Lentil Pasta Sauce

Lentil Pasta Sauce

With or Without Meat

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto.

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto.


Pasta with tomato sauce is a classic comfort food.  There’s almost always a container of it tucked in my freezer for times when we need a cozy, home-cooked meal in a hurry.  This version is particularly easy and economical.  Lentils and umami-rich mushrooms stand in for meat and a slow cooker does most of the cooking.  


Interest in ways to eat less meat is keen. While the number of vegetarians has remained steady, more Americans are eating meatless meals and reducing the portion sizes of meat and poultry, driven by escalating prices and health concerns. 


Meat lovers needn’t worry. The United States is far from becoming a vegan society.  As a nation we’re still in the #2 spot for per capita meat and poultry consumption (270.7 pounds), following Luxembourg (301.4 pounds).


Did I say this was meatless? Honestly, I like this sauce best with a little meat included.  Brown one-third to one-half pound of ground lean meat or a couple of lean Italian sausages (made with chicken or turkey and no nitrates or nitrites), crumble or chop and add to the sauce during or after cooking.


Meaty lentils have been appreciated since ancient times – they were found in a tomb in Egypt and are referenced in both the bible and Koran. The lentil plant likely originated in India where lentils are a cornerstone the country’s flavorful cuisine. 


Today lentils are grown in some 35 countries which means you need not look far to find an international market basket of recipes. Popularity is no doubt linked to the fact that these nutrient-rich little legumes are a protein powerhouse, require no soaking and cook in minutes. One-half cup of cooked lentils provides 9 grams of protein, 8 grams of dietary fiber and 45% of the Daily Value for folate. They’re also a good source of potassium, thiamin, copper and iron.  


Think beyond lentil soup and try them in salads, pilafs, sauces and side dishes.  Here’s link to the Italian recipe I launch the New Year with (Lentils for Luck). 


Pasta Sauce with Lentils

Slow Cooker Method


Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto


If you want to speed up the slow cooking you can soak the lentils as described in step 1. 

While the sauce simmers, remember to check the consistency and add additional water as needed, especially if you let it simmer longer than the 2 to 3 hours indicated here. 

For even more umami flavor, add an anchovy or two (canned, drained) along with the garlic and mash with the back of a fork into a smooth paste. 


1 cup brown lentils, picked over, rinsed and drained

1 can (28-ounce) crushed tomatoes, with liquid

1 cup grated carrot

4 teaspoons dried Italian Herb Seasoning

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

2 cups (about 6 ounces) chopped fresh mushrooms

1/2 cup chopped yellow onion

1 to 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 cups water

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Chopped fresh parsley


To serve:

Cooked whole grain spaghetti or other pasta

Grated or shredded Parmesan cheese


1. For faster cooking, soak lentils overnight: Cover lentils with 4 cups water.  Soak overnight.  Drain well and set aside. 


2.  Place crushed tomatoes, carrot, Italian herb seasoning and bay leaf in slow cooker.  Cover and set cooker to “high” heat.  


3. Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium to medium-low heat.  Add mushrooms, onion and garlic.  Cook, stirring often, until onion is soft.  Add lentils, 2 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 6 to 25 minutes (soaked lentils will soften in 6 to 8 minutes) or until lentils are tender.


4. Stir lentil mixture into slow cooker. Add freshly ground black pepper.  Return cover and cook for 2 to 3 hours, reducing heat to “low” after sauce simmers if desired; stir once or twice and add additional water as needed. 


5. To serve, remove and discard bay leaf.  Add salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Stir in parsley.  Serve over hot cooked whole grain pasta with Parmesan cheese.  Makes enough to cover about 1 pound of cooked pasta, 4 to 6 servings.




1. US Consumers Cutting Back on Meat and Poultry. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter.  October 2013 Vol. 31, No 8.


2. Lentil: An Ancient Crop for Modern Times by By Shyam S. Yadav, David McNeil, Philip C. Stevenson. 2007.


3. The Lentil: Botany, Production and Uses.  William Erskine, F. Muehlbauer, A. Sarker, B. Sharma. CABI, 2009


© Lorelle Del Matto 2013


lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.


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