Spaghetti With Lentils, Tomato and Fennel
There are many recipes for pasta with lentils, a multitude of which are thick and stewlike, more lentil than pasta. This one emphasizes the pasta. The hearty lentil topping is a bit like a Bolognese ragù, and the addition of fennel — seeds, bulb and chopped green fronds — gives it surprising brightness and zest. For even more flavor, add some of your stored-away Parmesan rinds to the sauce. (Carnivores can add a little chopped anchovy or Italian fennel sausage.)
- Serves: 4 persons
- 1cup small lentils, such as Castelluccio or Puy
- A small piece of Parmesan rind (optional)
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 3tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1small onion, diced (about 1 cup)
- 2small fennel bulbs, diced (about 2 cups), lacy green fronds finely chopped and reserved
- ½teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
- ½teaspoon red-pepper flakes
- 3garlic cloves, minced
- ½cup tomato passata or crushed canned tomato
- 1pound spaghetti
- Shavings of ricotta salata or pecorino cheese
Step 1Rinse lentils. Put them in a saucepan and cover with water by 1 inch. Toss in Parmesan rind, if using. Add a good pinch of salt and place over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until soft, about 30 minutes. Drain lentils and reserve cooking water.
Step 2As lentils cook, put 3 tablespoons oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When oil is wavy, add diced onion and fennel, and season with salt and pepper. Add fennel seeds and red-pepper flakes. Cook, stirring, until softened and slightly caramelized, about 10 minutes.
Step 3Add garlic, passata and 2 or 3 tablespoons finely chopped fennel fronds. Stir to combine and add drained lentils. Turn heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes or so, until somewhat thickened. Taste and correct seasoning, then cook for 5 minutes more, so the flavors meld. Add lentil cooking water as necessary to keep everything saucy.
Step 4As sauce cooks, set a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the spaghetti until al dente. Divide among individual bowls and ladle sauce over each serving. Top with shavings of ricotta salata and more chopped fennel fronds. Drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil, if desired.