Sicilian Pasta & Lentils
From The Southern Italian Table: Authentic Tastes from Traditional Kitchens
Hands on time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 40-45 minutes
3 qt/litres water
1 medium onion, finely minced (about 1 cup)
2 outside celery ribs, finely minced (I didn’t have celery, so I used fennel root)
2 ½ tsp salt
1 lb/450g lentils (the book suggests small European brown lentils, but I used Du Puy - green lentils), rinsed & drained
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp pancetta, finely minced
1 small carrot, finely minced (about ½ cup)
1 large garlic clove, minced
½ fresh flat leaf/Italian parsley, finely shredded
1 ½ cups tomato puree or 1(14oz/396g) crushed plum tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper or red chili pepper flakes or more to taste
8oz/225g broken spaghetti or any small tubular pasta
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (Ruth’s note: I garnished with chopped parsley…as much as I adore lentils, I like a little color in my dish)
1. In a large Dutch oven (at least 4qt/4liter capacity) over high heat, bring the water to a rolling boil with half the minced onion and celery (or fennel root) plus 2 tsp salt. Ruth’s note: for easy prep I use my food processor for mincing the vegetables separately, since the garlic and carrots are added later. Let the water boil for a minute or two. Add the lentils and gently boil for about 20 minutes or until they are almost, but not completely tender.
2. Meanwhile combine the olive oil and pancetta in an 8-9” skillet on medium heat. When the pancetta starts to sizzle add the remaining onion, celery/fennel root, carrot, garlic and parsley. Cook until the vegetables are tender, stirring often (about 8 minutes). Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, black pepper or red pepper flakes, and, if needed the last of the salt. Simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring often.
3. When the lentils are tender pour the tomato sauce into the Dutch Oven, stir well and reduce heat to simmer the sauce and lentils together for about 10 minutes.
4. Add the pasta to the soup (Dutch oven), increase the heat so the mixture boils and continue boiling until the pasta is done to taste, stirring frequently so the pasta doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. The soup can be soupy or dry – personal preference. Add more water if you find it necessary, a little at a time so the soup continues to boil and cook the pasta to your taste.
5. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
Serve with good quality olive oil. I like to garnish with parsley to add a little color. A variation suggested in the book is to stir in blanched and chopped Swiss chard, spinach or other greens at the very end (I think beet greens would add a lovely flavor).