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Pasta and Lentils

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1 1/2 cups tomato puree or 1 (14-ounce) can peeled plum tomatoes, crushed

1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or red pepper flakes, or more to taste

8 ounces broken spaghetti, pasta mista, pennette or other small tubular pasta

Extra-virgin olive oil or Olio Santo (page 000), to pass at the table


            In a 4 to 5-quart pot, over high heat, bring 3 quarts of water to a rolling boil with half the minced onion, half the minced celery and 2 teaspoons of the salt. Let boil for a minute or so.


            Add the lentils and boil them for about 20 minutes, until they are almost, but not quite tender.


            Meanwhile, combine the olive oil and pancetta in an 8 to 9-inch skillet over medium heat. When the pancetta starts sizzling, add the remaining onion, celery, carrot, garlic, and parsley. Cook until the vegetables are tender, stirring often, about 8 minutes.


            Add the tomato purée or tomatoes, the tomato paste, if using it, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and the black or red pepper. Simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring often.


            When the lentils are tender, pour the tomato sauce into them, stir well, then reduce the heat and simmer the sauce and lentils together for 10 minutes.


            Add the pasta, increase the heat so the mixture boils, and continue boiling until the pasta is done to taste, stirring frequently so the pasta does not stick to the bottom of the pot. The pasta can be firm or soft, and the dish can be soupy or dry. Add more water, as necessary, a little at the time so the soup doesn’t stop boiling, to bring it to the consistency you like and cook the pasta to the degree you like.


            Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.


            Serve with condiment quality olive oil or Olio Santo (page 000). Grated cheese is not usually served with this, but if you like a sharp pecorino or well-aged caciocavallo Ragusano would be good.


            Variations: To further embellish the dish, you can stir in blanched and chopped Swiss chard, spinach, or other greens at the very end—with or without pasta.





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