Now, so far this year I have so many things on my metaphorical plate that I have been having trouble putting things on my actual plate, and I’ve been eating a lot of convenience food – by which I might mean crisps and biscuits – and pasta by the truckload. Pasta has always been a go-to food for me, and I stopped making it regularly for the simple reason that once I start with pasta, I can’t stop. Any kind of pasta will do – any shape or size, with any sauce, and almost invariably with half a block of cheese grated over the top. You’d think I might be able to combat this ‘problem’ by only cooking a sensible portion at a time. Nope. I just can’t bring myself to cook the right amount for one person.
Good grief. I’m a pasta addict.
Anyway, given my inability to have the right amount and not enough to feed an army, I stopped making it regularly and kept it as a real comfort food, a treat and something I could really appreciate when I made it. Until NaNoWriMo came round, and I was in need of food I could make in bulk and without too much input. Hello, pasta bake! And there I was, trapped in its warm, carbohyratey embrace once more.
This year on Rock Salt, I hope to look at quick and easy recipes that will replace my beloved pasta – there are loads of things I can make within half an hour, I just need to shake up my mindset a bit and use my imagination. The Jamie Oliver 30 Minute Meals book will be living in the kitchen, ready to refer to at the start of the week. There may even be meal planning. I can be a cook, a blogger and a writer all at once – I just need to be a bit clever about it.
However, before this golden age of quick and easy recipes begins, here is a pasta dish that I’d love to share. Lentil pasta has been an enduring recipe in my mental boxfile. It’s a recipe from girls night – I learned it from Miss J, girls night friend and sister extraordinaire. It’s a recipe designed to be cheap, easy, veggie friendly and – perhaps above all – delicious. It’s best served with plenty of black pepper and cheddar – or your favourite cheese, of course. One night last week, I was drawing a blank about what to make for dinner. I really did want to cook something, ideally something with vegetables in it, but nothing was really springing to mind. Then, it did. Lentil pasta – of course!
I added a couple of touches myself in the form of fresh thyme, chili flakes and courgette, and the end result was the best thing I can remember cooking for ages. I still ate enough to choke a horse, but there you have it.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate thyme, shall we?
Lentil and Courgette Pasta (serves two to four, depending on your levels of restraint):
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- medium onion
- two cloves garlic
- smoked sea salt
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves – this is about 12 stems worth
- 1/2 tsp chili flakes
- 30g lentils – this is about two tablespoons
- 400g tinned tomatoes
- 200ml water
- pinch sugar
- 1 tsp tomato puree
- one courgette
- black pepper to taste
Chop the onion and thinly slice the garlic. Add to a pot with the oil, garlic, thyme, chili and a good pinch of the smoked salt. Cook over a medium high heat, stirring constantly, until the onion is lightly browned and soft.
Add the lentils and stir to mix, then add the tomatoes, water, tomato puree, sugar and another pinch of salt, and stir through again. Bring the sauce to a simmer and let it bubble for twenty minutes.
Cut the courgette into thick rounds, then quarter each round so you’re left with chunks. After the twenty minutes of simmering, add the courgette and simmer for another fifteen or until tender. Taste the sauce – you may need to add more salt and/or more sugar.
Serve with pasta shells or quills, black pepper and cheese.
The sauce is really thick, as the lentils absorb the juice from the tomatoes and courgettes, and it hugs the pasta just perfectly. Once the thyme, garlic and chili get involved, it starts to be really quite special. And filling, let’s not forget that. Even for a pasta addict.