Cleaning Up The Classics Part II: Spaghetti Bolognese & Fruit Jelly

Carrying on where we left off with Part I all those moons ago, today I thought I’d take on a savoury staple and the ultimate children’s party classic!

In its essence there is nothing unhealthful about a bolognese sauce but it’s the execution that makes the difference, I have decided to share both my go-to meat based sauce and an alternative lentil variation. Both provide the rich, deep flavours that you would associate with a traditional bolognese but by using a few simple tweaks and tricks the nutritional benefit is greatly magnified. I would also advocate choosing a whole grain accompaniment, whether it be whole wheat spaghetti or a naturally gluten free variation such as buckwheat or brown rice pasta. This is probably the most beneficial swap you can make as you will not only be removing the empty calories of the refined carbohydrates (which also send your blood sugar on a rollercoaster ride) but also adding in all the wonderful health benefits of a whole grain.

These include B vitamins, minerals and amazing amounts of dietary fibre to name but a few. Or for those who wish to experiment even further how about eschewing the packet altogether and trying a vegetable noodle? Whenever you’re adding more veggies and colours to your meals you’re packing in all those wonderful nutrients, including disease preventing antioxidants and all your vitamins and minerals which are integral to keeping your body functioning at its optimum.

Ok so firstly lets kick off with the lentil version.

The concept entered into my consciousness some time ago whilst wandering about the Internet (as one does) but its first incarnation was actually via my dear mother in her endless attempts to pander to my evolving dietary requirements (she is probably the closest you’ll get to encountering a true saint on Earth!) Over time the original has evolved slightly but the basic palette remains the same. The combination of the different types of lentils give that wonderfully satisfying texture you want from a good sauce; the lentils verdes providing texture whereas the red lentils break down adding thickness and making it coat the pasta or noodles (no-one wants a sauce that slides off mid fork twirl do they!?)

Assessing the health side of things (of course) exchanging a portion of animal protein for a plant based one is hugely beneficial as we vastly increase the amount of fibre we are taking in. This is vital for good digestive health which is the basis of optimal whole body health because it determines what we absorb from our food whilst also ensuring we’re eliminating toxins and other waste efficiently. We also move towards a more anti-inflammatory state as red meat especially is higher in omega 6 which can outcompete your omega 3, this then pushes you over to the more pro-inflammatory side of life (not ideal). I did mention in my previous post The Darkside of Dairythat by choosing organic, grass fed meat products this effect is lessened but decreasing overall intake will obviously have a greater effect.

Other brilliant aspects of the pulse world include high levels of phytosterols. Many  of you may have heard of these in relation to heart health and this is due to their ability to ‘swap’ with cholesterol molecules within the intestine, this acts to decrease absorption from dietary sources providing a natural cholesterol lowering effect. And finally there is just the fact that you might be adding in a food group that you may not tend to have particularly often and as variety is the spice of life that’s always a good thing in my book 🙂

So onto my meat based sauce. I’m sure many of you will have very similar recipes for this comforting dish, my version is simply looking to highlight where you can optimise what you’re getting from this meal not just in flavour but in nutrition terms too.

I cannot stress enough the benefit of opting for grass fed organic meat (apologies if there is an air of a broken record). The compared nutrient profiles are almost unrecognisable from each other; higher levels of all your vital minerals as well as the omega 3 benefits discussed above, plus on a purely foodie level the taste is far superior as the animals have had a higher standard of living, have roamed further and been allowed to freely graze on fresh pasture. Even more importantly to my mind is the fact that you are also avoiding taking in any artificial nastiness. Organic products are tightly controlled and so must be free from all chemicals, medications, artificial hormones, as must their food source. I have previously discussed the damaging effects stress levels have on the body and how important it is to balance hormone levels so if we’re working so hard to do this for ourselves why would we then want to ingest all those things from the food we’re eating? I understand that some may find the increased cost of organic products difficult to include in their budget which is where I would say choose quality over quantity, opt for more of your veggie protein sources and when you have animal products spend that little bit extra (this is exactly what I do). Also with a long term view, the more of us that opt for organic produce the more producers will have to respond, and due to the wonders of economics increased demand should increase supply thus resulting in a reduced price. If you would like more information on this topic head to the Soil Association website.

Right so moving on from that slightly righteous moment I will now wrap up with my favourite new creation and that is sugar free jelly.

I have a bit of a problem with the sugar free label I must admit and it is similar to that of the gluten/dairy free labels. Being an overexcitable sort I see these tag lines and think ‘Great! New ideas’ etc etc but by the time I’ve read through the ingredients my original interest has turned sour as the original sugar/gluten/dairy content has usually been replaced with some artificial alternative and that’s not my bag. So when I say ‘anything free’ I like to prefix with ‘naturally’ as my ethos is to harness the flavours and goodness of whole ingredients rather than turning my kitchen into a lab setting with weird powders and potions (unless we’re talking algae and herbal tinctures of course!).

So there are a few great things about this jelly, obviously there is the fact that it’s wibbly, wobbly and sweet just like the bright pink sugar/chemical ridden block of everyones youth, but alongside that there is the additional brilliance of using a high quality, grass fed gelatine which is just brilliant for all your joints and elastic tissues. Like with a slow cooked bone broth you are providing your body with all those building blocks it needs to grow and maintain these tissues and if you’re also scrapping the mainstream sugary offering at the same time then my goodness you’re doing pretty well aren’t you! Thinking laterally, if you can get kids onto this version you’ll be doing their growing bodies no end of good. Not only by supporting their skeletons, muscles etc but also removing a massive source of nutrient sapping nastiness from their diet, I promise hand on heart they will not ask you for the old stuff! Plus they can get involved and use any fruit they want, I would even go so far as to suggest making an fruit based juice but sneaking in the odd carrot or other veggie for those extra vitamins and minerals. For adults the combinations are literally endless, I’m already planning a refreshing summer treat made with pear, spinach, cucumber and mint.

And with that delightful thought I will wish you happy experimenting, I hope these 3 dishes bring you, and those you share them with, as much edible enjoyment as I get from them.

15-Minute 5 Vegetable Bolognese

Butternut Squash & Spinach Lentil Lasagne

Sugar Free Fruit Jelly