Brown lentils are very much loved in Italy, and especially in the centre regions, where you can find the Castelluccio type, a small and fine lentil from Umbria that doesn’t require soaking thanks to their thinner outer layer. These lentils have also a lovely nutty taste and retain their shape while cooking.
In the UK, if you can’t find the Umbrian lentil, the nearest to this is the Puy lentil, a similar size and good at not breaking up while cooking.
Saying that, on a very impromptu occasion last weekend, what I had in the cupboard was a packet of organic brown lentils: they worked perfectly well and provided a good tasty meal for 6 people. (plus leftovers!)
For the lentil soup base:
1 500g packet of lentils
2 garlic cloves, bruised
1 large carrot peeled and finely diced
2 celery sticks, finely diced
1 stock cube / vegetable or chicken, crumbled
1 400g tin of plum or chopped tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
Pinch of sugar
Circa 500g of very good quality sausages
3 or 4 sage leaves or a sprig of rosemary
A small glass of white wine
I used a packet of Salsiccia Toscana luganega style, from Salsicciamo, a very good type of sausage in a natural casing, made in the UK following an original Italian recipe, with no gluten, allergens or sulphites, but there is no reason for not using a good vegetarian sausage if you wish.
If you’re local to Chester these sausages can be found at Armando’s Deli on Garden Lane.
Rinse the lentils well, and place them in a pot over medium heat covering them with cold water, the water should be about 2 or 3 cm above the lentils. Add the diced carrots and celery and the 2 bruised cloves of garlic. Bring to the boil, add the stock cube and let it simmer for about 20 minutes, checking that there is always enough liquid while the lentils are cooking.
Start the tomato sauce, in a separate pan, over low to medium heat. Add the olive oil, a large tablespoon, and the sliced garlic, wait until the garlic aromas arise then add the tomatoes, reduce the heat adding a bit of salt and a pinch of sugar. This is to lower the acidity of the tinned tomatoes. The tomato sauce needs only about 10 minutes of cooking at this stage.
Heat a large pan with a drizzle of olive oil and brown the sausages on both sides, turning frequently until cooked through. Towards the end of the cooking time pour the small glass of wine in the pan and let it evaporate while coating the sausages with the juices.
Assemble the ingredients:
With a slotted spoon add the drained lentils and vegetables in the pan with the sausages and their cooking juices. The lentils cooking water with some lentils left in the pan are good to use for a separate soup, never waste anything!
Add the tomato sauce to the pan and a few sage leaves or rosemary sprigs, and let it simmer gently for another 10 minutes until all the flavours have blended well together.
I have not added too much salt as the sausages are usually well seasoned and too much salt would spoil the dish.
The lentil and sausage stew is a satisfying dish that can work well on its own with a few slices of bread and a green salad, although the way we had it was with a little rice and some long stem broccoli, very elegantly accompanied by the lovely Valpolicella Ripasso!
Let me know what you think of this recipe if you try it 🙂
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