Two years ago, my favourite little Italian restaurant closed. Joe and his wife ran “Cafe Mingo”, located in Sydney Road, Brunswick. Their pasta dishes were so satisfying and cheap. Each night they would chalk up a new pasta dish or two. I remember having this vegetarian pasta one evening and I have played with it ever since. If you asked Joe where his recipes came from, he would just shrug and say “from the back of a Barilla packet!!” At the end of a meal, Joe would surreptitiously slide a bottle of home-made grappa across the table, along with a plate of wafer biscuits. It was like visiting their family home. How dare they retire!
This following is my vegetarian version of a Bolognese sauce, in the style of Cafe Mingo. The Bolognese would be horrified! What, no meat?The soffritto Three tablespoons extra virgin olive oil one onion, finely chopped one celery stick finely chopped 1 carrot finely chopped 2 cloves garlic finely chopped salt. The sauce 100 grams of Puy lentils 100 g of portobello or swiss brown mushrooms 10 grs of dried porcini mushrooms 2 Tablespoons tomato paste one large tomato, seeded and finely chopped oregano salt and pepper The pasta 100 g per person Casareccia or any other pasta that holds the sauce grated parmesan, reggiano or grana padano, to serve
- Cook the lentils in a heavy based saucepan with plenty of water and a bay leaf. Do not add salt as this toughens lentils. Cook for around 20 minutes, so that the lentils still hold their shape and aren’t mushy. Drain.
- Soak the porcini mushrooms in boiling water, around 3/4 cup, to soften for 20 minutes. Remove the re-hydrated mushrooms, chop roughly and reserve liquid.
- In a large heavy based saucepan or deep sided frying pan, heat the olive oil, then add the soffritto ingredients, adding the garlic last. Stir well and cook over medium heat for five minutes until softened. Adding a pinch of salt helps the onions sweat. Do not let the onion colour.
- Then add the finely chopped portobello mushrooms, cook for 5 minutes, lowering the heat, then add the chopped porcini mushrooms and stir for a further 3 minutes.
- Add the drained lentils, stir, then the mushroom soaking liquid, leaving behind any sand or grit, and continue to cook on low.
- Bring a large pot of pasta to the boil, add salt, then add casareccia or other pasta and cook as directed on the packet.
- As the pasta is cooking, add two tablespoons of tomato paste, and a finely chopped tomato (optional) to the lentil mixture.
- Season well, add herbs, such as dried oregano, and check that the sauce is ‘wet’ enough.
- When the pasta is ready, scoop out a cup of cooking water before draining. ( I always retain a cup of the cooking water in case the sauce needs it- a good habit to get into.) Add a little to the sauce to loosen the sauce.
- Serve the Bolognese through the pasta, with grated parmigiana.