Pasta with Lentils and Kale

Adapted from Gourmet (April 2007)

This recipe is so simple that I wasn’t sure if it would even work. Alas, the beauty of this dish lies in its simplicity. Because there are so few ingredients, use the best quality you can find and you won’t go wrong.

  • 1/2 cup French green lentils, rinsed and picked over
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 4 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • 1 pound kale (I used lacinato)
  • 8 oz. short pasta
  • Parmesan, shredded (for serving)
  • Place lentils in a small saucepan. Cover them with cold water (just barely), add 1/4 teaspoon salt, then bring to a boil. Keep an eye on the lentils to make sure they remain covered with liquid. You may need to add a little more as they begin to soften. After 20 minutes or so, check to see if they are done. They should take about 25-30 minutes. When they are tender but not yet complete mush, remove them from the heat, seasonly lightly with salt and set aside.
  • While lentils are cooking, heat 1/4 cup oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir for about a minute, then turn the heat down to low. Cook shallots very slowly while stirring every once in a while. After about 30 minutes, they should be a deep golden brown, fragrant and caramelized. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • While waiting for lentils to soften and shallots to caramelize, remove the tough center ribs from kale. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Place kale in the boiling water and cook for 5 minutes. Remove kale with tongs and place into a colander. Allow it to drain while cooking water returns to a boil. Add the pasta to the kale cooking liquid and cook according to package directions for al dente. Reserve about a cup of the cooking water, then drain pasta into a colander (not the same one that the kale is in, of course!). Set aside.
  • To finish the pasta sauce, coarsely chop the kale, then add it to the pan with the caramelized shallots. Add the lentils and any remaining cooking liquid. Bring it back to a low simmer and cook for a minute or two, stirring to combine all ingredients. Season with salt and pepper (see tips, below). Add the pasta and 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid, then turn the heat up to high. Cook for a minute or two, stirring to fully combine. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and taste seasonings, adjusting if necessary. Serve with freshly shredded Parmesan and warm crusty bread.
  • Quick Tips
  • 1. Use any short pasta you like. I used penne.
  • 2. The original recipe called for onions, but I like the flavor of shallots just a bit better. If you don’t have shallots, use one large or two medium yellow onions instead.
  • 3. I had a black pepper accident in the final steps of the sauce. Instead of seasoning lightly with salt and pepper, I found that the large side of the pepper container was open and I dumped approximately a tablespoon (or more) of black pepper into the sauce. I apologized to my friends, wrote off the dish as ruined and served it anyway (by this point, my friends had had enough wine and I assumed they were hungry enough to eat it anyway). Guess what? It was delicious. The “accident” created an unintended heat that we actually enjoyed. I can’t say exactly how much pepper I added, but if you care to try to add a bit of heat I’d recommend increasing the black pepper by another 1/2 teaspoon or so, and even adding 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes for variety. I love a disaster that turns into a welcome surprise.

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Cooking time: 35 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4

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