Spaghetti with Lentils, Roasted Tomatoes, and Spinach
Find vegetarian comfort in a bowl of Spaghetti with Lentils, Roasted Tomatoes, and Spinach. This hearty dish hails from Locanda Veneta in Los Angeles which has served this beloved spaghetti for decades!
For the lentils: Rinse the lentils well, removing any stones. then cover with water and soak 2 hours. Drain.
For the tomatoes: Preheat the oven to 450°F. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and lay them cut side up in an 8 or 9-inch square baking pan. Scatter with the parsley, garlic, and oregano, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then drizzle with olive oil. Roast in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft and juicy. Set aside. If desired, once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, remove the skins (they should slide right off).
Once the lentils have been soaked and drained, warm olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, add the onions, carrots, and celery, and cook until they are soft and translucent, stirring frequently about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the lentils, water, the crushed garlic clove, and the bay leaf.
Bring to a boil, stir, then reduce heat and simmer partially covered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Remove the bay leaf. Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking water. Return reserved water to lentils and set aside. Season with salt and black pepper.
For the pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
In the meantime, heat remaining olive oil in a large saucepan or pot. Add the spinach, stir, and cover for a couple minutes to help it wilt. Uncover and add the tomatoes, stirring and breaking them up a bit with a wooden spoon. Saute over medium-high for 1 minute, then stir in the lentils, reduce the flame to medium, and let everything cook together for 4 minutes, stirring regularly.
Boil the pasta in the salted water until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain, then toss with all of the sauce, and cook together for another minute over high heat to allow some of the liquid to absorb and thicken. Serve, offering Parmesan at the table for topping.
Alternatively you can stir about ¼ cup Parmesan directly into the pasta over the heat, which will help thicken the sauce a bit too. Only do this if everyone eating the spaghetti wants cheese in theirs.
Use brown lentils for this recipe. Green lentils will work too, but Locanda Veneta (the LA eatery which created the original recipe) uses brown lentils for theirs. Red lentils will fall apart, so definitely don't use those!
If you use regular spinach instead of baby spinach, you will want to lightly steam or blanch the spinach before mixing it into the sauce. Baby spinach is tender enough that you can quickly wilt it while you're assembling the sauce at the end.
You can make each of the components (the roasted tomatoes and the lentil sauce) separately ahead of time. Before serving, wilt the baby spinach and continue building the sauce.