This savory, thick lentil spread is a great topping for a crostino, especially when made with tiny, firm lenticchie di Castelluccio, which give the mouth-feel of caviar. It can also serve as a fine side dish for any grilled meat, or as the base for risotto or soup. Then again, with the addition of crumbled sausage, it would make a great pasta sauce. So get creative: make a double batch of the lentil topping here, and have fun with all the leftovers.
- 1 cup small lentils, preferably lenticchie di Castelluccio
- 2 medium stalks celery, with leaves, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 2 plump garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
- 1 cup chopped onion
- ¼ teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
- 2 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 12 slices Italian bread
Recommended equipment: A heavy-bottomed saucepan, 3-to-4-quart capacity, with a cover; a large heavy skillet or saute pan.
Rinse the lentils, and put them in the saucepan with the celery, bay leaves, and 3 cups cold water.
Bring to a boil, cover the pan, and adjust the heat to maintain a gentle, steady simmer. Cook until the lentils are almost tender, about 20 minutes (or longer, depending on size).
Meanwhile, pour 4 tablespoons of the olive oil into the skillet, and set it over medium heat. Stir in the garlic and onion, and cook for 5 minutes or more, until the onion is soft and glistening. Drop the peperoncino into a hot spot in the pan, and let it toast for a minute, then stir in the crushed tomatoes, season with a teaspoon salt, and bring the sauce to a simmer. Let it bubble gently about 5 minutes, until slightly thickened.
When the lentils are just slightly undercooked, pour into their pan all the tomato sauce from the skillet, and stir into the lentils. Return the sauce to the simmer, and cook, partially covered, until the lentils are fully cooked and tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the cover, stir in the remaining teaspoon salt, and let the lentils cook slowly, stirring frequently, until they’re very thick and starting to fall apart, another 10 minutes or so. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil.
I prefer the lentils hot or warm as a crostini topping or contorno, but they are very good at room temperature, too. For crostini, grill or toast the bread slices, spoon a mound of lentils on each crostino, and drizzle on a bit of fine olive oil.