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The Story Behind the Spaghetti with Lentils

As I mentioned on my previous blog, I’m going to share a hearty and healthy spaghetti recipe that “happened to be” in my kitchen about two decades ago. This simple dish starts with a sauce made from three main ingredients: lentils, roasted tomatoes and spinach.

The story: in the mid 90’s I was at the kitchen helm of the famously packed Locanda Veneta in L.A.; I went to get more lentil soup from the walk-in and I discovered it to be very dry and undercooked, it looked like wet gravel! That dinner I called “86 lentil soup” and started simmering my blood towards the cook that blew the soup. Next morning, after “counseling” my cook on how not to repeat the blunder I decided to use the wet gravel for “family food” a.k.a. employee meal. Pasta is a good carb filler for the hungry cooks and starving servers before lunch rush so I threw some spaghetti in boiling water and started warming the screwed-soup as sauce. Then I squatted down looking in the line fridge to see if I could find some “old” ugliness to add to the sauce and noticed some left over oven roasted tomatoes from the previous dinner special and I added it to the lentils; I then tossed the pasta with a dollop of butter and a handful of grated parmesan. I put the grub on the counter under the leery look of the hungry crew. Being “starvatious”, I grabbed a bowl myself and started to eat…WOW!!!!

I knew I stumbled upon good stuff when I saw the crew intensely dedicated in burnishing their already empty plates with pieces of bread! For the dish to be served to civilians (a.k.a. customers) something was missing, mostly color wise, so I added spinach and I found that it enhanced the flavor texture of the dish.

This “mistake” took a life of its own by being published in food magazines, stolen by the competition, broadcasted on national TV, replicated, taught in my cooking classes and finally, shared with you.

The Recipe

1.5 lb. Spaghetti (Uncooked)

Pinch of Dried Oregano

10 oz. Green Lentils

2 Garlic Cloves

1 lb. Fresh spinach

1 Small Carrot

6 Ripe Roma Tomatoes

1 Celery Stalk

1 Small Bunch of Italian Parsley

1 Medium Red Onion

1/3 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil


Rinse the lentils under cold water. Clean and steam the spinach, drain it and squeeze out the remaining excess water. Chop the carrot, onion and celery very finely and put them into a pan with 1/3 of a cup of olive oil.

Braise the veggies until it reaches a golden color, then add the lentils and water or stock 2-3 inches above the level of the lentils. Cook them until they are “al dente”.

Cut the tomatoes in half. Put them in a baking pan cut side up. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, chopped parsley, chopped garlic, oregano and some olive oil. Roast them in the oven at 450 degrees for 20-30 minutes.

When the above elements are completed, put 1 tsp. of olive oil in a pan and heat it up. Add the steamed spinach and the tomatoes. Sautee over a high heat for one minute. Add the lentils and let everything cook together for few minutes.

Boil the pasta in salted water until “al dente.” Strain the pasta, pour it into the sauce pan and cook it together with the lentils for one minute. If you like you can add a little bit of butter and some grated Parmesan while it’s cooking. Serves about six.

Next time I’ll explain you what is “soffritto” and how to master it.



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