Saturday, October 31, 2009

Lentil Soup, Simplified

Lentil soup has become one of our staples out here in Siena.  It is super easy to make, it tastes good and it is (mostly) healthy.  The Tuscans pride themselves on the simplicity of their foods while maintaining a high bar for overall tastiness and quality of their cooking.  They are able to make a few basic ingredients go a long way.  In going with this tradition, I have modified my lentil soup recipe to conform to the style of the area.

Lately, Becky has been making lentil soup once a week or so.  Her version includes diced potatoes and the rind of a parmesan cheese (add these with the lentils).  Note that the image to the right has a yellowish tinge around the edge; that's because I added a little curry powder to the recipe - I couldn't resist.  The soup is perfectly fine without it.

  • 1/2 c. Pancetta, cubed
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, thinly sliced or chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 c. green lentils, rinsed
  • Black pepper
  1. In a pot on medium-high heat, sauté the pancetta, onion, carrot and garlic together with a little extra virgin olive oil
  2. When the veggies have tendered and the pancetta has browned, add the lentils and a healthy dose of black pepper - dry fry for a minute or two
  3. Add a couple cups of water to the pan and mix well
  4. Salt to taste
  5. When the pot has come to a boil, reduce to a dull roar and let cook for 20 - 30 minutes, or until the lentils are very tender (stirring occasionally)
  6. Serve hot with a splash of olive oil and a couple slices of bread to mop up the extra soup

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Shells with Pancetta and Tomato Sauce

Becky and I have been in Siena for close to two months now, and I'm just getting around to posting about our culinary adventures.

>insert sad and slightly apologetic emoticon image here<

For me, I guess the biggest adjustment (cooking-wise) to the environment here as opposed to that of Los Angeles, is the regionality (it's a word now) of the ingredients. Everything here is very Italian: the meats, veggies, beverages, baked goods, spices (actually, the lack thereof) bleed Italian. You walk into a grocery store and you are simply overwhelmed with the Italian-ness of your surroundings. It's a little hard to explain, especially after living in LA where there is really no primary demographic. Not that this is necessarily a hindrance by any means. Quite to the contrary, actually. By drastically reducing my spice collection (I went from 40+ different spices in LA to just two here in Siena: black peppercorns and red pepper flakes) I have been able to focus more on the flavors of the ingredients that give a dish its sustenance. This pasta dish is a good example. By using only three primary flavors (pancetta, tomato and balsamic vinegar), you can create a quick and easy lunch for a couple people in less than half an hour.

  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 c. pancetta, cubed
  • 4 tomatoes, cored and quartered
  • Black pepper
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Balsamic vinegar


  1. Sautee the onion and garlic in extra virgin olive oil for a couple minutes
  2. Add the pancetta and cook until browned
  3. Toss in the quartered tomatoes (skin side down) with a half cup of water
  4. Season with black pepper and red pepper flakes, to taste
  5. After a few minutes, you will be able to slide the tomato skins off using a wooden spoon - compost the skins
  6. Add a little balsamic here - not too much, maybe ~1/8 cup or so
  7. Reduce heat to simmer, stirring occasionally for 10 - 15 minutes
  8. When the tomatoes are tender, you can mash them with the back of the wooden spoon to encourage sauceification
  9. At this point, you can boil your pasta of choice - I use small shells because they hold the sauce well
  10. Strain the pasta when al dente and toss in with the simmering sauce
  11. Serve with a fresh grating of parmesan cheese and a couple pieces of bread to soak up the extra sauce