We’ve been having a cold snap here in Sarasota, with the temperature dropping into the fifties during the day. I understand that to my brethren, say, north of the Mason-Dixon line, temperatures in the fifties may not exactly constitute a cold snap at this time of year. But here in this neighborhood, it makes the case for the “thinning blood” theory.
Some local hands have made the claim that blood thins in warm climates, and those of us who live here have therefore become more sensitive to cool temperatures. I’m not seeing a lot of science involved in this reasoning, but I can say that three or four weeks ago, I’d be wearing a polo shirt if the temperature went into the fifties in Connecticut.
No matter, though, the temperature favored a comforting meal. One such comfort food—for me anyway—has always been lentils.
Italian lore says that if you eat lentils on New Year’s Day, you’ll have good luck all year long. I feel pretty lucky, though, any time I eat lentils.
And certainly one of the most comforting elements of this dish is that it goes from stove to table in approximately half an hour.
Zuppa di Lenticchie
1 Clove garlic, peeled, and coarsely chopped
1 Medium onion, peeled, and quartered
1 Medium carrot, peeled, and coarsely chopped
1 Medium stalk celery, washed, and coarsely chopped
1/4 Cup flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped
1/4 Lb. Pancetta, chopped
1 Lb. Dried lentils, washed, and picked over
Salt & freshly-ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. Dried red pepper flakes
Juice of 1/2 Lemon, OR 2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
Place the garlic, onion, carrot, celery, parsley, and pancetta in a Cuisinart, and pulse ten times for approximately one second per pulse.
Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a 3 quart saucepan over medium heat, then add the chopped vegetable mixture. Lower the heat and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the batutto, as it’s called, is quite soft; approximately 20 minutes.
Add the lentils and enough water to cover them well. Raise the heat and bring the lentils to the simmer. Skim, off any scum that rises during this time. Season with salt and pepper and the red pepper flakes.
Simmer for approximately half an hour, until the lentils are cooked through. While the lentils should not be exactly al dente, they should retain some texture. Add more water if necessary while the lentils are cooking, but note that this should be a fairly thick soup.
When the lentils are done, stir in the lemon juice or the vinegar.
Serve with Italian bread, or better still, with crostini that you’ve fried in olive oil.