I just returned from a whirlwind four-day trip to Italy for the Let’s Blog Abruzzo conference in the Medici hilltop town of Santo Stefano di Sessanio. I’ve barely had a chance to collect my thoughts about this wonderful experience (my three children are quite literally climbing all over me – one of them is actually standing right behind me as I type). I look forward to writing about the life-changing plate of gnocchi all’Amatriciana I ate (inhaled) in Rome and the amazing Abruzzese women who I met at the conference. At the moment, however, I wanted to share a quick recipe for a summertime Insalata di Lenticchie – lentil salad.
A few months ago, I wrote about the special lentils from the village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio and shared a recipe for Zuppa di Lenticchie with a secret ingredient. The lentil is thought to have arrived in Santo Stefano at the time of the Roman settlement, Sextantia, and derives from an old and rare species that is cultivated only in the poor terrain found high in the mountains. After visiting Santo Stefano last summer, I wished I had brought home more of these iron-rich, quick-cooking legumes so decided to stock up this time around.
Well, I might have gone a little overboard with the lentils. When I went through security in Rome, I was asked to open my suitcase due to the presence of a suspicious-looking item (i.e., a rolling pin). As I dug through my suitcase for the would-be offending object, I removed box after box (after box after box, etc., etc.) of the tiny legumes. The security officer chuckled and asked me, “Ma Signora, che cosa farai con tutte queste lenticchie?” – “What will you make with all of these lentils?”
Here’s his answer:
Insalata di Lenticchie
Recipe by Majella Home Cooking ©
- 1 small red onion, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
- 5 bay leaves
- 1 1/2 cups of extra-virgin olive oil
- 10 cups of water
- 2 heaping cups of small lentils such as Castelluccio or Puy, rinsed and picked over
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 celery ribs, finely chopped
- 2 carrots, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons of parsley, finely chopped
To a large pot, add the water, lentils, one bay leaf and 1/2 cup of olive oil. Cover the pot and bring to a boil and then remove the lid and lower the heat to a simmer. Meanwhile, to a small bowl, add the chopped red onion and red wine vinegar and let it sit while the lentils cook.
Allow the lentils to simmer for 30-35 minutes, tasting as they cook to check for doneness. When the lentils are tender but not mushy (you want the skins to remain unbroken), turn off the heat and drain the lentils well. Discard the garlic cloves and reserve the bay leaf. Transfer the lentils to a shallow dish and scatter the reserved bay leaf and remaining four bay leaves on top. Pour the remaining cup of olive oil over the lentils and very gently combine with a rubber spatula. Add salt and pepper to taste and gently stir the lentils again to combine. Cover with aluminum foil and allow to cool completely.
When the lentils are cool, remove and discard the bay leaves and then transfer the lentils to a serving bowl. Using a slotted spoon, remove the now-pickled red onion from the vinegar and add to the lentils along with the chopped celery, carrots and parsley. Stir gently to combine and add additional salt and pepper if needed. Serve immediately or refrigerate overnight and return to room temperature prior to serving. Buon appetito!
Extra Two Cents: For a meaty flavor, add a two-ounce piece of pancetta to the lentils while they simmer and discard after you drain the lentils. This lentil salad is also delicious topped with grated ricotta salata.