Did everyone have a good Thanksgiving? Mine was everything I could’ve hoped for. I spent lots of time with family, tried Zumba for the first time with my mom, did lots of cooking and eating, and did a bit of shopping, too. I loved being home on Thursday and Friday and then I headed back to the city to perform in the final two performances of Madama Butterfly this weekend. It all went very well and, despite all the hard work, I had a really great time making friends, learning, and having the chance to perform somewhere!
As I’ve mentioned before, I stopped eating meat a little over 3 years ago. The decision was made for health and environmental reasons, and because I felt an overall dissatisfaction with meat. I never had a desire to eat steak, burgers, or fried chicken, so subtracting those items and others from my diet seemed natural. I have since incorporated fish back into my eating routine when the desire strikes and for now, I’m content with how it’s all going.
One of the last meat filled meals I ate before giving it up was spaghetti bolognese at a cute little restaurant in Venice. I can’t recall the name of the place, but I’ll never forget sitting down to lunch by myself, watching the energy pulsate throughout the dining room, speaking in Italian to the waiter and trying to remember whether or not I had to tip extra before leaving. The pasta was incredible, and was covered with a thick, meaty sauce that lay on top of the spaghetti strands like a thick, warm blanket. It was an amazingly simple dish that remained in my memory far after the last morsels left the plate.
I gave up meat shortly after this experience, but I’m going to be honest and admit, with guilt, that I’ve cheated and voluntarily eaten it twice since I gave it up. (The horror!) Both instances were induced by a copious amount of red wine, both took place in Italian restaurants, and both times I ate the same thing: pasta with meat ragu. And it was very good, from what I remember.
My subconscious must have been trying to tell me something.
I know it’s impossible to recreate this dish as a vegetarian, but until recently, I hadn’t found a sauce to serve on pasta that I felt could match its heftiness and texture. Some people say that soy crumbles or crumbled tofu could serve the purpose well, but since I don’t generally cook with fake meat, I didn’t feel the need to start. (Unless you’re taking about these babies, which fall into my “guilty pleasures” category.) Then one day, I came across this recipe, and instantly found exactly what I had been looking for. Look at those beautiful pictures! Red lentils! One of my favorites.
The recipe turned out wonderfully the first time, and has become a staple in my kitchen ever since. The sauce is thick, meaty (in the most meatless way possible), fragrant, and very sturdy. The tomatoes and lentils simmer together with stock, garlic, red pepper flakes and thyme and create a harmonious stew of all the flavors and textures I remember from my favorite dishes as a kid. The lentils surrender some of their texture and become soft and velvety, covering the pasta with a hearty cloak of warmth.
You should know, though, that the intention is not to replace meat here. This dish is not going to taste exactly like pasta with meat ragu, nor will it fool a meat eater who likes that dish. What it will do, though, is serve as a healthy, very satisfying reminder of flavors and textures from one of the classics from any Italian’s childhood. And sometimes that’s all you need after a long day.
One Year Ago: Pumpkin Risotto
Pasta with Lentil Sauce
Yield: 6 servings
Total Time: 45 minutes
1 pound dry pasta, any shape
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced finely
2 carrots, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup vegetable stock
¾ cup red lentils
Kosher salt and black pepper
1. In a large, heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven, add olive oil and warm over medium heat. Add the onion and carrots and cook for 5 minutes, until soft.
2. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes and thyme to the pot, stir well, and cook for 2 more minutes, until fragrant.
3. Stir in the tomatoes, stock and lentils, bring the mixture to a simmer, and then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and let the lentils and vegetables cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. After 20 minutes, the lentils should have lost their shape a bit, and be tender when you bite into them. At this point, add more stock or leftover pasta water to the sauce if you feel it’s too thick. If it’s too thin, heat the pot for a few minutes with the cover off so some of the liquid can evaporate. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, to taste, and then serve it over pasta.
If you’d like to add the pasta to the pot with the sauce instead of putting the sauce on top, just cook it until 2 minutes less than the package suggests, and then add it to the pot with the lentils, allowing it to finish cooking in there.
From The Kitchenist