Italians divide a meal into courses. First there is an antipasto, or appetizer, which may include bruschetta, grilled vegetables, cheeses and meats. Then there is a primo (a first course of pasta, risotto, polenta, soup or legumes) then a secondo (a main course of meat or fish) followed by salad or vegetable, and then fruit, dessert and coffee
When we cook here, we just take one of these courses and turn it into our entire meal. Our favorite is il primo, and it’s always pasta. But after months of noodles, we’ve decided to branch out and try something else.
During the past several weeks, we’ve learned a couple alternative primo courses. One features lentils, the other chickpeas. These are the easiest dinners to cook as well as some of the best. In order to make these, you need vegetable stock. I’ll start with that.
Any variety of vegetables can be added, but we like using 2 potatoes, 2 zucchinis, 2 tomatoes, 2 carrots, 2 celery stalks, 2 onions, a small bunch of parsley and two teaspoons of course salt. Back home I just throw it all together in a pot of water, but Italians wouldn’t hear of it. They carefully wash and peal everything. Only then do they put it in a pot, cover it with water and set it on the stove to simmer.
After at least two hours, turn off the heat and let the stock cool for a bit. Then strain. At this point, choose a couple pieces of vegetables and puree them with a cup of broth. Add it back to the pot and stir. This will thicken it up a little and add extra flavor. Use this broth for the following two recipes:
Lentils with sausage
Umbria serves their famous lenticchia, a small brown lentil that grows nearby. Our friends from the bean store in Perugia explained how to make this traditional recipe for four people:
1 ½ cups of lentils
8 or more cups of vegetable broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ a medium onion, chopped
4 Italian sausages
3 tablespoons tomato sauce
1. Put the lentils in a small pot and cover with three cups of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for ½ an hour. Add more broth if needed.
2. In a separate pan, sauté the onion until it is soft and translucent. Remove the sausages from their casing and crumble into the pan. Cook until done.
3. Add the lentils with their liquid to the onion and sausage. Add the tomato sauce. Continue cooking for at least another ½ hour, adding the remainder of the broth one cup at a time. Dinner is ready once the lentils are soft and cooked through. It is best served in bowls, as it resembles a thick soup. Add Parmesan cheese if you’d like.
Chickpeas and squares
Monia from Il Parma told us about this recipe. We’ve made it at least five times, and we’re having it again tonight. You can use dried chickpeas if you want, but I’m just terrible at cooking dried beans, so I resort to a can or a jar, which is what Monia uses anyway.
2 jars or cans of drained chick peas (garbanzo beans)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of chopped garlic
1 sprig of rosemary
6-8 cups of vegetable broth
3/4 cup of very small dried pasta squares or 1 1/2 cup fresh pasta squares
1. Sauté the chopped garlic and the rosemary in the olive oil over medium heat for about a minute.
2. Puree one jar of drained chick peas with a little broth. Add it to the garlic and rosemary. Add the other drained jar of whole chickpeas. Add the vegetable broth and and cook for half an hour. You can remove the rosemary after 10 minutes so it doesn’t fall apart.
3. Add more broth if needed then add the pasta squares and cook until they’re done.
4. Add salt if needed and serve.