In Italy, lentils are served on new year’s eve to symbolise prosperity, thanks to their round, coin-like shape. Pasta e Lenticchie, or lentil pasta (not to be confused with pasta made of lentil flour!) is a delicious, hearty, option that’s also very cost-effective, as lentils are a rich source of plant-based protein. I’ve used rotelle pasta, which are the wheel shaped ones, to really ham up (ha!) the ‘wheel of fortune’ factor, but you’re welcome to use whatever short dry pasta you have in the pantry - from penne to fussili, and everything in between. Caramelising onions is easier than you think, and always works best if you sweat the onions first, which is much easier with a tight-fitting lid. The savoury umami-factor of the caramelised balsamic onions, combined with the nutrient dense lentils, will mean you won’t miss the meat one bit - but if you wanted to add a little pancetta because it’s already in the fridge, go right ahead.PRINT
- 80 g butter
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 red onions finely diced
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 8 bay leaves
- 1 cup dried green lentils rinsed well under cold water
- 500 g short dry pasta
- 2 gloves crushed garlic
- 50 g parmesan finely grated
- ¼ cup parsley finely chopped
- salt and pepper
- Bring your largest pot of water (no salt!), ¾ full, to the boil over high heat.
- Pop a large deep saucepan on a medium heat add in the oil and half the butter to melt. Scatter in the onions, then sprinkle brown sugar and splash balsamic vinegar over the top, stirring to coat and combine. Pop the lid on and cook on a medium heat for 10 minutes.
- Once done, take the lid off and cook for another 15 minutes on a low heat. Don’t continuously stir, you want the onions to get sticky and caramelized on the bottom.
- Once your water has come to the boil, pop your lentils and bay leaves in and place the timer on for 15 minutes. Keep the heat medium-high as they need to stay at a rapid boil. Keeping your par-cooked lentils in the pot, add your pasta and 2 heaped tablespoons of salt flakes, then cook per the packet instruction time. With 5 minutes to go, scoop out 3 cups (750ml) of the pasta water (it sounds like a lot, but this will make your pasta sauce, and don’t worry if you collect a few lentils as well).
- Once your onions have caramelised, add the garlic and the last of the butter to the pan, stirring about until fragrant. Pour in 2 cups of reserved pasta water and the grated Parmesan (reserving a little of the cheese for topping later) and cook for a couple of minutes to create a creamy sauce.
- When the pasta is al-dente and the lentils are tender, drain the pot through a fine-meshed sieve in the sink (the colander will lose too many lentils!) then transferinto the caramelised onion sauce, stirring gentle to coat. Check for seasoning, adding salt flakes and freshly cracked pepper to your preference. If you’d like it more saucy, add in the last cup of pasta water.
- Top each bowl with plenty of parsley and a cloud of parmesan, finishing with a final splash of olive oil and cracked pepper.