• 1 cup puy (small French style) lentils, rinsed in cold water
• 1 cup ditalini, tubetti or other small pasta
• 1 piece pancetta, 2cm thick, finely chopped or minced
• 1 onion, diced
• 3 carrots, peeled and diced
• 2 stalks of celery, diced; leaves reserved and chopped
• 400g tinned whole tomatoes, squashed by hand or roughly mashed with a fork
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• 3 cups chicken stock
• 3 – 4 cups water
• Piece of rind from pecorino, grana padano or parmesan cheese
• 1 tbsp fresh thyme
• 1/2 bunch of parsley; stalks finely chopped, leaves roughly chopped
• Salt and pepper, to taste
• 1 tsp chilli (optional), extra to serve
• Fresh ricotta to serve (optional)
• 2 – 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1. Heat oil in a large deep heavy based saucepan.
2. Add onion, garlic, celery stalks (reserve the leaves), carrots, chopped parsley stalks and thyme leaves and cook for a few minutes until onions start to turn translucent.
3. Add the chilli flakes, stir to combine and cook another minute.
4. Add the pancetta and cook for 3 – 4 minutes, or until the pancetta starts to deepen in colour and turn golden and the vegetables have started to soften. You will really be able to smell the pancetta here as it leeches its flavour and fat through the vegetables.
5. Add the lentils and stir to thoroughly coat in the oil and combine with the vegetables.
6. Add the tomatoes, stock, water and celery leaves. Mix well. Drop in the whole piece of cheese rind before covering with the stock and water. Mix well and bring to the boil Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook for about 30 minutes or until the lentils have started to soften but are still holding their shape. A taste test here will help you to see if you have a slightly softened yet still al dente texture in your lentils.
7. Bring the soup back to the boil and tumble in the pasta. Cook for another 8 – 10 minutes or until the pasta is cooked al dente.
8. Stir in the parsley leaves before serving. Top with some crumbled fresh ricotta, a small sprig of thyme leaves, dried chilli flakes and a drizzle of peppery extra virgin olive oil if you wish.
9. A piece of crusty continental bread on the side is almost compulsory.