Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Lentils, Pancetta, and Escarole

Sautéed pancetta infuses the vegetables and French lentils in this earthy pasta dish with rich, meaty flavor.

Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Lentils, Pancetta, and Escarole
SERVES 6
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS An earthy, hearty, soul-satisfying dish, pasta with lentils has long been a tradition in Italy. But when we developed our own version, we ended up going with a nontraditional choice for the main ingredient: French green lentils, or lentilles du Puy , which retained a firm yet tender texture after the long simmering time. Using a combination of water and chicken broth as the cooking liquid imparted a savory backbone without obscuring the lentils’ earthy notes. White wine provided a bright punch of acidity, but we couldn’t add it until the lentils were softened, lest it prevent them from cooking through. Meaty pancetta, sweet carrots, and spicy escarole rounded out the flavors of this rustic dish. Lentilles du Puy, also called French green lentils, are our first choice for this recipe, but brown, black, or regular green lentils are fine, too (note that cooking times will vary depending on the type used).

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, cut into ¼-inch pieces
1 onion, chopped fine
2 carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced ¼ inch thick
2 garlic cloves, minced
¾ cup lentilles du Puy, picked over and rinsed
2 cups chicken broth
1½ cups water
¼ cup dry white wine
1 head escarole (1 pound), trimmed and sliced ½ inch thick
1 pound whole-wheat spaghetti
Salt and pepper
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
Grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add onion and carrots and cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in
lentils, broth, and water and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until lentils are fully cooked and tender, 30 to 40 minutes.
2. Stir in wine and simmer, uncovered, for 2 minutes. Stir in escarole, 1 handful at a time, and cook until completely wilted, about 5 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve ¾ cup cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to pot. Add ½ cup reserved cooking water, lentil mixture, parsley, and remaining 2 tablespoons oil and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste and adjust consistency with remaining ¼ cup reserved cooking water as needed. Serve with Parmesan.

NOTES FROM THE TEST KITCHEN
All About Pancetta
Pancetta is an Italian pork product made from the belly of the pig that is used to add flavor and meaty depth to many Italian stews and braises. Sometimes called Italian bacon, this fatty, succulent cut is also used to make American bacon. However, American bacon is salted, (usually) sugared, and smoked, whereas pancetta is treated with salt, black pepper, and spices and rolled into a cylinder. It is never smoked.
To use bacon in place of pancetta, blanch the uncooked bacon in boiling water to mellow some of its smoky flavor. Because blanching also removes a considerable amount of fat from the bacon, you may need to supplement with additional oil. While the bacon may still impart subtle smokiness, it is an acceptable substitute.

SIMPLE TOMATO SAUCES
Tomato sauce is a Mediterranean staple, from warm-spiced Greek and Egyptian sauces to simple and savory Italian and French versions. Here are a few of our favorite basic tomato sauces, which pair perfectly with pasta. All of these sauces make 4 cups, enough to sauce 1 pound of pasta. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.
No-Cook Fresh Tomato Sauce FAST VEG
The success of this recipe depends on ripe, in-season tomatoes. This sauce works well with penne, rotini, or campanelle.

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice, plus extra as needed
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper
Sugar
2 pounds very ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into ½-inch pieces
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Stir oil, lemon juice, shallot, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and pinch sugar together in large bowl. Stir in tomatoes and let marinate until very soft and flavorful, about 30 minutes. Before serving, stir in basil and season with salt, pepper, sugar, and extra lemon juice to taste. When tossing sauce with cooked pasta, add some pasta cooking water as needed to adjust consistency.

Quick Tomato Sauce FAST VEG
This sauce works well with any type of pasta.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
¼ teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper
Cook oil and garlic in medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring often, until fragrant but not browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and their juice. Bring to simmer and cook until slightly thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Off heat, stir in basil and sugar. Season with salt and pepper to taste. When tossing sauce with cooked pasta, add some pasta cooking water as needed to adjust consistency.

 

 

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