This pasta with lentil bolognese is made with just a few ingredients that you most likely have hiding in your pantry. It’s perfectly hearty for the next cold day.
To me, a perfect sign of a winner pasta dish is when my 17 year old son goes for seconds and doesn’t even run to the fridge looking for cheese to add to his dinner plate. And if I get a “Mama, this is really good!”, it’s a slam dunk.
Everyone loves pasta, and we’ve all heard of bolognese sauce, right? But, you might be wondering, what is lentil bolognese, anyway? Does it have any meat? Nope!! Despite the name, lentil bolognese is vegan. Here the lentils act as a replacement for ground beef. The shape and texture of the lentils comes pretty close to a real bolognese sauce. And as a bonus, you get a whole lot more vitamins, minerals and fiber! And a hefty amount of plant based protein!
Our lentil bolognese is made with small green lentils (sometimes also called small French lentils) because they stay firmer once cooked, so the texture is a bit better. But if you don’t have them on hand or can’t find them at your grocery store, any other variety of lentil will work just fine.
- ¾ cup dry small green lentils, picked and rinsed ( see note)
- 1½ tsp salt
- 1 pound rigatoni (you can also use any other variety of pasta)
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
- 1-28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
- ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
- 1-5 ounce pack baby spinach, rinsed
- Place the lentils in a medium size sauce pan with at least 5 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to medium and continue cooking in a low boil for 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender, but not mushy.
- While the lentils are cooking, bring a big pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta following the package instructions, reserving about a cup of the cooking water before draining it (remember to generously salt the pasta water)
- In the meantime, heat the olive oil in a large, deep non-stick skillet with a lid. Add the tomato paste and the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt and cook over medium-high heat for 3-5 minutes or until the tomato paste starts to caramelize (it will start to turn a darker red)
- Add the onions and the garlic, mix well and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the onion are soft, stirring often
- Add the crushed tomatoes and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 to 25 minutes
- Once the lentils and the pasta are cooked, drain them and add them to the tomato sauce. Add as much of the reserved pasta water as you want (depending on the consistency of the sauce you prefer) and the spinach and toss well. Continue cooking for 3-5 minutes, until the spinach has wilted