Wholewheat Penne with Pancetta, Onions & Spinach

I assume most people are like me, rushing home from work in the evening and trying to get dinner on the table. Some days I consider cooking anything for dinner an achievement, let alone cooking a healthy, well-balanced meal. On those days, the only thing stopping me from phoning the nearest takeaway is the thought of having to go outside to collect it.

The next easiest thing to a takeaway has to be a simple pasta dish which can will be on your table within 20 minutes without much work. I tend to keep my fridge stocked with pancetta, baby spinach, and decent parmesan, and my store cupboard always has onions, pasta and olive oil in it. With a little bit of love and effort, these simple ingredient can be transformed into something delicious and healthy.

This recipe isn’t so much a strict recipe as a method using some basic ingredients. If you have chorizo rather than pancetta, feel free to use that, or if you stocked up on courgettes recently, grate them up and use them instead of the spinach. Add some cherry tomatoes if you have a punnet of them in your fridge, or replace the onions with shallots if that’s what you have to hand.

Pancetta, Spinach & Onion Pasta

Wholewheat Penne with Pancetta, Spinach & Onions

Serves 2


1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
2-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
200g wholewheat penne
100g cubed pancetta
100g baby spinach
salt & black pepper


1) Heat the oil in a large sauté pan and add the onions. Saute for 10 minutes until they are softened, and then add the garlic.
2) Cook the pasta according to packet instructions.
3) Meanwhile, add the pancetta to the pan and season well. Add the spinach to the pan after 7 minutes and allow the spinach to wilt down.
4) When the pasta is cooked, reserve a mug of the cooking water. Drain the pasta and add to the pan with a splash of the cooking water. Mix well, adding another splash of water if needed, and season to taste.
5) Serve sprinkled with some grated Parmesan.


Rich Onion, Garlic & Thyme Spaghetti

Domini Kemp Rich Onion, Garlic & Thyme Pasta

My move back to Ireland from my study abroad placement in Poland in 2008 aligned with several important parts of my food journey. I had recently given up my vegetarian diet, had decided to really learn how to cook, and Domini Kemp just started writing for The Irish Times Weekend section. Every recipe she published each week was a revelation to me, from simple dinner recipes, dessert to Sunday roasts. Her writing brought food as a pleasure alive for this broke student in a crappy apartment kitchen and started me on a journey towards being an unabashed food lover.

On my more recent move back to Ireland following my year in Dubai, I re-opened my cookbooks after a year away and instantly landed on this gloriously lush onion and garlic pasta recipe. Since then it has become a staple for a quick pasta dish which can cook away while I’m doing chores in the evening after work or catching up emails. It really is a dish for the allium lover in your household with one onion and half a head of garlic per person. However the slow saute of the onion and adding the glass of wine towards the end really mellows out the flavours to make an unctuous sauce for a bowl of spaghetti.

With a quick note to end about the type of pasta I use- since being diagnosed with diabetes, I only cook with wholewheat pasta as the higher fibre content helps to keep my blood sugar from rising as high after a plate of carbohydrates as it would after a plate of white pasta. It might take a few tries to get used to the taste of the wholewheat pasta but I don’t even notice the difference any longer. Of course, substitute in white pasta in this recipe if you prefer!

Spaghetti with Rich Onion, Thyme and Garlic Sauce

serves 2
Adapted from Domini Kemp’s Itsa Cookbook


4 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, very thinly sliced
1 head garlic, all cloves peeled and crushed
100ml white wine
5 sprigs thyme
salt & black pepper
200g wholewheat spaghetti
grated parmesan


1) Heat the olive oil in a large frying over a medium heat and add the onions to the pan. Sauté the onions for 15 minutes until soft and starting to turn golden.

2) Start to cook your pasta until al dente- this should take a little over 10 minutes.

3) Add the garlic to the onions and cook for 1 minute, and then add the white wine and the thyme. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and allow the white wine to reduce to a thick sauce.

4) When the pasta is cooked, reserve a cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta well. Add the pasta to the pan and mix together, using a splash of the reserved pasta water to loosen the mixture, if needed. Serve, topped with freshly grated Parmesan.


Rich Onion, Garlic & Thyme Pasta