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Pasta and Lentils
(Neapolitan Macaroni and Lentils)

Serves 4
Carlo Mastroberardino of Avellino's Mastroberardino Wines, says that when he was a boy, his mother made this dish so often that he can barely look at lentils anymore. Despite his personal protest, it is one of the most beloved and typical dishes of Campania, where, in Atripalda (province of Avellino), the Mastroberardino family has been making wine since the 1500s. Carlo, who in his early thirties gained control of the company with his father, Antonio, says his mother, an elementary school teacher, always made it on Fridays when he and his brother were growing up, using a pasta mischiata (or pasta mista) of the different shapes of macaroni left in the boxes and bags in her pantry. Capellini, also known as capelli d'angelo (angel's hair), broken into 2- or 3- or 4-inch lengths, is another possibility and one many people prefer, if only because the very thin pasta cooks so quickly. Be warned: This is not soup. It should be very thick and can be eaten with a fork.
5   cups water
3/4   cup lentils
2   large cloves garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1   cup chopped canned plum tomatoes, with some juice
2   teaspoons salt
1/4   teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1/2 pound vermicelli or capellini, or small tubular pasta
2   rounded tablespoons finely cut or snipped parsley
Optional: Extra virgin olive oil and hot red pepper flakes or hot pepper oil for garnish.

    In a medium saucepan, bring water to a rolling boil, add the lentils and cook, covered, over medium-high heat, until nearly but not entirely tender, about 20 minutes.

    Add the garlic, the olive oil, the tomatoes, the salt and the pepper. Reduce the heat, cover, and continue to simmer briskly for another 10 minutes, stirring a few times, or until the lentils are fully tender.

    If using capellini, break it into 2- to 4-inch pieces and add them to the lentils. Cook, covered, at a steady simmer, stirring several times and scraping the bottom of the pot when you do. Cook until pasta is just done, stirring more frequently as it gets closer to that point. If using a small tubular pasta or pasta mista, cook the pasta at least halfway in plenty of salted boiling water. Drain the pasta, add it to the lentils, and simmer to finish cooking the pasta.

    When either pasta is cooked to taste, remove the pot from the heat, stir in the parsley, cover the pot and let stand for about 5 minutes before serving.

    Serve hot, passing hot pepper oil or the best quality extra virgin olive oil for drizzling on top.

- From Naples At Table: Cooking In Campania; More Than 250 Recipes From Avellino, Benevento, Caserta, Salerno, The Amalfi Coast, Capri And Ischia. New York: HarperCollins, 1998. 436p. -
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