Sunday, March 30, 2008

Penne with Tomato Lentil Sauce

Recipe: Penne with Tomato Lentil Sauce

I don’t usually need to be secretive about what I am cooking. Jack is a willing taste-tester for almost everything which I prepare and, if not enthusiastic about trying new foods, is at least agreeable and will try almost any food once.

Through the almost-25 years in which we have been married there have only been two meals which he has, to be honest, despised. One was the time I bought shark steaks and didn’t know that they were past their best (not only tasting badly but giving us both tummy-aches). And the other unfortunate meal was lentils. In fact, ever since this particular meal took place, it has been his yardstick by which to rate other recipes (“well, although it’s by far not my favorite, the tofu manicotti which you made for dinner wasn’t nearly as bad as those lentils…”).

What, you may ask, did you do to poor lentils to make them deserve this? My answer: nothing. Absolutely nothing. Therein was the problem. We were just married and I had been reading about healthy eating. I was beginning to learn how to cook more than the basics, and wanted to expand into healthful foods. Lentils were mentioned in many of the articles which I was reading, so I bought a package in the health-food store. I believe that they were brown lentils. This was before the internet (with its “recipes at the click of a button”) and the few cookbooks which I had didn’t have any recipes containing lentils. So I improvised and made lentils simmered in tomato sauce. That’s it. No garlic, no spices, nothing but lentils and canned tomato sauce. Poor Jack. It was a terribly uninspired meal. A bowlful of lentils cooked in tomato sauce. Imagine. Is there any wonder that he remembers it so very unfondly?

In the April issue of Canadian Living I found a recipe for Penne with Tomato-Lentil Sauce. Although it sounded great to me I was certain that he would, upon hearing what was for dinner, not be very receptive. I mean, lentils in tomato sauce!!! Still, I had a package of French green lentils and wanted to make it.

I waited until he had an afternoon meeting and wouldn’t be arriving home until shortly before dinner. I also made a batch of turkey meatballs from his favorite recipe, knowing that it would “cushion” the surprise of the little green discs which would be in the tomato sauce. When he arrived home and asked what we were having, I smiled mysteriously and replied “something very special”. He couldn’t be fooled—he smelled the meatballs! But I persisted, telling him that I couldn’t reveal this information until dinnertime.

Shortly before I was ready to serve, he came out to help set the table and pour the wine. I shooed him back into his office, needing the time to plate dinner before he could see what was in the pot. Finally, it was ready. I scooped the sauce and lentils over the pasta, added a couple of turkey meatballs on the side, and called him in. He zeroed in on the meatballs immediately and was overjoyed. Seriously. Meatballs take time to make, and if I’m going to add ground turkey to a tomato sauce for over pasta, I’ll usually just brown it instead of going to the trouble of mixing and forming the meatballs.

He picked up his fork and looked closely at the penne. I had my head down, looking over to him from under my eyelashes. He speared a few pieces, containing a healthy portion of lentils in sauce, and put it into his mouth. He chewed. My eyeballs were hurting from the strain of looking up through my bangs. He swallowed, took another forkful of pasta, and a piece of meatball. Then I heard it. “Mmmmmmmmmm”. I lifted my head. My vision was a bit blurred. He smiled—“okay, what’re the little things in the sauce?” “Um”, I hesitated a bit. “Lentils”. He loaded his fork again. “They taste great!”. I had to laugh and admit my deceitfulness.

He actually asked if there were seconds! Although I did make the entire recipe, there was enough for another dinner, so no second helpings were available. But he must have told me three or four times how good the sauce was, how much he liked the lentils done this way. His last words, as he handed me his empty plate to put in the dishwasher, “Really, it was good. I’m not kidding.”

Okay, I believe him.

This sauce was very, very good. Flavorful enough that it didn’t even need the requisite Parmesan sprinkled over top. And it contains 22g of plant-based fiber per serving!

I made a few changes to the original recipe (when don’t I do this?!)

I used a large nonstick sauté pan instead of a Dutch oven, thereby reducing the need for oil. The original recipe called for ¼ cup of diced pancetta or thick-sliced bacon, which I eliminated; I used 1/3 cup red wine instead of ¼, and I used a large can of crushed tomatoes rather than the can of whole tomatoes called for. And I tossed in a couple of Parmesan rinds which I had in the freezer.

Note: Green lentils are more flavorful than brown, and those are what I used, but no matter what type are in the sauce, chop the veggies to be not much larger that the lentil size. This is a rule of thumb which I follow when cutting vegetables for all pasta dishes, to keep the vegetable pieces in a similar shape/ size to the pasta.

The next time I make this, I will reduce the amount of lentils to 2/3 cup (I think that ¾ cup was just a bit too much. And, really, that’s my opinion, not Jack’s!).

* Exported from MasterCook *

Penne with Tomato Lentil Sauce

Recipe Adapted From: Canadian Living April 2008

Servings: 4

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

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1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion -- diced

1 medium carrot -- diced

1 medium celery rib -- diced

3 large cloves garlic -- minced

2 large bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

2/3 cup lentils -- green

28 ounces canned crushed tomatoes

8 ounces canned tomato sauce*

1/3 cup dry red wine -- (or water)

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

12 ounces whole wheat penne

In a large nonstick sauté pan, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Cook onion through thyme, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes or until vegetables are softened.

Stir in the lentils, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and red wine (or water), plus 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 35-45 minutes or until lentils are tender. Discard bay leaves. Stir in parsley.

While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt, then penne, and cook as package directs to al dente. Drain and place in serving bowl, top with tomato-lentil sauce.

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Per serving: 536 Calories (kcal); 6g Total Fat (1g saturated); (8% calories from fat); 26g Protein; 102g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 568mg Sodium; 22g fiber

Food Exchanges: 5 1/2 Grain(Starch); 1 Lean Meat; 4 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1 Fat; 0 Other

*Edited a day after originally posting this:

I added an eight-ounce can of tomato sauce to the recipe because, after enjoying the leftovers, I realized that it could have been a little "saucier".

I will post the meatball recipe soon!