I started making this hearty preparation when I was cooking in a bare-bones studio kitchen while vacationing in Greece. The minimart in the tranquil seaside village carried more suntan lotion and beach supplies than food, but I could always count on finding pasta, lentils, tomatoes and great olive oil. I continue to enjoy this combination at home and find it’s the perfect antidote to a chilly winter evening in Vermont.
- In large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add onions and carrots; cook, stirring often, until softened, 4 to 6 minutes. Add garlic and pepper flakes; cook, stirring, 30 to 60 seconds. Add lentils and thyme; stir to coat. Add broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, 25 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat deep 3-quart casserole dish with cooking spray.
- Transfer lentil mixture to prepared casserole. Add pasta, tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste; mix with rubber spatula. Pour in 1 ¼ cups boiling water.
- Cover with ovenproof lid or foil and bake until lentils and orzo are almost tender, about 25 minutes. Uncover and stir to redistribute ingredients. (Casserole can be made ahead to this point. Cover and refrigerate up to 2 days. Reheat on stovetop, adding enough water to achieve stewlike consistency. Return to casserole dish.)
- In small bowl, mix together bread crumbs, parsley and remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Bake uncovered until bubbly and top is crusty, 15 to 20 minutes more. Serve hot.