This whole foods plant-based meal can be a one-time family meal or several meals for a poor college student, like myself. The whole wheat penne pasta gives an interesting texture and nutty and earthy flavor while providing beneficial nutrients including dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals that are often lacking in white pasta noodles.
Feel free to substitute lentils with other legumes, but the size and texture of lentils best resemble the "ground meat"-like characteristics and the lentils get evenly distributed in the sauce. —Lauren
In a medium pot, bring water to a boil and add the lentils, one dried bay leaf, and a pinch of salt. Cook until slightly tender and set aside.
In a large pot over medium heat, drizzle olive oil to cover the pot. Add the onion, carrot, celery and cook until the vegetables soften and the onions turn golden.
Add in the minced garlic, thyme, basil, and red pepper flakes. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir thoroughly.
Add in the wine and cook until most of the liquid evaporates.
Add vegetable paste, cooked lentils, and diced tomatoes. Add water, 1/2 cup at a time, if the sauce starts to dry out. The final sauce should be moist but not soupy. Cook for at least an hour over low heat.
In another medium pot, bring water to a boil and add a pinch of salt. Cook the pasta according to the package directions (usually 11-13 minutes). Drain once cooked.
Serve the pasta warm with the lentil sauce and garnish with more dried herbs, if desired. The sauce can be stored in a freezer for later use. Please do not freeze the cooked pasta though.