Whole-wheat pasta with red lentil roasted pepper marinara sauce

This plant-based pasta dish is flavorful and kid-approved.

Whole-wheat pasta with red lentil roasted pepper marinara sauce

Growing up in an Italian family, meals prominent in pasta have been an integral part of my eating repertoire. Since I started eating a mostly whole food, plant-based diet and cutting out typical Italian meats like sausage, prosciutto, and meatballs, I needed to find a delicious alternative to these strong flavors. I switched to eating whole-wheat pasta and added umami flavors from olives and tomatoes. The addition of red split lentils came about from wanting to add more vitality from fiber and protein and a lot of flavor to a traditional pasta sauce. This is one of my family's — including my four-year-old son's — favorite meals.

Servings: 8 2-cup servings


  • 1 pound whole-wheat penne pasta
  • 1 15-ounce can butter beans, rinsed and drained or 1 1/2 cup fresh beans
  • 1 bunch of greens (kale, collards, turnip greens, etc.), ribs removed, roughly chopped
  • 1 large red onion, diced into medium-sized chunks
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons freshly diced oregano or 1 tablespoon dried oregano leaves
  • Freshly cracked black pepper and sea salt, to taste
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 2 12-ounce jars of roasted red peppers, drained and rinsed in a colander (4 to 5 roasted peppers)
  • 1/2 cup split red lentils, rinsed in a fine-mesh colander
  • 1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, quartered

Optional garnishes: Red chili flakes, freshly chopped basil, parmesan cheese, or cashew cheese


  1. In a large pot, boil water for pasta. When the water boils, add pasta and stir often to prevent sticking. About 3 to 4 minutes before the pasta is al dente or according to package directions, add chopped greens to the pasta pot and stir. 
  2. Add drained butter beans in the last minute before pasta is done.
  3. Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water in a heat-resistant container. Drain pasta, greens, and beans in a colander and return to the empty pot. 
  4. Heat a large cast-iron skillet or wide sauté pan. Add red onion and dry-sauté for 2 to 3 minutes on medium-high heat. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons water and continue to cook for another 3 to 5 minutes, adding more water 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time when water has evaporated. Add garlic, Italian seasoning, oregano, pepper, and sea salt and cook until garlic smells fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. 
  5. In a food processor, combine diced tomatoes, roasted peppers, and half of the cooked onion mixture and blend until the consistency is slightly chunky. Transfer sauce back to the cast-iron skillet or sauté pan. Bring the sauce to a simmer and add 1/2 cup red split lentils, stirring until combined. Cook on medium heat for about 20 minutes. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water if the sauce is too thick. 
  6. When lentils are cooked, add quartered olives and stir to combine. 
  7. Taste for seasoning. Ladle red lentil sauce onto pasta and stir to combine. Add optional garnishes.

Nutrition information (per serving)

  • Calories: 407
  • Total fat: 5 g
  • Sodium: 600 mg
  • Total carbohydrate: 73 g
  • Dietary fiber: 15 g
  • Total sugars: 5 g
  • Protein: 15 g