Originally published October 26, 2018. Updated March 17, 2020.
This easy Italian Lentil and Rice Casserole is made entirely from pantry staples, so it's great when you can't get to the grocery store right away! Warm and filling, it's got all the flavors of Italy in a healthy little casserole featuring lentils, brown rice, and tomatoes!
I make my vegetable broth from kitchen scraps and keep it in the freezer in 2 or 3 cup portions. That makes it easy to use anytime I need it, quickly.
Making my own also means I have complete control over how much salt is in it - which is none. You can get the recipe here, or look for a vegetable broth with the lowest amount of sodium at the store you can get.
Quick Cooking Brown Rice
It's my go-to rice! Brown rice can take up to an hour to cook, but quick cooking brown rice takes only 20 minutes. Which is close to the same amount of time the lentils take, making it the perfect choice for this recipe!
If you have regular brown rice that does take an hour, start cooking it alone and after 30 minutes toss the lentils and other ingredients in. If you have instant brown rice, start cooking the lentils and the other ingredients and when there's about 5 or 10 minutes left, toss the rice in.
Brown lentils, or green lentils (you may see them called either), are a wonderful dry bean options. Some dry beans can take hours to boil, but lentils only take about 20 minutes. And they're so darn delicious!
Beans and lentils are important to include on a heart healthy eating plan. Many studies have been conducted on the health benefits of legumes. They are known to help decrease blood cholesterol levels, and consuming ½ cup a day is associated with a 38% lower risk of having a heart attack. Another study found those who consume legumes 4 times per week have a 22% lower risk of heart disease than those who eat less than one per week.
Canned Diced Tomatoes
I keep these in my pantry at all times and use them in so many recipes! Look for no added salt varieties.
Tomatoes are high in lycopene (an antioxidant), which is well known for its role in prostate health. But did you know it also protect your heart? Lycopene seems to not only lower your risk of stroke, but also lower your risk of having additional cardiac events.
Kalamata Olives or Capers
Okay, these are high in salt, so moderation is key. I love using ingredients like these when I need a little salt, because they also add a little fiber and additional flavor. Green olives would work here, too, if you like. Black olives may not because they are sweeter. You want something brinier. Marinated artichokes would probably be good, too!
I keep this on hand all the time, but it's optional in this recipe if you don't have it. It's got a bit of a cheesy flavor, so it complements the casserole nicely. It's high in vitamin B12, which is sometimes lacking in plant-based diets. But mostly, it's just delicious!
How to make Italian Lentil & Rice Casserole
Most of the time you'll spend here is hands-off time. I love that!
First, take all the ingredients for the casserole, add them to a large pot, and boil them for about 20 minutes - unless you have a different kind of rice (see above recommendations).
While that cooks, make the topping by combining all the ingredients and tossing together.
Once the lentils and rice are tender, transfer to a casserole dish, and spread topping over the entire thing. Bake for about 25 minutes or so, until the topping is browned and the casserole is bubbly. Enjoy!
If you make Italian Lentil & Rice Casserole, let me know!
Italian Lentil & Rice Pantry Casserole
Easy, healthy dinner casserole that is easily customizable to what's in your pantry, and pairs great with most any vegetable for a complete meal.
- 4 cups Homemade Vegetable Broth (or low sodium vegetable broth or water)
- 1 cup Quick Cooking Brown Rice (not instant)
- 1 cup Brown Lentils, dry
- 15 oz can Diced Tomatoes
- ¼ cup Kalamata Olives, chopped (or Capers)
- 2 tablespoon Minced Garlic (about 6 cloves)
- 2 tablespoon Dry Oregano
- ½ cup Panko Bread Crumbs
- 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
- 1 tablespoon Nutritional Yeast, optional
- ½ teaspoon Salt
- Ground Pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
In a large pot, add all ingredients for the casserole and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, until lentils and rice are done or slightly al dente.
Meanwhile, combine the topping ingredients, and mix well.
When the lentil and rice mixture is ready, transfer to a lightly oiled 8X13 casserole dish. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the mixture.
Bake for 20-30 minutes, until bubbly and topping is slightly browned.
Judy Vettoretti says
Could you sub red lentils for brown? Thanks.
Laura Yautz says
Hi Judy, in this particular recipe, red lentils wouldn't work the same. Red lentils tend to turn to mush because they are actually split red lentils, and cook really quickly compared to the brown lentils. They work better for soup and other dishes where that texture is desirable.
You could certainly try it in a pinch. If you do, I'd recommend cooking the rice and lentils separately. For the rice, reduce the vegetable broth in the recipe to 2 cups, and add the rest of the ingredients and cook as written (except of course the lentils). Then cook the red lentils in the remaining 2 cups broth - simmer for 5-10 minutes until the broth is absorbed and the lentils are tender (you may end up needing another cup of broth). Combine the rice and lentils and serve. I wouldn't bake the casserole as in the recipe since the lentils would just break down too much. If you want to do the topping, you could sprinkle it on top and pop it under your broiler for a minute or two. Yellow split peas might be a better option here if you have them. I haven't tested any of that to know for sure, but that's what I would try. 🙂 Let me know if you try it!
What size can of diced tomatoes do you use in this recipe?
Laura Yautz says
Hi Grace, it's a 15 oz can of diced tomatoes. 🙂
Thanks so much!