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Lentils in Marcella Hazan's Ingredienti Cookbook

You Are Cooking Lentils All Wrong, According to Marcella Hazan

You may love Italian cook Marcella Hazan and her ultraeasy recipes like her famous three-ingredient tomato sauce. Though she left a legacy of incredible cookbooks, her husband gathered the last of her writings to create this latest book release Ingredienti ($20). Truth be told, I was skeptical of how much of Marcella's voice would appear in the book, but it's 99 percent Marcella's words, and you'll feel like you're rubbing elbows with her in the kitchen as she instructs you how to properly prepare essential Italian ingredients. One passage that really struck me is about lentils. She advises:

The general opinion about lentils is that they don't need soaking. I have a different opinion. If you don't soak them, they absorb too much fluid from a soup or from other liquid cooking mediums, which dilutes some of their flavor. I don't soak them overnight; two hours are sufficient. Some lentils are described as having zero tannins. Theirs is a thin coat on a small seed. They cook quickly, their color stays bright, and they do not "muddy" the water. These may be desirable features, but their taste does not surpass, or sometimes even match that of other lentils. My favorite lentils are the tiny ones from the Colfiorito plateau in Umbria.

As luck would have it, my co-worker just returned from Italy and gifted me with the exact lentils Marcella refers to in her book. I knew it was fate and that I'd have to try this cooking tip immediately. I cook lentils every week and had never tried this hack. Here's what I can say after experimenting with Marcella's tip: It amazed me how quickly the lentils cooked up. By soaking the lentils, at least half the cooking time is reduced (20 minutes vs. 45 minutes). I would recommend keeping a careful simmer on the lentils, as boiling them will burst the delicate shells. Though Marcella doesn't mention any method of seasoning for lentils in this particular chapter, she does describe how she dresses her chickpeas, so I followed suit. I seasoned the lentils with plenty of salt around the halfway cooking mark, drained them, then tossed them with olive oil, a red wine vinegar, freshly ground pepper, and salt to taste. The lentils tasted heavenly. Leave it to Marcella to help me see standby ingredients in a whole new light.

Excerpted from Ingredienti: Marcella's Guide to the Market by Marcella Hazan and Victor Hazan. Copyright © 2016 by Marcella Hazan and Victor Hazan. Illustrations copyright © 2016 by Karin Krestchmann Lubart. Published by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Anna Monette Roberts
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