Pasta with Lentils or Other Legumes

MAKES: 6 to 8 servings

TIME: About 1 hour

Lentils are ideal for this dish, because they cook so quickly they won’t slow you down much. But you can make pasta with almost any legume, as long as it’s soft enough; for last-minute cooking, of course, you’ll want to start with precooked, canned, or frozen beans. (If you do that, simply cook them with the vegetables until the vegetables are tender.)

The intention here is to have the beans, vegetables, and oil create a kind of sauce that’s almost meaty, with the beans playing a substantial role while the pasta provides the bulk. You can also turn this into a more-beans-than-pasta-type dish, like Cannellini Beans with Cabbage and Pasta, or even a soup, like Pasta e Fagiole (see Pasta and Bean Soup), simply by adjusting the ingredients and the liquid.

3/4 cup dried lentils, washed and picked over, or 11/2 to 2 cups cooked small beans

2 carrots, chopped

1 large or 2 medium onions, chopped

2 cups cored and chopped tomato (drained canned are fine)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram or oregano or 1 teaspoon dried

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 pound elbows, shells, or other cut pasta

1 teaspoon minced garlic

Combine the lentils, carrots, half the onion, and water to cover in a large pot over medium heat. Simmer until the lentils are tender but not mushy, 20 to 30 minutes (some lentils may take even longer, but check frequently to avoid overcooking). Add the tomato, sprinkle with some salt and pepper and half the marjoram, stir, and cook for another 10 minutes or so; keep warm over low heat. (This sauce may be made ahead up to this point, tightly covered and refrigerated for a day or two, or frozen for several weeks.)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Put 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the remaining onion and cook, stirring, until it begins to brown and become crisp, about 10 minutes.

Cook the pasta until it is still quite firm, even a bit chalky in the center. Drain it, reserving a cup or so of the cooking liquid. Stir the pasta into the lentils along with the garlic, the cooked onion, and the remaining marjoram and olive oil. Add enough of the pasta water to moisten the mixture. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes, or until the pasta is tender. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve in a warm bowl.