Orecchiette with spinach, onions, and lentils

Contributed by Preston Maring, MD

Orecchiette with spinach, onions, and lentils

Spring is coming. I have been told there are 29 more Kaiser Permanente facilities in various stages of planning markets. Each faces its unique challenges. 

In Denver, for example, the market season runs from June to September and there are far fewer small family farms. However, their downtown facility is next to a hospital that is bigger than ours. There should be no problem keeping the farmers busy. 

The Denver farmers would like to hear testimonials from the farmers at existing Kaiser Permanente markets. Dale and Jo Simmons from the Lone Oak Ranch and Daniel of Vital Vittles Breads would give great recommendations. 

A number of parents wrote back about the tomato bisque to say that their kids loved it. Variations included the addition of basil, the use of jalapeňo jack cheese, and adding crumbled feta for leftovers the next day. 

This recipe is too healthy to pass up. While it has a component of carbs, it has other really good ingredients. A family member with a discerning palate ate it for dinner, dessert, and breakfast. 

There are a couple of potential barriers to making this dish — it uses green lentils, which you may not buy very often, and lots of pots and pans on 3 burners at once. There is very little saturated fat in olive oil. It doesn't take much parmesan to get a half cup of grated cheese. Again, this adds only a small amount of saturated fat per serving. 

The flavors in this dish are subtle but have depth. It is a definite "make again" meal.

Servings: 4


  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 large cippolini or yellow onions, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup French green lentils
  • 8 oz orecchiette (little ears), fusilli (spirals), or penne (tubes)
  • 1/2 pound baby spinach leaves
  • 1/2 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, about 1/2 cup, finely grated


  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet until hot, but not smoking. Stir in onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and bay leaf. 
  2. Reduce heat to low and cook covered, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender and caramelized. This takes 20 to 25 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. 
  3. Meanwhile, cover the lentils with water by 1 inch in a small saucepan. Simmer them covered until they are tender and the water is absorbed. This step takes about 25 minutes also. Salt and pepper them, leaving them covered until used. 
  4. Bring about 6 quarts of salted water to a boil in a pasta pot. Cook the pasta until al dente. Orecchiette takes 16 to 20 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of cooking water and drain the pasta. All the little ears collect water so you have to shake the colander more so than with linguini. Return the pasta to the pot. 
  5. Add the onions, lentils, and spinach to the pasta with just enough cooking water to wilt the spinach and moisten the pasta. Stir in the cheese and adjust seasonings. 

A few thoughts: Next time, I will start the pasta water first. This always seems to take longer than expected. "Watched pots don't boil."