Pasta e lenticchie, or pasta and lentils, is a comforting and inexpensive dish requiring minimal ingredients. The ultimate pantry pasta, it is comprised of various mismatched, bottom-of-the-box pasta shapes, such as ditalini and broken linguine, lentils, onions, garlic, and a touch of tomato paste. Satisfying and soul-warming, pasta e lenticchie is perfect for nights where you just want something simple, and cheap.
Pasta e lenticchie is a throwback to a simpler time before food delivery services and avocado toast reigned supreme.
If the phrase "waste not, want not" were translated into a meal, it would be this one.
My grandmother and mother would make this often, especially when they wanted to use up the remaining bits of mismatched or broken pasta.
To this day I can still go into my mother's pantry and find containers of broken spaghetti, linguine, and other shapes.
I know they will all eventually make their way into a bowl of pasta with lentils, Italian wedding soup, or zucchini and broken spaghetti soup.
And speaking of "waste not", this is also the perfect opportunity to squeeze some flavor from your rinds of Parmigiano Reggiano.
Pasta e lenticchie does not equal lentil soup
As you peruse the world wide web, you may come across recipes for pasta e lenticchie that resemble lentil soup.
As much as I adore Italian lentil soup, this is not the same dish. This is in fact a pasta-forward meal that can be eaten with a fork, rather than slurped with a spoon.
That being said, if you want a soupier consistency, simply add more reserved pasta water at the end.
What type of lentils for pasta with lentils?
I usually have bags of different varieties of lentils in my pantry at all times, especially in the cooler months.
Green lentils and brown to a lesser extent hold their shape better than red or yellow lentils. Red and yellow are typically used in Indian dishes. They don't hold their shape too well, but there is no reason why you couldn't use them here.
I do prefer to use brown or green for pasta e lenticchie.
Those are the color the women in my family have used for this recipe and I'm not about to argue with them!
Brown lentils (earthy flavor) will cook in about 30 minutes, while green (peppery flavor) will take a bit longer.
The goal is to cook the lentils until almost tender. Just taste test while they're simmering to get a perfect consistency.
How to make it
Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below.
- Begin by dicing 2 medium onions and mincing 2 cloves of garlic.
- In a large pot cover the lentils and parmesan (optional - use only if you have one) rind with water. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and bring to a simmer. Cook the lentils until tender (about 30-40 minutes, depending on variety). Drain the lentils, remove parmesan rind, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, cook pasta until very al dente in salted water (2 tablespoons kosher salt per gallon of water), making sure to reserve pasta water. Also, coat a large pot or high pan with a ¼ cup of olive oil and cook the onions over medium-low heat until translucent (about 5 minutes), then add the garlic.
- Cook the garlic and onions together for 2 more minutes then add in the tomato paste and stir well.
- The tomato paste will break down and flavor the onions as shown in picture 5 below.
- Taste test the lentils and adjust salt and pepper if required.
- Add the lentils to the onions and mix well. Add in a couple of ladles of pasta water and turn heat to medium. Cook for 2 minutes.
- Finally, add in the al dente pasta, mix well, and cook for 1 more minute. Adjust salt and pepper to taste then turn off and remove from heat. Serve in bowls, topped with grated parmesan and a healthy drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil. Enjoy!
More pantry pastas
As a busy dad, I love being able to find ways to feed my family with items I've already got in the pantry. It helps save time and money.
Some of my go-to weeknight pantry pasta recipes include:
- Pasta e patate - Cubed potatoes with pancetta, garlic, and mixed pasta.
- Pasta con broccoli - Garlic and broccoli are sauteed and tossed with orecchiette pasta.
- Linguine aglio e olio - Just the basics - garlic, olive oil, pasta, red pepper flakes, and parsley.
- Pasta e piselli - Similar to pasta e lenticchie, but with peas instead of lentils.
- Pasta al tonno - Can or jar of yellowfin tuna with pasta, garlic, olive oil, and parsley.
- Easy marinara sauce - Add this sauce to your favorite al dente pasta and you're good to go!
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- 8 ounces lentils
- 8 ounces mixed small pasta broken spaghetti, ditalini, small shells, etc
- 1 small Parmigiano Reggiano rind optional
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 medium onions diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- reserved pasta water to thin if required
- In a large pot cover lentils and parmesan rind with water. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and bring to a simmer. Cook lentils until tender - about 35 minutes. Drain lentils and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, cook pasta until very al dente in salted water (2 tablespoons kosher salt per gallon of water). Reserve pasta water.
- While pasta is cooking, coat a large pot or high pan with olive oil and cook the onions over medium-low heat until translucent (about 5 minutes). Once the onions are soft add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes more until lightly golden.
- Add the tomato paste to the pan and cook for a few minutes stirring well to coat the onions and garlic.
- Add the lentils to the garlic and onions. Add in a couple of ladles of pasta water and turn heat to medium. Cook for a minute or two then add in the pasta. Let it cook for a minute, stirring well, then taste test. Adjust salt and pepper if required. If too dry add a bit more reserved pasta water.
- Turn off heat and remove pan from burner. Serve with grated parmesan cheese and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Enjoy!
- Sodium level reflects the use of 2 teaspoons of kosher salt.
- Any variety of lentils can be used, but brown or green work best. Cooking time will vary by lentil variety. Cook lentils until tender but not mushy.
- Save your parmesan rinds. They are great for dishes like this.
- Pasta e lenticchie is normally served quite dry, unlike lentil soup. If you do want it more on the wet side just add reserved pasta water to desired consistency.
- Broken pasta is very traditional in dishes like this. This is a great dish to mix and match.
- Leftovers can be saved for up to 3 days and can be reheated in the microwave or on a low temp stovetop.