When my friend Deb. Mele posted a recipe for Lentil Bolognese I have to say, it got my attention! As I am always on the lookout for interesting pasta sauces, for vegetarian meals and lastly but by no means least, I’m that woman who stuffs Castelluccio lentils into her luggage when packing to come home from Italy. Castelluccio lentils are grown in Umbria and are tiny, brownish jewels with a delicate flavor and a wonderfully tender texture. And like Lentil du Puy, they don’t disintegrate in cooking, which makes them ideal for salads. This is my version of Deb’s. recipe! You may not be able to get your hands on Castelluccio lentils, if not, substitute other Italian lentils. There are some nice ones from Puglia available.
Precook the Lentils:
1 cup Castelluccio lentils, picked over for any debris or stones, or other Italian lentils
1/3 cup finely diced carrots
1/3 cup finely diced celery
Make the Sauce:
1/3 cup finely diced onion
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 fresh bay leaves or 1 dried bay leaf
5 Tbsp. EVO
¼ – ½ tsp. peperoncino (aka chili flakes)
½ cup dry white wine
2 ½ cups tinned Italian plum tomatoes, diced & crushed with your hands
1 Tbsp. tomato paste.
1 – 2 tsp. sea salt or Kosher salt
1 lb. Rigatoni or other tubular shaped pasta
To Finish Dressing the Pasta:
5 – 6 leaves of fresh basil
2 Tbsp. chopped Italian parsley
½ – 1 cup finely grated Pecorino
Place the picked through & rinsed lentils in a medium sized pot with the carrots, celery, bay leaves & 3 cups cold water. Bring to a boil; turn the heat down, cover & sinner 15 – 25 minutes or just until tender.
Meanwhile, heat 5 Tbsp. EVO in a large saute pan. Saute 1/3 cup of the onion & the garlic slices until softened & slightly golden but not browned. Clear a spot in the pan & add the tomato paste, stirring for about 1 minute. Add the chili flakes (peperoncino) to the pan, stir for 30 seconds. Add the white wine & reduce by 1/3rd. Add the tomatoes, bring to a simmer; cook until slightly thickened. Drain the lentils, reserving the liquid & add the lentils to the pan with the tomatoes, season with salt, keeping in mind that the sauce will reduce somewhat. Simmer this mixture uncovered for approximately 25 minutes of until it’s a good consistency to dressing the pasta. If the sauce is too thick, thin it with some of the lentil cooking water. Keep sauce warm.
Cook the rigatoni until al dente. Check it approximately 2 minutes before the suggested time on the package. Scoop out some of the cooking water & set aside, then drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the pan containing the warm sauce tossing to combine, adding a bit of the pasta cooking water to reach the desired consistency if necessary. Tear up and add the basil leaves & parsley, tossing to combine. Remove from the heat, add the Pecorino, toss to combine.
Place the pasta in a warm serving bowl & drizzle with the remaining EVO, sprinkle with a bit more Pecorino & serve immediately.