An easy one pot vegetarian pasta dinner that the whole family will love! The protein packed cheesy tomato lentil sauce is thick, creamy and comforting. There is minimal chopping, everything cooks in one pan, and it’s on the table in 20 minutes.
So I’m back with another one pot pasta dinner!
My Tomato & Mascarpone One Pot Pasta is my most popular recipe on the blog so this tells me that I’m on to something… who doesn’t need a stash of easy but delicious and comforting weeknight pasta recipes?
Today’s offering is a crowd pleasing pasta with a cheese, tomato and lentil sauce. See how thick and creamy that is?
This reminds me of dinners I used to have as a kid, where macaroni was mixed in with a tomato and meat sauce. But instead of meat, we use a can of healthy, protein packed green lentils here. They just kind of blend in and add some texture, so lentil skeptics needn’t worry.
The sauce is given some extra flavor and a richer texture by melting a bunch of cheese in. A really worthwhile addition with a one pot pasta, where the tomato sauce just doesn’t get a huge amount of time for the flavor to develop and could use that little boost.
My toddler loves this pasta, so I am declaring it kid friendly.
Variations on the Lentil Sauce
I have kept this very simple and I like it that way, but as with any lazy one pot meal, there’s a lot you can do to customize this and make it work better for your family.
Treat it as a base recipe and twist it up! Some ideas…
Mix up the cheese. I used cheddar cheese buy you could use any favorite of your own. The flavor could be amazing with a little blue cheese thrown in.
Add some flavor boosters. Try a jar of red pesto or some red wine.
Add veggies. When you’re cooking the garlic, you add in some mushrooms, peppers, anything you’ve got. Or mix in some spinach right at the end.
How to make this one pot pasta
This is very easy but if you haven’t made a one pot pasta before (where the pasta cooks in the sauce and not in a separate pan), there’s a couple things you’ll want to pay attention to.
The liquid to pasta ratio needs to be just right, because the pasta will soak up a bunch of liquid while it cooks… but you don’t want to use too much or it will end up soupy.
The amount I give in this recipe was right for my particular pasta, which were inexpensive pasta spirals. If you use a really thick pasta with a long cook time (usually the more expensive brands, or shapes like rigatoni), you will probably end up adding some more water during the cooking process. If you use a lighter pasta with a shorter cook time (like macaroni), you should reduce the water you start with to be on the safe side.
As always, there is a full printable recipe card coming your way, but here is a rundown of the process in photos.
You’ll saute your garlic, herbs and lentils briefly before adding your tinned tomatoes and other sauce ingredients.
You’ll add your dry pasta, and then some water. You’ll simmer it until the pasta is cooked.
When the pasta is cooked, you will melt in all of the cheese to create a thick, creamy sauce.
And then serve to some very happy people.
One Pot Pasta with Cheesy Lentil Sauce
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp mixed Italian herbs
- 1 can green or brown lentils, drained
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 2 cans chopped or whole tomatoes, (14oz / 400g size cans)
- ½ tsp balsamic vinegar
- ½ tsp brown sugar
- 300 g (11 oz) dried pasta
- 170 g (6 oz) grated cheddar cheese
- In a large pan, saute your garlic until fragrant. Add the mixed herbs and lentils and mix together for another minute.
- Add your tomatoes, tomato paste, balsamic vinegar and sugar to form your tomato sauce.
- Add the dried pasta and then fill the tomato can one and a half times with water and add to the pan.
- Bring to a simmer, and let the pasta cook for 10 to 12 minutes (stirring regularly) until it is al dente.
- Keep an eye on the pasta. If the sauce in the pan thickens up before the pasta is cooked, add some extra water. Thicker pastas will require more water than thinner, quicker cooking ones. I’ve erred on the side of less water in these instructions, because my pasta was a quick cooking variety. But if, once the pasta is cooked, the sauce is too thin: just keep it on the heat for a few more minutes uncovered until some liquid evaporates. Or you can add some more tomato paste to thicken it up.
- Once the pasta is cooked, add the cheddar cheese and stir until melted. Serve!
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Very quick to make. I had a salad and some bread and you got a nice little meal in no time
So happy you enjoyed this! Thanks so much for coming back to rate and review, it’s much appreciated!
Hi there. Lovvvvve this recipe, but can I freeze it? Thanks
Yes! You can freeze for up to 6 months. I am so glad you’re loving the recipe!
Hi, another lovely recipe Christine! I cooked up a big batch of this at the weekend and popped some of it in the freezer. I’m just wondering if it’s suitable for freezing and reheating? Thanks!
Yes it definitely is suitable to freeze for up to 6 months and reheats just fine in the microwave! So happy you liked it, thank you for the feedback 🙂
Can I replace the balsamic Vinegar with something else?
A few drops of red wine vinegar, or even a little glug of red wine? Or you can just leave it out, it will still come out fine!
How much water do you add?
You measure the water from the tomato can – you fill it up one and a half times 🙂 Sorry it’s not on the ingredients list only mentioned in Step 3.
How would you substitute dried lentils instead of canned? Thanks!
Because dried green lentils take longer to cook than the pasta, you’d just need to cook them separately first. Go for 1/2 a cup of dried lentils – this should yield 1 and 1/4 cups of cooked lentils, which is around the same amount you’d get from a can. If you don’t do cups, that’s around 100g.
Could I use passata instead of tinned tomatoes? I’m not a fan of whole/real tomatoes but don’t mind them pureed!
Yes that should work fine!
This looks delicious! Do you use fresh Italian herbs? Is dried Italian seasoning okay? If fresh, what two or three fresh herbs do you use? Thank you!
Yes dried Italian seasoning works – mine is just a mix of dried herbs such as basil, oregano, marjoram… some Italian seasonings might have added salt and things but that should be OK, just don’t add any extra salt if that’s the case.
I’m excited to try this. I was just curious if a no salt tomato sauce could work in place of the canned tomatoes? My toddler would be much more apt to eat something without chunks (no matter how small!).
I think that would work really nicely, definitely give it a try!
Is the brown sugar necessary? I try to stay away from sugar but if not, what other substitutes could I use? This looks so good though!
You could leave it out. A little extra sweetness in tomato sauce can be nice and balance the acidity, but it’s absolutely fine without.
How many ounces is the can of lentils?
They’re 14oz cans 🙂
This was so tasty! I had a 28oz can of crushed tomatoes with roasted garlic and herb that we bought on accident and had lying around for awhile, and it was perfect for this dish! It totally cut the prep time down. We use dry lentils, so I just cooked up a cup of dry lentils (I undercooked them and then added them to the noodle pot to finish cooking) – it ended up being bit more than a can’s worth, but I decided to add it all because after I put in the initial amount I wanted more lentils. I’m glad I did, it was the perfect amount! They gave it a very meaty texture and even flavor with the cheese. I will be making this recipe again!
This is lovely to hear, thank you so much for the feedback!