There are many elements of this recipe from Gourmet that initially do not make sense, but two that immediately jumped out at me. First, let's talk about the lentils. I know the concept of adding a legume to a pasta dish doesn't sound like the best idea, but it works well with bucatini ai fagioli, and it worked here too. They provide an earthiness to the dish, and get lovingly stuck in the cups of the orecchiette.
The real issue here are the onions. There are a lot of them. I mean, two pounds is a lot for a simple weeknight meal. When I started cooking these I wondered if I was making a stew for 20. Luckily, they cook for a long time, until they're golden-brown and beautifully sweet. When you mix everything together they almost disappear into the sauce. But they're the real hero of the dish, and what makes this seemingly crazy dish work so wonderfully.
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 pounds onions, thinly sliced (about 7 cups)
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup French green lentils
- 1 pound orecchiette, usilli, or penne
- 10 ounces baby spinach
- 1 1/2 cups Parmesan, grated
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, pour the oil into a large skillet. Turn the heat to medium. When hot, add the onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and bay leaf. Stir well, then reduce heat to medium low, cover the skillet, and cook until the onions are very soft. It should take about 25 minutes.
While that's cooking, add the lentils to a saucepan, and cover with water by an inch. Bring to a boil over medium heat, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Toss the pasta in the large pot of boiling water. Cook according to the directions on the side of the box. Save a cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta in a colander.
Return the pasta to the now empty pot. Dump in the onion mixture, the lentils, and spinach. Toss well. Pour in about half of the water, and toss to wilt the spinach. If it is too dry, add more pasta water. Add the cheese, and season with salt and pepper to taste.