Thursday, November 19, 2015

Pasta with Lentils (Pasta con Lenticchie)

I had my share of Lentils growing up.  They say eating Lentils brings great wealth.  
For this recipe, Italian or French lentils are in order.  Lentils from China that are all over the markets just won't do.   You need tiny green lentils from France or tiny brown Lentils from Umbria, Italy.  They are the best kind. 
Give two cups of lentils a rinse, then leave them in a bowl with water covering them by two inches.  Italian lentils from Umbria are best as they are smaller and full of flavor.  They also cook faster and do not require soaking overnight.  
Wait 30 minutes.  Your bad lentils will float to the top.  You might find an occasional rock floating away on  the top too.  Skim these away and set aside your bowl.  You will even begin to notice your Lentils have expanded some.  Do not worry.
In a deep pot, large enough to accommodate your soup, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil. 
3  carrots diced (about one cup)
2  celery stalks diced (about one cup)
One large red onion ( about one cup diced red onion)
one clove of garlic chopped
one teaspoon of salt plus some additional to taste
4 optional sausage links. 
1/2 pound of shell pasta (This will go a long way in bowls later.  This is enough for 6 people).
 Saute them in olive oil right in your soup pot until browned but not cooked through.   Remove them from the pot and continue with your vegetables.   You can return the sausages whole to the pot after your liquid is added and your soup is left to cook.
(Slice the sausage before serving in bowls).

Place all of the above ingredients in your pot.  Saute and medium/low until your vegetables are fragrant and "sweating."  This should take a good 8-10 minutes.  Continue mixing, add your Lentils.  Add another teaspoon of salt.  Saute for another 5 minutes.  At this point you want to add 8 oz of diced tomatoes and their juice.   One 1/2 cup of white wine.  Let the wine reduce for 5 more minutes.  Keep your heat on medium and add 7 cups of water.  Your lentils should be covered with liquid by about 2 inches.  Set your lid ajar and let your lentils boil away for one hour.  Keep a watchful eye that your liquid doesn't completely evaporate.  If it looks dry, add another cup of water.  After about an hour your lentils should be quite thick.  At this point you can add some dried pasta directly to your pot.  Follow cooking directions.  (Any shell will do or break some spaghetti in little pieces).  Let your pasta cook right in your soup.  If you are not comfortable with this, you may cook your pasta separately.  I like to cook everything in the same pot as your pasta will take on all that wonderful Lentil flavor.   Serve in large bowls with crusty bread and garnish with Parsley.  Buon Appetito.
Special Hints:  You may use stock for your liquid. I do not since it seems to mask the flavor of the lentils.  Salt and pepper is always to taste~ enjoy!
Special Note no.2, I like to use red onion as it is sweeter and easier to handle in the kitchen.   These onions cook rather quickly in this recipe and retain good sweet flavor.
Special Note no.3, You can even add a few raw sausages before adding your lentils.  I do not.  Follow your steps above accordingly and add 30 minutes to your cooking time as you will need to cook your sausages in your pan before adding your lentils and your liquid.  You will need to remove your sausages before adding your pasta to your soup. You may even have to add one cup of water.   This is not necessary but will be delicious too. Buon Appetito! 
(More pics later).

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Lasagna Pugliese Style

If you grew up Italian and living in the United States or Canada, you know what I am talking about here.  It's just not Thanksgiving or any other Holiday without Lasagna as a first course.   The meat sauce is simple and is nothing but a typical meat sauce you would have on pasta every Sunday growing up.  You can make your meat sauce in advance. You can even double the recipe.  You can either freeze it or refrigerate it for a few days until you are ready to assemble your Lasagna.   The important factor to remember is to invest in a good quality dry pasta, if you can not make your own.  I have never understood, why some people insist on cheap quality pasta.  Spend a few extra dollars.  It is a Holiday afterall. 
I bought mine from William Sonoma Outlet.  

Forget the no boil Lasagna, unless you desire and prefer the taste of rubber.  It's all in the assembly.  Yes, it takes a little extra time but some things in life are worth it.   Happy Thanksgiving Everyone.  
About 5 cup of Meat sauce (If you choose to make the meatballs, crush them before assembly.  I added ground beef to my sauce recipe).  Follow the link for the sauce here.
One 13 inch x 9 inch heavy duty Lasagna tray
One tablespoon of butter to line the tray.
One pound plus half pound Lasagna sheets
One pound fresh mozzarella sliced (place your mozzarella in wax paper and then in the freezer for 30 minutes before slicing). 
8 ounces of Parmigano Reggiano cheese plus extra for the table
12 ounces whole milk ricotta 
pinch of nutmeg
Several cups of starchy water you can collect while the pasta sheets are cooking.
Follow the cooking instructions on your package.   It should be a little bit ahead of al dente.  Do not worry about this.  Keep in mind that the pasta will continue to cook, covered in the oven.   You need not overcook it. 
Drain and cool.  Don't forget to save some of the water. Separate the pasta sheets by draining them and letting them hang off the side of the colander.  
Collect your ingredients and get them ready for assembly.
 Mix your ricotta and Nutmeg.  Add a pinch of salt and set aside.
Cook your pasta in rolling boiling water.  Don't forget to salt your water before adding your pasta to the pot.   Follow package directions.  In the meantime, smear  the bottom of your lasagna pan with butter.  Place a about a cup of sauce mixed with ground beef or smashed meatballs on the bottom of the pan.  Begin lining your pan with the Lasagna sheets, Then sprinkle some cheese, layer some mozzarella across the bottom then add some sauce.   Follow with another layer of pasta going in the opposite direction.   Then, place several dollops of your ricotta mixture across the sheets.  Do not worry if they are uneven.   While the lasagna cooks, everything will melt some and spread evenly.   Just do your best to spread it across the lasagna sheets.  Repeat again with Parmigiano cheese then sauce.   Do not place mozzarella on this layer.   Place the sheets again over your sauce, then add a layer of mozzarella cheese.   Continue with each layer in the opposite direction until you reach the top.  If you layers seem uneven, keep a scissor handy or sharp knife to cut down your pasta sheet to fill in where you need to.  Be sure and keep the ruffled edge uniformed.  When it's cut, it will be prettier in the plate.   

 Cover tightly with aluminum foil.  I have not baked mine yet.  Refrigerate until ready to bake.   Be sure and remove it from the refrigerator one hour before you plan on cooking it.   Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.   Keep it covered and bake for 45 minutes with the cover on.   Remove the cover and cook for 15 minutes more.    Remove from the oven and let cool 15 minutes before serving.   
Buon Appetito!