When I was testing my vegan lasagne recipe, one component turned out particularly well: the tomato-lentil sauce in lieu of a meat ragu. I've adapted it into this vegetable pasta to give it more of a chance to shine.
I'm not just recycling recipes though, promise! I wanted to add courgettes and mushrooms, but the original was too thick. I also found, interestingly, that I needed to change the seasoning. Salt dramatically altered the flavour when added at the end rather than in the middle, as with the lasagne – which doesn't matter in a baked dish but becomes important here.
Oddly enough, I don't actually like the taste of black pepper. I like to think of seasoning as a way to enhance flavour – either with salt or acid – and have never understood the ubiquitous use of pepper, an entirely new flavour in my book, as a seasoning. However, it does work very well here, adding a slight heat in the absence of chilli.
Somehow this dish manages to be both summery and wintery. Perhaps because it's a carby dish – generally more wintery – but doesn't leave you feeling too full, which is better in the summer. Or maybe because the courgettes and tomatoes say "Italian al fresco dinner", while the lentils and mushrooms say "hug a bowl of this curled up on the sofa". I know being both summery and wintery sounds illogical – summer food is inherently the opposite of the comforting bowls we crave in winter – but you'll just have to take my word for it.
It can be tricky to choose the right type of pasta. Some dishes work well when the sauce clings as with linguine, spaghetti and tagliatelle. Others do better when pasta shapes, such as orrechiette or conchiglie, act as a receptacle and fill up with sauce. I like the way rigatoni does just that here.
I actually find the vast choice of pasta shapes somewhat comforting; there are people out there so obsessed with food that they've found a name for every twist, curl and fold of pasta they could think of.
Summery Vegetable Rigatoni
|for the sauce|
|4 tbsp||extra virgin olive oil|
|1||red onion, finely chopped|
|1||white onion, finely chopped|
|4 large||cloves garlic, finely chopped|
|1 tbsp||dried oregano|
|2 tsp||dried thyme|
|100g/½ cup||dried red lentils, rinsed|
|2 x 400ml/14oz cans||chopped tomatoes|
|1½ tsp||fine salt|
|½ tsp||freshly ground black pepper|
|for the vegetables|
|2 tbsp||extra virgin olive oil|
|3 medium||courgettes (zucchini), chopped|
|250g/9oz||button mushrooms, halved|
|for the pasta|
|12 large||basil leaves, torn|
- For the sauce: in a large saucepan or casserole dish, heat the olive oil over a medium heat. Add the onions and saute for 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic to the pan and cook for 5 more minutes.
- Stir in the thyme, oregano and sugar and cook for 2 more minutes.
- Add the lentils, followed by the chopped tomatoes. Fill one of the empty cans with water and add that, too.
- Leave to simmer for 25 minutes. Then stir in the salt and pepper.
- For the vegetables: 15 minutes before the sauce has finished simmering, heat the oil for the vegetables in a large frying over a medium-high heat. Fry the courgettes and mushrooms for 10-12 minutes. The pan will be a little crowded but the mushrooms will cook down. The courgettes shouldn't be crunchy and raw, but not mushy either.
- For the pasta: while the sauce and vegetables are cooking, bring 2 litres (8 cups) of water to a boil in a large pot. Dissolve 1½ tsp fine salt in the water. Now add the pasta, bring back to a boil, then down to a simmer, and cook for 1 minute less than the packet says for al dente. Reserve 1 ladleful of pasta water then drain.
- When everything has finished cooking, stir the vegetables and pasta into the sauce. If the sauce is looking a little dry, add some of the pasta water to loosen.
- Sprinkle over the basil leaves then serve into wide bowls with an extra grind of black pepper.