Recession Meal #3: Pasta with Lentils
and Arugula

May 24, 2008

It’s been a crazy week here in our household, due mostly to the fact that my husband is in Salt Lake City for a conference, and (in general) his absence throws the (relative) delicate balance of our home into a tailspin. I mean, I have to actually give my children a bath. BY MYSELF.

All that to say, I’ve been cooking easy, boring meals all week. But I promised in my last post to elaborate on a new recession meal, and that I can do before we take off tomorrow for our once-in-three-years beach vacation. When we return, I might have some juicy tidbits of beachy food, prepared through the teamwork of myself, my friend Megan, and our portable-grill-master husbands. Not to mention some photos of our recently-planted herb garden and heirloom tomatoes (oh, please, please grow! and produce ye fruit!).

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that two of my three recession meals are built around lentils. They are so cheap (even the organic ones), and so full of good protein, it’s hard to resist their charms. I found this dish on the Everyday Food website (disclaimer: I find some of the recipes on the website, and magazine, to be a bit boring — but for cooking during the week, they have a knack for putting together recipes that are relatively healthy and quick to prepare, making them a good source for weekly menus), and we think it’s a keeper. First, it uses arugula, which I’ve now established as one of my favorite greens. And plum tomatoes, which are becoming more flavorful and juicy this time of year. If you or your significant other is a die-hard meat-eater, and won’t do with a vegetarian dinner, I think this dish would work very nicely with Italian sausage replacing the lentils (of course that would make it more expensive, and take it out of the recession meal category).

The most expensive element is the arugula — but please try not to replace it. You should be able to get a 5-oz box or bag of washed, trimmed baby arugula for around $4 — and that provides more than enough for the dish, leaving you some extra salad greens for the rest of the week. The leftovers on this were still tasty; since the pasta isn’t sitting in a liquid sauce, it doesn’t swell or get mushy in the refrigerator. We had lunch the next day, and then some.

Pasta with Lentils and Arugula (slightly-different, printable version at this link from Everyday Food)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
  • coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 12 ounces plum tomatoes, cored and diced (about 2 cups)
  • ¾ cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 12 ounces orecchiette or farfalle pasta
  • 1 bunch (8 ounces) arugula, stemmed and coarsely chopped (or about half a 5-oz box of washed, trimmed baby arugula)
  • ½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and ½ teaspoon salt; cover, and cook until onions wilt, about 20 minutes. Uncover; raise heat to medium. Cook, stirring often, until onions are dark brown, 20 to 25 minutes more.

Add ¼ cup water; stir to loosen any browned bits from pan. Stir in tomatoes; remove from heat.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, cover lentils with water by 1 inch. Bring to a simmer. Cover; cook until lentils are tender but still holding their shape, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain; stir into onion mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook pasta in a pot of salted water until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta water; drain pasta, and return to pot.

Add lentil mixture, arugula, cheese, and reserved pasta water; toss. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with more cheese, if desired.

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