Italian lentil stew

This is recipe from Lydia Downey is the perfect midweek dinner and is a very useful standby to have in the fridge. Lydia is vegetarian private chef/caterer and cookery tutor, she teaches vegan cookery at Demuths in Bath, and vegetarian classes at Harborne Food School in Birmingham.

I first fell in love with the tiny Italian brownish green Umbrian Castelluccio lentils on a working trip in Italy, where I ate a delicious lentil salad that had been cooked with onions and garlic and then simply dressed with garlicky olive oil and vinegar and lots of fresh parsley. The lentils are similar to French Puy ones which are great in salads and stews as they tend not to fall apart, keeping their shape well in long cooking.
This stew is great on its own with crusty bread and a green salad, but is also lovely as a side dish with pretty much anything. I love it with grilled cheesy polenta slices, or very un-Italian herby, cheesy mashed potatoes for the ultimate comfort supper. It’s great on top of sourdough toast, brushed with olive oil and topped with plenty of Parmesan, or you could also add cooked small shaped pasta into leftovers to make it go even further. Limitless possibilities!

SERVES 4 • Prep time: 15 minutes • Cooking time: 45 minutes
  • 4 tbsp olive oil + extra as needed
  • 1 medium onion, chopped finely
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 medium carrot, diced small or sliced thinly
  • 1 stick celery, chopped finely
  • 300g dried castelluccio lentils or small brown or green speckled lentils
  • 400g tin tomatoes, chopped up a bit in the tin
  • Salt and pepper
  • Flat leaf parsley
  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan (I like to use my favourite cast iron pot for this) over a medium heat, and add all the prepared vegetables. Fry them for a couple of minutes and then reduce the heat a little and gently for approximately 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, and allow them to soften without browning. Reduce the heat further if the onion or garlic are taking on too much colour.
  2. When the onion is soft and just beginning to turn golden, add the rinsed lentils and a little more oil if necessary. Stir to coat them in the oil for a minute or so, then add the chopped tinned tomatoes and the bay leaf.
  3. Refill the tomato tin with cold water and swirl around the collect all tomatoey remnants before adding to the pot. Add a further tin of cold water to the pan, increase the heat and bring the stew to the boil. Once it is boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer, partially cover with a lid, and cook for 20-30 minutes until the lentils are tender but with some bite to them and not mushy. Stir occasionally to ensure the stew doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan and keep an eye on the liquid, topping up if it is getting too thick before the lentils are properly cooked.
  4. Season well with salt and plenty of black pepper, a generous glug of olive oil (you could use your best extra virgin one here) and a handful of chopped parsley stirred through. Serve with a little more oil drizzled over.
  5. This stew improves by being made in advance as it reheats well, and will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days. You could also freeze this in portions.