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03/19/2014

~ Ditalini Pasta con le Lenticchie (Pasta with Lentils)~

IMG_7194Over the past week I've shown you how to make two of my favorite "legume meals".  I soaked some dried kidney beans to make hearty red beans and rice, then I made some luscious split pea soup in my slow cooker.  In a nutshell, legumes are the dried seed pods of beans, peas and lentils.  It wouldn't be right for me to close the pantry door on legumes without cooking some lentils, so, I'm tying a bow on the trio by making my favorite lentil dish today:  pasta with lentils!

IMG_7033In Italy, pasta with lentils is very common.  Here in Happy Valley USA, both Joe and I love lentil soup, but neither of us had ever heard of this dish, which I find odd.  

I learned all about it by tuning into an episode of Lidia's Italy on PBS television eight years ago.  Back in 2006 I was schooling myself on "all things Lidia Bastianich".  She was coming to Happy Valley to do a fundraising event for WPSU, our local PBS station, and, it was my job to organize and prep everything for her demonstration, as well as cook the dishes she demonstrated:  enough for a studio audience of 100 guests.  Cooking with and for this lovely, gracious woman was an extraordinary, unforgettable, remarkable experience!  

IMG_7198After watching Lidia prepare this dish on TV, I bought the ingredients the next day and prepared her recipe for dinner.  It was marvelous.  Since then, I've prepared variations of the dish, meaning:  I've tried other recipes.  I still like her vegetarian recipe and method for the preparation the best:  She cooks the lentils and the vegetables together to make a spicy sauce, boils the pasta separately, then dresses the pasta with the sauce.  I find this preferable because I can freeze the leftover sauce to serve over cooked pasta at another time (pasta stored or frozen in the sauce gets mushy).  Lidia mentions that in certain regions of Italy, pasta with lentils is soupy or stewlike, but, her recipe is not.  It is a hearty, meatless, perfectly sauced pasta dish!

LentilsA bit about lentils:  Lentils come in several varieties (colors).  Some are whole, others are peeled and split. With each type comes a difference in cooking time, and, a different texture after cooking.  The brown lentil is the most common, is sold in all supermarkets, and, is the kind I keep on hand in my pantry.  After rinsing, lentils cook in stock or water, with the ratio being 3 cups of liquid to 1 cup of lentils. 

This is my version of Lidia Bastianich's recipe:

IMG_7026For the lentil sauce:  

4  tablespoons olive oil

1-1 1/2  teaspoons pepperonchino flakes (red pepper flakes)

1 teaspoon sea salt

1  cup diced onion (1/4" dice)

3/4  cup peeled and diced carrot (1/4" dice)

1/2  cup diced celery (1/4" dice)

2  large garlic cloves, run through a garlic press

1 1/2  cups small brown lentils, rinsed and drained

3  cups chicken stock, vegetable stock, or, water

1  35-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, crushed by hand into bits and pieces (4 cups)

2  whole bay leaves

For the pasta:

1  pound ditalini pasta, or other small tubular pasta, cooked al dente according to package directions

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning pasta water

6  tablespoons butter, cut into pieces, for tossing into hot, cooked and drained pasta

1  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese, for tossing into hot, cooked pasta

For topping and garnishing:

1/4  cup additional finely-grated Parmigiano-Regiano or Pecorino Romano cheese, for passing at tableside

1/4  cup chopped, fresh Italian parsley (flat-leaf parsley)

IMG_7062 IMG_7049~ Step 1. Place the olive oil in the bottom of an 8-quart stockpot.  Stir in the pepperonchino and salt.  Prep and add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic.  Adjust heat to saute and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and the carrots are softening, about 4-5 minutes.  

IMG_7089 IMG_7067~ Step 2. Sprinkle in the lentils, stir, and saute, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.

~ Step 3.  Add the stock, tomatoes and bay leaves.  Bring to a boil over high heat, adjust heat to a steady simmer, cover the pot and continue to cook until the lentils are tender yet al dente, about 1 1/2 hours.

IMG_7097~ Step 4.  Remove the lentil sauce from the heat and set aside, covered, to steep and thicken a bit more while preparing the pasta:

~ Step 5.  In an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a boil, then, add 1 tablespoon sea salt to the water.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 9 minutes.

While the pasta is cooking, grate the cheese and chop the parsley.

IMG_7127 IMG_7116Step 6. When the pasta is cooked, drain it into a colander and immediately return it to the hot stockpot and return the stockpot to the still warm stovetop.  

Add the butter and cheese. Using two forks or two spoons, toss, like you would a salad, until both are melted and pasta is evenly coated.

IMG_7159 IMG_7144                                               ~ Step 7. Add half of the lentil sauce.  

IMG_7131Note:  Half of the sauce is about 3-3 1/2 cups. Refrigerate or freeze the other half. Add a bit more stock or water to leftover sauce to reach desired consistency.

Portion into four warmed serving bowls and garnish with grated cheese and chopped parsley: 

IMG_7203Ditalini Pasta con le Lenticchie (Pasta with Lentils):  Recipe yields 4, main-course servings, and 7 total cups lentil sauce (enough sauce for 2 meals).

Special Equipment List:  2, 8-quart stockpots; cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; garlic press; large spoon; microplane grater; colander; soup ladle

Vegetable Stock #3 (Water in Pot)Cook's Note:  One of the things I was required to make for Lidia's demonstration was a big pot of her vegetable stock.  Until I tasted hers, I never had an appreciation for vegetable stock.  To find my version of her recipe, read ~ How to:  Make a Basic Vegetable Stock a la Lidia ~ in Categories 2, 14, 15, 22.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014) 

Comments

Licia -- Thank-you for the kind comment. While my family adores meat, this is indeed one of their favorite meatless meals. Enjoy!

I cannot wait to try this, thank you so much for such detail in the recipe! A favorite Aunt of ours passed a few years ago and we never got her recipe for her lentils. This seems just like what she did so I am venturing out this coming weekend to make a pot! I adore cooking but never made my own lentils since she always made them. Your site is fabulous and I am so glad I found it.

Teresa! Coming from you -- I am gleeful! We love this "unsoupy" version of it here too!

Mike and I loved this, Mel! I didn't do the PC. I just wanted to stick to your recipe for now. I'll try the pressure in the future because this is a keeper!

Teresa! I would use the red ones, and, as I say in Step 3: cook until al dente, about 1 1/2 hours. That being said, red lentils will probably cook faster, but, I'm not sure exactly how much faster. I'm guessing 45 minutes to an hour. If you are using your pressure cooker, I'd be REALLY interested in that timing, should you be willing to share!

Mel, I want to make this tonight, and I have red, black and green lentils, but no brown. :( Do you think one of them would work, and what would you suggest for the cooking time?

Teresa! Thanks for this comment. Lidia mentions that she was served pasta and lentils this way in Basilicata, and, it was served with rigatoni. The Splendid Table has a recipe for pasta and lentils made in this manner too. I only made a soupy version once. It was quite good (nice and spicy), and, it was made with ditalini. Joe and I both agreed we liked the "toss the two together" pasta dish better than the soupy one, and, I like how the ditalini catches the chunks of tomatoes and lentils. Since you are familiar with the soupy version, I hope you will try this and let me know what you think!

What a wonderful recipe, Mel. I've never seen this variation before. When I ate lentils in Italy it was always soup like. Very unique take to combine the pasta and lentils. It's very similar to the way I grew up eating pasta e fagioli. My grandma always made it with a thick meatless tomato sauce. I have to try yours with the lentils! I know I will love this!

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