Pasta with Lentils and Kale

It has been so hot the past few days, I lost the motivation to cook.  We had this surge of hot and humid weather here in Philadelphia.  This made me dread the upcoming Summer months – I seriously do not do well in hot weather, so my cooking will be very sparse (maybe close to non-existence) during the Summer…
I still felt the humidity today, but after we had a big rainstorm pass through here, the temperature has gone down just a little bit.  Thus, I felt I can cook something today, and I’m sure my family appreciated some home-cooked meal!
Today’s recipe came from “Gourmet Italian Kitchen” magazine.  At first glance, lentils and kale in pasta doesn’t sound too appetizing, however, this was very tasty.  The secret to this dish is the caramelized onions.  According to the magazine, “their rich sweetness rounds out the earthiness of the lentils and kale.”
I do have to agree with the magazine, I wasn’t sure if my kids will eat this, but they had seconds, and that says something about this lentil and kale dish!

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Serves:4
1/2 cup small green lentils
2 cups water
5 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 pound kale
1 pound dried short tubular pasta
Accompanients:
Toasted Crumbs for Pasta (see below for recipe)
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Simmer lentils in 2 cups water with 1/8 teaspoon salt in a small saucepan, uncovered, adding more water if necessary to keep lentils barely covered, until tender but to falling apart, 20-30 minutes.  Remove from heat and season with salt.

While lentils simmer, heat 3 Tablespoons oil in a 12 inch heavy skillet over medium high heat until it shimmers, then sauté onion with 1/4 teaspoon pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt, stirring, 1 minute.  Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and golden (stir more frequently toward end of cooking), about 20 minutes.  Remove lid and increase heat to medium, then cook, stirring frequently, until onion is golden brown, 5-10 minutes more.  Stir in lentils, including their liquid, and simmer, scraping up and brown bit, 1 minute.  Season with salt and pepper.

While onion cooks, cut out and discard stems and center ribs from kale and coarsely chop leaves.  Start cooking pasta in a 6-8 quart pot of well salted boiling water, according to package instructions. 
Seven minutes before pasta is finished cooking, stir in kale and boil, uncovered, until pasta is al dente. 

Reserve about 1 cup pasta cooking liquid, then drain pasta and kale in a colander.  Add pasta mixture to lentils along with about 1/3 cup of pasta cooking liquid (or enough to keep pasta moist) and cook over medium high heat, tossing, 1 minute.  Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with remaining 2 Tablespoons oil. 

** Lentils and onions can be cooked and combined up to 5 days ahead and chilled.  Reheat over low heat, thinning with water as necessary.
Kale can be washed and trimmed 1 day ahead and chilled in a sealed plastic bag lined with dampened paper towels. 

Toasted Crumbs for Pasta: the original recipe called for old sourdough bread and made into crumbs in a blender.  However, for saving time, I just used panko.
Bake 2 cups of panko crumbs in 350F oven for about 10-15 minutes, stirring once or twice, until golden.  Pour them into a bowl, and drizzle with 3 Tablespoons of olive oil – toss well.  Season crumbs with salt. 
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My opinion: It looks like such a simple dish, but as you can see from the recipe, it’s a bit tedious.  However, if you separate the tasks this dish is well worth it.  Toasted crumbs add an unique taste and texture to the pasta – my family loved this addition! I call this a power food because of kale and lentils!  This will be a great dish to potluck or when you are making large quantity (just double or triple the amount).

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