For the sauce
1 medium head cauliflower (1 3/4 pounds) quartered, cored, and thickly sliced
1 pound crimini or white mushrooms
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup white wine
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
2 cups vegetable stock or water
1/3 cup small red lentils
For the pasta
1 pound spaghetti, linguine, pappardelle, or fettuccine
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, for garnish
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan, for garnish, optional
1 Preheat the oven: Preheat oven to 425ļF. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
2 Chop and prep the cauliflower: In a food processor, pulse the machine to chop the cauliflower into small pieces. You are not making cauliflower rice, so stop pulsing when the cauliflower is finely chopped with a few small chunks. Mound in the center of one of the baking sheets.
Sprinkle the cauliflower with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper. Toss to coat and spread it on the baking sheet in a single layer.
3 Chop and prep the mushrooms: Without washing the food processor, add the mushrooms to the bowl and pulse the machine until the mushrooms are finely chopped. Mound in the center of the other baking sheet.
Sprinkle the mushrooms with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper. Toss to coat it in the oil and spread it on the baking sheet in one layer.
4 Roast the vegetables: Place the two baking sheets in the oven and roast for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the cauliflower is golden at the edges and the mushrooms have released much of their moisture and are dark (donít be alarmed, the mushrooms will shrink considerably, which is okay.)
5 Meanwhile, cook the onions and garlic: In a large deep skillet over medium heat add 2 tablespoons of oil. Once the oil shimmers, add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. If the onions start to stick to the bottom of the pan, add water, 1 tablespoon at time, to release them. Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute.
6 Pan roast the tomato paste and add the wine: Push the onions and garlic to one side of the skillet and move the skillet so the onions are off the heat. In the space you cleared, add the tomato paste and sugar. Cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes, or until the tomato paste turns a dark, rusty red.
Place the skillet over the burner and stir in the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan to release any browned bits. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine evaporates.
7 Simmer the sauce: Add the tomatoes, water or stock, lentils, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper to the pan and bring to a simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. (If you are using French green lentils, cover the pot to reduce evaporation of the liquid.)
Exact cooking time depends upon what type of lentils you used.
8 Finish the sauce: Stir in the mushrooms and cauliflower, and simmer for 5 minutes to allow the flavors to mingle. The sauce may be thick, depending on the type of lentils you used. If so, use the pasta cooking water to thin it to the desired consistency. Keep the sauce on low so it says warm while you boil the noodles.
9 Cook the pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta of your choice according to the package directions. Scoop out 1 cup of the pasta water to reserve it for thinning the sauce if necessary. Drain the pasta in a colander.
If your sauce looks too thick, stir in some of the pasta water just a little at a time until it reaches your desired consistency.
10 Serve: Mound a nest of pasta onto a plate, ladle some sauce over the top, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and parsley, if usingl
Brown the onions until golden.
Toast some tomato paste in the skillet.
Roast the cauliflower and mushrooms in the oven.
These little moves take your sauce from just so-so to so, so delicious. Lentils add protein and thicken the sauce, giving it a similar consistency to meat sauce. Red or yellow lentils will be tender after 15 to 20 minutes of cooking, and I prefer the red variety primarily for speedier preparation.
You could use French green (puy) lentils and black lentils. They hold their shape in cooking but take longer to soften.
Cauliflower: Has a neutral flavor that merges seamlessly into the tomato sauce. When chopped into small pieces, it gives the sauce thickness with texture. You could use crumbled textured vegetable protein, small cubes of firm tofu, or roasted chopped carrots and celery.
Mushrooms: Add an umami flavor and could be substituted by the above ingredients or crumbled seitan. Seitan, made from fermented soybeans or whole grains, has a nutty taste.