MAKES 3 QUARTS
The plains of Castelluccio in Umbria are famous for the production of the most famous lentils in all of Italy; they are prized for their delicacy and for their long shelf life. The lentils are minute in size, just 2 millimeters, but they pack a huge nutritional wallop. They are very high in protein and a rich source of vitamins and fiber.
Historical records show that lentils were being cultivated as early as 7000 B.C. in southwest Asia and the cultivation spread to Greece and Rome. The lentils of Castelluccio have a very soft skin that means they do not require overnight soaking.
You can find lentils from Castelluccio in Italian specialty stores. There are three authentic types of Castelluccio lentils: Green, reddish, and grained.
Lentils are a popular item on the Italian New Year's Day table because they are thought of as good luck omens; this comes from the custom of giving a "scarsella" (purse) full of lentils at the end of the year in the hope that each lentil would turn into a coin, making the recipient one lucky and rich person.
This filling lentil and rice soup can be made in less than an hour and needs only a salad to provide a complete and well-balanced meal.
1/2 cup lentils
1 teaspoon butter or lard
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup minced Italian parsley
1 cup long grain rice
1 1/2 cups canned plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
6 cups chicken broth
Grated Pecorino cheese for sprinkling
Pour the lentils into a soup pot; cover them with cold water and boil them for 25 minutes. Drain the lentils and set aside. They should hold their shape, be cooked through and not mushy. Drain them and set aside.
In that same pot, melt the butter or lard; stir in the garlic and parsley and cook until the garlic softens but does not brown. Stir in the rice, tomatoes with their juice, and the broth. Bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat to simmer; cover the pot and continue cooking until the rice is tender. This should take about 25 minutes. Stir in the lentils and cook just to re-heat the soup. Serve immediately and pass grated cheese to sprinkle on top.
This recipe was featured on a show in the 1200-series, but has not been included in a cookbook as of 2002.
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