Red Lentil Polpette in Rich Tomato Sauce

Red Lentil Polpette in Rich Tomato Sauce

An Italian-American inspired dish, my red lentil polpette in rich tomato sauce serves little balls of arrabbiata spiced lentils in a classic tomato sauce alongside crisp cubes of roast potato. Polpette is Italian for meatballs so it seams the best fit for how to describe these vegetarian alternatives. Rich in protein, lentils are a staple of a vegetarian diet and they can be used in a variety of ways. Split red lentils are often used for dhals and soups as they soften easily creating a thick, creamy texture. I’ve found this also means they retain moisture so they work really well when pulled together into these little polpette. Chilli, garlic, balsamic and oregano give them a delicious flavour and rich tomato sauce is the ultimate marriage.

Of course, traditionally meatballs are served with spaghetti, and there’s no reason why you couldn’t do so here. Spaghetti and meatballs reminds me of visiting Florida when I was young, but I also fondly remember the massive fried breakfasts. My favourite bit of those buffet hotel breakfasts was the potatoes, cut into cubes and fried until crisp. These two food memories happen to go very well together. In this recipe, I’ve roasted the potatoes because the oven is already on for the polpette.

To make these red lentil polpette vegan, omit the Parmesan-style cheese and used whisked up aquafaba (the liquid from cooked/tinned chickpeas) instead of egg to bind the polpette.

Red Lentil Polpette in Rich Tomato Sauce

Red Lentil Polpette in Rich Tomato Sauce

Serves 2–3


Red Lentil Polpette

100g dried split red lentils

1 onion

1 red chilli, chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1tbsp balsamic vinegar

2tsp dried oregano

1tsp dried thyme

20g vegetarian Parmesan-style cheese

40g breadcrumbs

1 free-range egg

Crispy Potatoes

2 potatoes

olive oil

Rich Tomato Sauce

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1tsp fairtrade sugar


1 Rinse the lentils in a few changes of water then just cover with water in a medium saucepan. Bring to the boil then simmer for 8–10 minutes until the lentils are tender. Drain and leave to cool.

2 Meanwhile, peel and thinly slice half of the onion. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan then cook the onion on a medium heat for 8 minutes until soft and starting to brown. Add the chilli and garlic, cook for 1 minute then stir in the balsamic and take it off the heat to cool slightly.

3  Stir the herbs, cheese and breadcrumbs into the lentils in a medium bowl then add the onion mixture. Beat an egg with a splash of water then stir it into the lentil mixture to bring it together.

4 Roll small balls of the mixture (damp hands will help stop the mixture from sticking) and place them on a baking tray. Chill the polpette for 30 minutes.

5 Heat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas 7 with a tray for the potatoes inside.

6 Cut the potatoes into 1.5cm cubes and submerge them in a bowl of water to remove the excess starch. Drain and leave to dry. Once the oven has reached temperature, transfer the potatoes to the oven tray, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes.

7 Meanwhile, dice the remaining half of the onion. Heat a little olive oil in a medium saucepan then add the onion. Cook for 5 minutes until softened then add garlic and cook for another minute. Add the tin of tomatoes and sugar, then swill the can with a little water and add this too. Simmer gently until everything else is cooked.

8 After the potatoes have had 10 minutes, add the tray of polpette to the oven and bake for 20–25 minutes until crisp.

Top Tip

The polpette can be frozen at step 4, so you could make a double batch and freeze them for another meal. Freeze them on a tray for a few hours first then move them into a freezer bag to stop them from sticking together.

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