In Italy, lentils are traditionally served just after midnight on New Year’s Eve: “There’s a famous dish of cotechino sausage and lentils in Italy – the tradition being that eating the coin-shaped lentils will bring prosperity,” says Italian-born chef Lidia Bastianich, who co-owns Lidia’s Kansas City in the Crossroads Arts District, plus multiple restaurants in New York City. Bastianich often cooks with lentils in soups, salads, side dishes and pasta sauces.
“My grandmother grew her own lentils [in Italy], and I remember opening the pods and taking out the lentils,” she says. “The best lentils in Italy come from Castelluccio, in Umbria, which is one of the most magnificent places I have ever been. I visited there in search of these lentils, grown in a valley around the town.”
Bastianich says the most important thing to remember is not to overcook lentils, as this causes some of them to completely disintegrate. “If that happens, the best thing to do is make a purée and spread it on bread,” she says. “Lentils are great served with ham; I really like the combination of rice and lentils, [as well].” –Nancy Stiles
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Recipe by Lidia Bastianich, co-owner, Lidia’s Kansas City, reprinted with permission from Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine
Serves | 4 to 6 |
- 4 oz pancetta, cut into small chunks
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
- 2 medium carrots, peeled, large dice
- 2 stalks celery, large dice
- 1 small onion, large dice
- 2 cups loosely packed fresh Italian parsley leaves
- 1 28-oz can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 quarts cold water
- 1 lb brown lentils, rinsed
- 1 Tbsp kosher salt
- 1 cup long-grain rice
- freshly grated Grana Padano (to serve)
| Preparation | In the bowl of a food processor, combine pancetta and garlic, and process until smooth. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, and add olive oil. When hot, add pancetta mixture, and stir until fat renders, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in the bowl of food processor, combine carrots, celery, onion and parsley. Process until slightly chunky. When pancetta mixture has rendered, add processed vegetables to Dutch oven, and cook, stirring until dried out, about 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes; fill emptied can with water, and pour into pancetta mixture. Add bay leaves and cold water to Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, and simmer rapidly, uncovered, until soup is reduced by a fourth, about 1 hour. Add lentils, cover and cook, 15 to 20 minutes.
Add salt and rice to Dutch oven, and stir. Simmer until rice is al dente. Don’t overcook – rice will continue cooking in soup as you serve it. Remove bay leaves. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of cheese.