Basic Spaghetti Sauce

This is my basic spaghetti sauce: heavy on the veggie (particularly the mushrooms), with an occasional lentil poking through for good measure.  It’s easy to make, tasty, feeds a crowd and freezes well.  While you can serve it over pasta or layer it into lasagna, it’s particularly nice over a bed of soft polenta.  If you’ve never tried it that way, give it a go and see what you think, it’s a nice switch from the usual pasta routine.

Yield: 10-12 cups depending on how much you reduce

What you need:

  • 1/2 cup brown or Dupuy lentils (or go half-and-half), soaked in water to cover for 5-12 hours and then drained (set them to soak in the morning if you make the sauce in the mid-afternoon)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups diced onion, a mix of red and white is nice
  • 2 cups diced celery
  • 1 cup diced green bell pepper, about 1 medium to large-sized pepper
  • 1 lb mushrooms, thickly sliced (cremini or white button)
  • 6 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1 tablespoon spaghetti spice (whichever tickles your fancy, I’m partial to Philippe and Ethné de Vienne’s spaghetti spice which features a combination of black pepper, oregano, mace, thyme, sage and bay)
  • 6 cups peeled, chopped tomatoes (fresh garden are the best here)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1-1/2 cups unsalted vegetable broth or water
  • 1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
  • to serve: pasta or polenta

What you do:

  1. In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium flame.  When the oil is hot add the onion, celery and bell pepper.  Cook, stirring often, until the onions are translucent and the celery and pepper beginning to soften.
  2. Add the mushrooms and garlic.  Cook and stir until the mushrooms begin to release their moisture.  Add the spaghetti spice and stir to coat all the vegetables evenly.  The bottom of the pot may begin to dry out, that’s fine.
  3. Deglaze with the chopped tomatoes, scraping the bottom of the pot well.  Add the bay leaves, lentils and unsalted broth.  Bring to a boil and then lower the heat, cover leaving the lid ajar somewhat, and simmer until the lentils are melting, the vegetables soft and the flavours nicely married.  A minimum time is about 40 minutes, but if possible, simmer and reduce for 1-1/2 to 2 hours over low flame to really coax the thick and yummy out of all the ingredients.
  4. Add the salt, start with 2 teaspoons and add the last teaspoon if desired (if you used salted canned tomatoes or salted broth, you’ll require significantly less).
  5. Serve over the starchy medium of your choice: polenta, whole grains, quinoa, pasta – even potatoes!

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