FOOD Meat-free ragu fits the bill

Green lentils pro­vide heft while asi­ago cheese rolls are a great mop for saucy pasta

Times Colonist - - Life - ERIC AKIS Sun­day Din­ner Len­til Ragu on Pasta Asi­ago Cheese Rolls

If you want a hearty, al­most meaty-tast­ing sauce for pasta that con­tains no meat, dried green lentils are a good sub­sti­tute. I know, be­cause in­stead of ground beef, in to­day’s recipe I sim­mered green lentils into a ragu-style sauce that was fill­ing, rich and toma­toey.

An added ben­e­fit was that lentils, like meat, are a source of pro­tein. They also pro­vide folic acid, fi­bre, potas­sium and iron.

I made the sauce the same way I would a meat-based one, but in­stead of slowly sim­mer­ing cooked, crum­bled meat in it, I cooked dried lentils in the sauce un­til they were ten­der, cre­at­ing a thick and flavour­ful ragu.

You can serve the len­til ragu over any type of pasta. It could also be spooned over risotto or soft po­lenta, or even a baked, split-open yam or sweet potato.

I can’t re­sist serv­ing some type of bread with saucy pasta — some­thing I can use to mop up any­thing left in the bowl. So I have in­cluded my recipe for ten­der, tasty and com­fort­ing asi­ago cheese rolls. If that’s too much for you, just serve the len­til-ragu-topped pasta with a sim­ple green salad.

Meat-free, veg­etable-rich, toma­toey sauce served over pasta. Any left­over sauce will freeze well. I’ll let you de­cide how much pasta to cook depend­ing on the size of your ap­petite. Prepa­ra­tion time: 30 min­utes Cook­ing time: 55 min­utes Makes: Four to six serv­ings

Place the 2 Tbsp oil in a medium pot and set over medium heat. When oil is hot, add the onion, cel­ery, bell pep­per and car­rot and cook un­til soft­ened, about five min­utes. Mix in the lentils, gar­lic, basil, oregano, pep­per flakes, sugar and fen­nel seeds, if us­ing, and cook and stir two min­utes. Mix in the to­mato paste and cook one minute more

Add the wine, stock (or broth), crushed toma­toes and bay leaf and bring to a gen­tle sim­mer. (Small bub­bles should just break on the sur­face; do not rapidly sim­mer the lentils.) Ad­just the heat as needed to main­tain that gen­tle sim­mer.

Gen­tly sim­mer, par­tially cov­ered, for 40 to 45 min­utes, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally or un­til sauce has thick­ened and the lentils are ten­der. (Don’t com­pletely cover the pot; steam needs to escape as the ragu sim­mers, thick­ens and re­duces.) As you go along, or when the lentils are ten­der, add a bit more stock (or broth) if you find the ragu is too thick. Sea­son the len­til ragu with salt and pep­per.

Spoon the len­til ragu over bowls of hot pasta. Sprin­kle with pars­ley and Parme­san cheese, if us­ing. If de­sired, for added rich­ness, driz­zle a lit­tle ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil on the ragu, then serve.

Eric’s op­tions: If you don’t wish to use wine, simply re­place with more stock (or broth).

Tasty, at­trac­tive-look­ing rolls tastily filled with tangy cheese. Serve them with saucy Ital­ianstyle dishes, soups and stews. Prepa­ra­tion time: 30 min­utes, plus ris­ing time Cook­ing time: 20 min­utes Makes: 10 rolls 2/3 cup luke­warm (not hot) homo or 2 per cent milk (see Note) 1 packet (2 1/4 tsp) tra­di­tional (ac­tive dry) yeast 1 tsp gran­u­lated sugar 1 large egg 4 Tbsp ex­tra vir­gin olive oil (di­vided), plus some for the bowl 1/4 tsp salt 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus some rolling and shap­ing 1 cup grated asi­ago cheese 2 to 3 Tbsp freshly grated Parme­san cheese 1 tsp dried oregano 1/4 tsp gar­lic pow­der • pinch ground cayenne pep­per • coarse sea salt, to taste (op­tional)

Place milk in the bowl of your stand mixer fit­ted with a dough hook (see Eric’s op­tions). Sprin­kle in the yeast and sugar. Let stand five to 10 min­utes, un­til yeast is dis­solved. Mix in the egg and 2 Tbsp olive oil.

Add 1 1/2 cups of flour and 1/4 tsp salt to the bowl and knead on medium speed un­til dough forms that just starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If dough does not pull away, add ad­di­tional flour in 1 Tbsp amounts un­til it does. (The dough should be fairly soft and a lit­tle bit sticky). Knead dough on medium speed five to six min­utes.

Trans­fer dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plas­tic wrap and let rise at warm room tem­per­a­ture un­til dou­bled in size, about 75 to 90 min­utes. While that oc­curs, place the cheeses, oregano, gar­lic pow­der and cayenne pep­per in an­other bowl, toss to com­bine, then re­frig­er­ate un­til needed.

When dough has risen, line a bak­ing sheet with parch­ment paper. Lightly flour a work sur­face and set dough on it. Press dough into a square shape. Now, with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a 12-inch square.

Brush the top of dough lightly with 1 Tbsp of the re­main­ing olive oil. Sprin­kle and evenly spread the grated cheese mix­ture on the dough. Care­fully roll the dough into a tight cylin­der. Now, with a floured, sharp knife, cut that cylin­der, width­wise, into 10 roughly equal-sized rolls.

Set those rolls, cut side up, on the bak­ing sheet, spac­ing them about one inch apart. Cover the rolls with a tea towel and let rise again at warm room tem­per­a­ture 60 to 75 min­utes, un­til about dou­bled in size. It’s OK if the rolls touch as they rise.

When the rolls have risen, pre­heat oven to 375 F. Lightly brush the tops of the rolls with the re­main­ing 1 Tbsp oil. Sprin­kle each roll with a lit­tle coarse sea salt, if us­ing. Bake the rolls in the mid­dle of the oven 20 min­utes, un­til puffed and golden. Serve rolls warm or at room tem­per­a­ture.

Note: You can warm milk in a glass mea­sur­ing cup in the mi­crowave. It should take 20 to 30 sec­onds. The milk could also be warmed in a small pot on the stove­top.

Eric’s op­tions: If you don’t have a stand mixer, you could mix the dough by hand. To do so, place the milk, yeast and sugar in a medium to large bowl. When yeast is dis­solved, mix in the egg and 2 Tbsp oil. With a heavy spoon, grad­u­ally mix in one cup of the flour, and the salt, un­til wet, loose dough forms. Trans­fer the dough to a floured sur­face. Knead and mix in 1/2 to 3/4 cup flour, un­til smooth dough is cre­ated. Knead dough six to eight min­utes. Let dough rise and make rolls with it as de­scribed above. Eric Akis is the au­thor of eight cookbooks. His col­umns ap­pear in the Life sec­tion Wed­nes­day and Sun­day.

In Len­til Ragu on Pasta, green lentils re­place ground beef in a sauce you can spoon over any type of pasta, or even risotto, po­lenta or baked yams. Ten­der, savoury asi­ago cheese rolls are served along­side.

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