Lentil Ragu with Rigatoni

It’s been a year or two since I’ve made this ragu and having stumbled upon a bag of Umbrian lentils in the pantry, I figured it was time to re-visit the recipe.  My FB friend, Roz saw the photo I put up and said that it looked so darned good that she wanted me to put up the recipe on “Italian Culture & Cuisine” a group she runs that I belong to.  The recipe is a bit of a mash up from, Lidia Bastianich and my friend Deborah Mele, put in the links to their websites.

Enough Ragu for 1 Lb. Rigatoni

1 cup Castelluccio lentils, picked over (if these Umbrian lentils are unavailable, you could substitute Lentil du Puy
1/3 cup each carrots & celery cut into small dice
1/3 cup diced onions
4 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
2 bay leaves, fresh if you have them
5 Tbsp. EVOO
¼ – ½ tsp. Peperoncino (or to taste)
½ cup dry white wine
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 ½ cups tinned Italian plum tomatoes, diced & crushed by hand (not in the processor)
1 – 2 tsp. sea or kosher salt
1 lb. Rigatoni

To Dress the Pasta:

5 – 6 leaves Fresh basil, torn or shredded (I happened to have some chopped basil leaves in olive oil from last summer the freezer, so used that).
2 Tbsp. chopped Italian parsley
½ – 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese

Place the lentils in a sieve, rinse well with cold water.  Place them in a medium sized pot with the celery & carrots.  Add 3 cups of cold water & bring to a boil.  Turn down the heat to simmer, cover & cook for 15 – 25 minutes depending on the lentils, or until they are just tender.

Meanwhile, over medium-low heat  saute the onions until softened.  Add the garlic slices & continue cooking until they colour lightly.  Move the onions & garlic aside & add the tomato paste, stirring for a minute or so.  Now add the Peperoncino, stirring for about 30 seconds.  Add the white wine & boil until slightly reduced; add the tomatoes & simmer the mixture until slightly thickened.

Drain the lentils, reserving the cooking liquid.  Add them to the pan with the tomatoes, season with some salt, keeping in mind that the sauce will reduce somewhat.  Simmer the ragu, uncovered, for approximately 25 minutes or until it’s the consistency you like for dressing pasta.  If it’s a bit too thick, add a few tablespoons of the lentil cooking water.  Adjust the seasonings if necessary.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add a tablespoon or so of salt, add the pasta, stirring for a few seconds.  Cook the pasta until al dente.  When the pasta is al dente, reserve some of the cooking water & drain.  If you have a pasta scoop,  simply scoop the pasta straight into the sauce.

While the pasta is cooking, warm a large serving bowl on low heat in the oven or in a warming drawer.

Add the pasta to the lentil ragu & toss, coating them with the sauce.  If things appear too dry, add a bit of the pasta cooking water.  Remove from the heat; add the cheese, tossing well then add the fresh basil leaves & parsley;  giving things a good toss.  Place in the warmed serving bowl; drizzle with a couple of tablespoons of EVOO & serve immediately, passing more Pecorino cheese.

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