Rigatoni with Lentils

For families the world over, pasta is often a quick and go-to meal. Only requiring a simple boiling of the pasta and the plopping of a jar of store-bought sauce on top, it appears that many people take this meal for granted. I too will admit that while there is nothing wrong with this practice, it’s just that sometimes, I think pasta deserves a little more respect. There are numerous delicious and homemade recipe for pasta which are either really easy, quick, or both for that matter. Let’s also not forget that these recipes are bound to be far more tasty than any store-bought meal, like this sumptuous recipe for Rigatoni with Lentils, from none other than the super-talented Italian powerhouse, Lidia Bastianich. Boy oh boy, I can go on for hours praising her and admiring her skill. Alongside Rick Bayless and Madhur Jaffrey, she is one of my favorite chefs. Her food is real, unlike most of the cheese-covered glop flooding those “Italian” restaurants these days, and each recipe of her’s is simply beautiful, even if it only involves throwing a handful of ingredients in a pan and calling it a day. Alongside her fabulous food, credit must be given to her cookbooks, but most of all to her excellent show, Lidia’s Italy. This show, which catalogs the adventures of the kitchen goddess as she travels around Italy to exciting locales such as Rome, Naples, Sicily, Puglia, Maremma, Friuli, Veneto, and her hometowns of Trieste, and Pula, Croatia (both of which have become the places where I want to travel to next), her talent as a storyteller and power as an educator make this show. Alternating between scenes of Lidia cooking rustic meals in her kitchen and her traveling around Italy sampling heavenly food created by chefs, artisans, friends, family, and locals, this show is without a doubt the best cooking show that I have seen to date. She puts all those food network chefs with their pretentious swagger to shame. Anyways, let’s get more to this dish shall we. Like I said, Lidia cooks, as her book is aptly named, from “the heart of Italy”. What this means, is that many of the recipes featured in her cookbooks and her shows are from lesser-visited, but still just as delicious regions of the famed-peninsula. This dish which comes from humble of region of Basilicata, located at the instep of Italy’s boot. It’s a simple, but luscious sauce of lentils, carrot, celery, and a generous dose of San Marzano tomatoes, the “sexy” tomato, as refered to by Lidia, which just manage to work magic into whatever sauce you put them into. Finished with a sprinkling of parsley and grated Parmigiano, this sauce makes one of the greatest dressings for rigatoni besides the classic vodka sauce. It’s full of sensuating flavors of earthy lentils, pleasingly tangy tomatoes, and rich and fruity extra-virgin olive oil. Did I also mention that it has  nice kick from the peperoncino flakes that are added into the sauce. Pure perfection, and while this takes around an hour to cook, it is worth every minute.

Recipe: Rigatoni with Lentils

Recipe from Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy by Lidia Bastianich

  • 1 cup small brown lentils (any kind from any country will do)
  • 1/3 cup carrot, 1/4 inch dice
  • 1/3 cup celery, 1/4 inch dice
  • 2 fresh bay leaves (you can use dried, but then you might want to double the amount)
  • 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, plus a little extra for drizzling if you desire (Please drizzle, it’s absolutely delicious)
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
  • 3 cups Italian plum tomatoes, recommended San Marzano
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
  • 1 pound rigatoni (regular is fine, but Lidia also recommends a whole-wheat version if you desire)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • grated pecorino or parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top


1. Rise the lentils and put them in a sauce pan with the celery, carrots, and bay leaves. Add 3 cups of cold water and bring the mixture to a boils. Cover the pot and maintain a gentle simmer. Cook until the lentils are tender, about 25 minutes.

2. When the lentils are almost cooked, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Scatter in the garlic slices and begin to cook until aromatic and sizzling. Sprinkle the peperoncino and add the tomatoes, gently crushing the tomatoes in the pan with a spoon till your preferred consistency (I would recommend going chunky here). Add about a cup of water to the empty tomato can and slosh it around to collect all the left over tomato bits and juices. Pour this into the sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes, till the sauce thickens slightly.

3. When the lentils are tender, pour them into the pan with the sauce and add the salt. Stir everything together and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook for about 25 minutes, until the lentils are quite tender and the sauce has the appropriate consistency for serving with pasta. Add in the cooked rigatoni (which you can cook in salted boiling water while the sauce is going, please follow the package instructions). Mix the pasta into the sauce, making sure that it is properly coated. Sprinkle with parsley and drizzle with olive oil if desired. Serve immediately with pecorino or parmesan cheese for sprinkling. Buon Appetito!

Cooking Notes:

  • For more information about Lidia and her amazing books, show, and recipes, please visit http://www.lidiasitaly.com/
  • If you would like to watch Lidia’s Italy, check it out on your local public broadcasting channel (WTTW/Channel 11 in the Chicago area), or the first two seasons, which are available for streaming on Hulu Plus.
  • Wine Pairing: I thing that robust red would work brilliantly here to complement the lentils, however, I am no wine expert. I am sure Lidia would know though!

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