whole wheat orecchiette with lentils, onions and spinach

Somehow this orecchiette recipe ended up printed on paper from the epicurious website. The details of how it was found faded from memory. But we are orecchiette lovers and needed to figure out how to do it and yet remain true to our commitment to try to work with more healthier whole grain based pasta in the twenty-first century. The good orecchiette are made in Puglia and have a distinctive form with a texture that even DeCecco has missed with their version of the product. But they are not whole grain based.

Our first dr bob cooking school student Gianpaolo has family origins from Puglia and by chance in the summer of 2006 he brought back to Rome some fantastic whole wheat orecchiette from down there. They were clearly dark brown and when cooked, more like orecchioni (big ears!). Well, this was a challenge. Off to the web for on-line purchase back in the states. Bingo. A google hit. But the shipping charges are a bit steep, so the actual purchase was delayed. Until we could wait no longer and we splurged for 4 bags, each one half a kilo. Imported to NYC from Italy, not even Puglia. Some wholistic pasta and other products company. Which our own Italian food source Carlino's Market has some pasta products from. A plea will have to be made to consider carrying this one in the store, not a completely hopeless request since they have already given way to to growing whole grain market pressures.


1/3 cup olive oil
3 large onions (2 lb total), thinly sliced (7 cups?) (we just chopped up a couple onions)
2 garlic cloves, chopped (we like pressed)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf (Turkish, California? we just tossed in a generic one)
1 cup French green lentils (yes, we found them nearby, but then after 6 months in operation, the supermarket closed)
1 lb orecchiette, fusilli, or penne
2 (5-oz) bags baby spinach (we conveniently had a cup of leftover garlic sautéed fresh spinach)
1 1/2 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons)


  1. Start the big pot of pasta water boiling on the stove and clean up the fresh spinach if you don't trust the prewashed claims.
  2. Then heat up the olive oil until hot but not smoking while chopping up the onions (did they say thinly sliced?) and pressing the garlic, and dump them into the olive oil with the bay leaf, salt and pepper and cook them covered on moderately low heat for 20 minutes or so, giving them a little stir once in a while to make sure the heat was low enough not to freak them out.
  3. Meanwhile cover the lentils with an inch of water in a 1.5-2 qt saucepan and cook about 15 minutes or so until the lentils are soft and most of the water is absorbed. Season these with salt and pepper if you like. Then leave covered on the stove (no heat) until combination time.
  4. Meanwhile part two: dump in the pasta, salt it (we just guess wildly at the salt quantity) and cook until al dente, which might mean up to 15 minutes or so.
  5. When the pasta is ready, reserve a cup of the pasta water in case things are too dry after recombination, and drain it.
  6. Returning the pasta to the pot or to the onion mixture if you have it in a 4 qt chef's pan like we often use, in either case combining the two and adding in the lentils and baby spinach, tossing well, wilting the spinach in the process (which may be aided by adding some of the reserved pasta water), or in the event that you have some left over spinach like we did, heating it up. Do the taste test and adjust the salt if necessary. Sounds like way too much salting. Skip it and trust the parmigiano to cover up any lack of salt at this point.
  7. Stir in most of the freshly grated parmigiano, and grate some more on each serving with a few turns of the pepper mill.


  1. Some options suggested by reader feedback: a touch of red pepper for a slight lift, or a small hit of butter to thicken the sauce, or arugula in place of spinach, or starting by sautéing pancetta with the onions. And don't substitute the French green lentils.
  2. Whole grained pasta products from an organic agriculture company in Italy: La Terra e il Cielo (Earth and Sky). Started by well intentioned ideologues in the Marches region of Italy centered on Ancona on the coast just north of the Abruzzo region (big coastal city: Pescara, headquarters of DeCecco), also containing Urbino, the renowned truffle center. Proving that you can do business and do good simultaneously.
  3. Local importer in New York: http://www.pastacheese.com: the whole grain pasta on-line store.
  4. The original recipe: Epicurious recipe source.
  5. Illustrations available.


wwowlos.htm: 24-dec-2008 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]