Rinse the lentils under cold running water and leave to drain.
Put the drained lentils into a saucepan with 750ml cold water and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat, cover, and simmer gently for around 40 minutes until tender and then drain.
Meanwhile, gently heat the olive oil and butter in another saucepan until the butter is melted.
Add the pancetta and cook until sizzling and just beginning to brown.
Add the onion, carrot, celery and sage and cook slowly until all the vegetables start to soften.
Add the passata, stir well, season with freshly ground black pepper and bring to the boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
Add the drained lentils, mix well and simmer for a further 10 minutes, stirring from time to time.
Leave out the pancetta and add a good pinch of sea salt.
Leave out the pancetta and butter, again adding a good pinch of sea salt. This recipe makes the ideal base of meat-free shepherds pie and moussaka, as well as being a perfect sauce to serve with either pasta or rice.
Lentils are very cheap source of food that are rich in nutrients and there are several different types including red, black, green and brown. They are rich in iron, high in fibre, contain folic acid, potassium, calcium and vitamin B, making them an ideal food for heart health. In Italy the most popular are the green lentils which are grown in the region of Umbria on the Castelluccio plateau in the province of Norcia.
Green lentils have an earthy, nutty flavour and firm meaty texture. Unlike some other types of lentil they do not break down during cooking but retain their shape well. This makes them ideal for meat-free dishes and they are suitable for both vegetarian and vegan cooking.
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