Freelance writer from the northeast coast of England with a fondness for vegan food and punk rock.
Tasty, Filling, Healthy, and Quick
We should all have at least a few meals in our repertoires that we can prepare without the aid of a recipe. For me, Italian lentils and spaghetti is one such dish—it’s tasty, filling, healthy and it can be put together in 30 minutes.
I first came across this recipe in the early 1990s, when I was trying to collate sufficient material to produce a vegetarian recipe book. Nothing fancy, you understand, just a photocopied affair with text bashed out on a typewriter and hand-drawn illustrations. The project never got off the ground, partly because some dissenting voices maintained the book (more a booklet) should be fully vegan, but mainly because of my own procrastination.
While the project was open for submissions though, I received a recipe for Italian lentils and spaghetti from a contact in London. A fellow punk rocker, she sent me several recipes, all beautifully hand-written, and with headings done in felt tip pen.
A Flat-Sharing Favourite
I was flat-sharing at the time with two friends. While we sang from the same hymn sheet as to our love of punk rock, our dietary preferences were a bit of a dolly mixture; a vegan, a vegetarian and an omnivore. Even so, we adhered to the mantra of many who were flat-sharing on a budget, the less we spend on food, the more we have for beer.
Our food cupboard was always well stocked with dried beans of all kinds, but red lentils were our favourite, these being versatile and not requiring a pre-soak. Italian lentils and spaghetti regularly graced our dinner table, and the aroma of onion, garlic and thyme would compete with a patchouli incense stick to be the dominant fragrance in our home.
Aside from the economy of this dish, it was popular because it was something we could really get stuck into. We would knock up a batch in big saucepan, which we'd portion out into huge helpings, and demolish with gusto, and then we’d tuck into seconds. This is not a fattening dish, and it’s packed with fibre, so we gobbled with glee.
A Little Tweak
All these years later, I’d say I still have this dish two or three times a month. I usually have the wherewithal to hand, so if I’m ever undecided about what to cook for supper, I’ll often turn to Italian lentils and spaghetti for its simplicity. Because for very little effort, you get a lot of great flavours.
Read More From Delishably
We did a little tweak to the recipe through necessity one night, and I actually prefer the dish that way. Here’s what happened.
We had arrived home from the pub, and while my friends poured homebrew in the living room, I put together a pan of Italian lentils for our supper. Of course, I was called into the living room to partake in quaffing, and this darting back and forth sidetracked me to the extent I forgot to add carrots to the dish. Ever resourceful, even after a few beers, I put the carrot chunks in with the spaghetti. When everything was mixed together at the end, the carrot had retained just the right amount of resistance to the chew. So if you like your carrot on the al dente side, then it might pay you to cut slightly bigger chunks and put them in to cook with the pasta. If you prefer your carrot to have a softer bite, almost a puree, then follow the recipe.
Health Benefits of Lentils
One hundred grams of cooked lentils provides almost nine grams of protein, but contains less than one gram of fat. There’s also fibre, iron, selenium and folate packed into that powerhouse of a pulse. According to a BBC article (see link below), five health benefits of eating lentils are:
- Reduces risk of certain chronic disease
- Supports the digestive system
- Promotes a healthy heart
- Helps to manage blood sugar levels
- Provides a good source of plant protein
Italian Lentils and Spaghetti Recipe
Yield: 2 servings
- 1 tablespoon oil (or 1 cm water if you want oil-free)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced (or more if you’re a fiend for it)
- 1 carrot, diced
- Good pinch dried thyme
- 1 cup red lentils
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon yeast extract (or veg stock cube if you prefer)
- Salt and pepper
- 1 cup passata
- Heat the oil (or water) in a saucepan and saute the onion. When this has softened, add the carrot*, garlic and thyme and stir everything about.
- Add the water and lentils and bring to a boil. Add the yeast extract or stock cube, turn down the heat and simmer, adding more water if needed.
- Bring a pan of water to the boil for your pasta.
- When the lentils are cooked, or almost, add the passata and stir. Taste and season with salt and pepper (I like a lot of black pepper in this dish).
- Drain the pasta and carrots, and return it all to the dry pan.
- Pour over the sauce and stir over medium heat until everything is incorporated and piping hot. Serve with garlic bread if desired.
* If you like your carrot to retain a little bite, omit it from the lentil mix and add the chunks to the pasta water with the spaghetti. After eight minutes or so, it should be deliciously al dente.
I recommend listening to The Tights' Bad Hearts single from 1978. This was the first release on the Cherry Red Records label. More tuneful than many of their peers, The Tights serve as a fine reminder of that raucous era.
- Top 5 health benefits of lentils | BBC Good Food
High in fibre and a great source of plant-based protein, are lentils good for you? Nutritionist Kerry Torrens explores the health benefits of lentils.