing crumbs, 3p (20p/85g, Sainsburys Basics)
a splash of vinegar, 1p (39p/168ml, Tesco)
a generous pinch of salt and pepper
First drain (or slice) your mushrooms and toss them into the pan. Drain and rinse the lentils thoroughly and add those too. Peel the garlic cloves, if using, roughly chop them and toss them in, or a squeeze of paste, or spoonful of the lazy stuff. Pour over the tomatoes and wine, crumble in the stock cube, add the stuffing – yes, really – and turn on to a high heat for a few minutes. Stir gently when it starts to bubble, to stop the ingredients from sticking and burning at the bottom of the pan, then turn down the heat to a low simmer.
Cook for half an hour, checking intermittently and giving it all a stir.
Taste it after half an hour; if it is to your liking, it is ready to serve, with a splash of vinegar and a generous pinch of salt and pepper.
Personally, I cook it for a further 15-20 minutes to really allow the flavours to develop – and sometimes longer still, as I usually get to the end of the cooking process and realise that – blast! – I have forgotten to cook my pasta.
You can enjoy this as a bolognese, or leave it slightly thinner and have it as a rich, delicious soup. If you want something lower in carbs (I like carbs, but am aware that not everyone approaches them with the same unfettered enthusiasm), you can replace half your spaghetti with courgette ribbons or long strands of carrots peeled with a julienne peeler.
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