Do you remember when whole wheat pasta tasted like cardboard? It's much improved these days. In fact, where dried pasta is concerned, I prefer whole wheat for texture and flavor. Plus I know I am getting the extra fiber and nutrients that are lost in refined pasta.
Add the meaty flavor and fullness of lentils and you have a complete meal, as far as I'm concerned. Leeks and spinach add a nice touch of spring.
I admit my method for making this dish is a bit unconventional, especially where the lentils are concerned. I am not exact about quantities. I cook the lentils and pasta separately, of course, then add them together in a bowl at the end using just enough of each until it looks right. Sometimes I end up with leftover lentils, which is not such a bad thing. I might just eat them for breakfast the next day.
Start by cooking 1 cup of French Puy lentils with a clove of garlic and a bay leaf in a saucepan, covered with water to a depth of 1 inch. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, trim and clean a large leek. I like to whittle away the tough green leaves until the top of the leak looks like a pencil, then split the leek in half lengthwise from a point about 1/2 inch from the root end. This allows you to get underneath the leaves and remove any dirt or grit with running water. Slice the leek thinly and place it in a heavy skillet over moderate heat with about 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Stir in 1 garlic clove, finely chopped, about 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves and season with 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt to draw out the liquids.
At this point I cover the skillet to speed the cooking and retain the liquid. When the leek is soft add a big fistful or two of baby spinach leaves, about 4 ounces.. Continue cooking, uncovered, until the spinach is completely wilted. Remove from heat and set aside.
For the pasta I use large elbows, or chiocciole. Cook 8 ounces in salted water. When done, drain and toss in a bowl with the cooked vegetables and the lentils. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Give it a final splash of extra-virgin olive oil and serve.
I find this dish just as good at room temperature, meaning there's no need to panic if all of the ingredients don't come off the stove top piping hot at the same time.