First Course, two recipes

Lenticchie di Norcia

A sack full of Umbrian lentils

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.

The vegetables are ready

The vegetables are ready.  I left the skins on the zucchini and tomatoes (because at some point you just have to draw the line.)

I had forgotten the celery, but you can throw it in anytime.

I forgot the celery in the last picture, but you can throw it in anytime.

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

Parmesan cheese

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.

Everything is on the stove:  sausages in the pan, lentils in the pot and broth simmering away

Everything is on the stove: sausages in the pan, lentils in the pot and broth simmering in the back.

Bowls of lentils

Bowls of lentils

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.

All the ingredients

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.

Olive oil is nice on this dish too.

Olive oil is nice to add on top.

Monia from Il Parma with a jar of her chickpeas.  She gives us recipes as she bags our groceries

Monia with a jar of chickpeas. She gives us recipes as she bags our groceries.  Next week, we might ask her to teach us about polenta and risotto.


9 thoughts on “First Course, two recipes

  1. One of these days I am going to try some of the recipes that you have included in your blogs. They all sound so good.

  2. Even though I am not a meat eater I am going to try the receipe. Do chick peas taste better in Italy? They are not my favorite legume but you make them sound soooooooooooooooooo good! I LOVE polenta.Cannot wait for that posting. How is your weather over there? You are truly missing the most terrible November/December in Bellevue I have experienced since moving here from Minnesota a zillion years ago!! Global warming I am told:-) Bon Appetit!

  3. OK…. I think I can manage to make the garbanzo dinner for one of my Monday meals. The bowls you serve in are great and add to the look and I am sure to the taste. Love, Grandpa John

  4. Thanks for the yummy recipes Jill. Want to try them both and I love chickpeas. You will have to open up an authentic Italian restaurant/cafe when you return!! 😉

  5. These dishes sound perfect for cold, rainy days (which is what we are getting in Portland right now). Do you find it time consuming to make the stock? I suppose you couldn’t just buy it in a carton like a lazy American :). Imagining you at your table, chatting about your day, eating tasty lentils. Enjoy!

    • Lydia, this stock doesn’t take much time at all. I can get all the vegetable peeled, cut and in the pot in 10 minutes. Then you just have to let it simmer for a couple hours before straining it (but I’m not even in the kitchen during this time.) It’s so easy. Then the broth can be used for up to a week. Last night when I was cold, I warmed up the last of it before bed. Also, we just tried making mashed potatoes with the boiled potatoes from the broth and they were so good! We just added butter, cream and salt. They mashed up super easily after two hours in the pot.

  6. Stumbled upon your blog while looking to recreate the chickpeas and pasta we ate this Christmas Eve in Perugia at Fontanella di Porta Sole. I don’t know what those Perugians do to those chickpeas but OH MY! Love your blog and hope you and your family enjoy your time living in Italy.

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