Baked Anelletti & Lentils with Leek & Bresaola
Nothing could be more Sicilian than a plate of anelletti, little pasta rings- and also very typical made with down-to-earth and yummy lentils... but nothing could be more German than a cold and rainy day either! Ugh! That's what we had here today... which is why THIS is what I had here this evening!
I wanted to try something a little different again, as usual, and came up with the idea of adding the sweetness of some steamed leeks and the crispiness of some toasted Bresaola to an otherwise simple dish... this extra sweetness and saltiness just made it so much more delicious! May I be excused for saying OMG? Ok, thank you!
The pasta in itself was pretty easy to prepare. I started off with a little sofritto of finely chopped celery, carrot and onion, added a little crushed garlic, the lentils (just 2 handfuls for this generous serving), some finely chopped parsley and a little olive oil and sautéed them together for 2-3 minutes until the onion began to become translucent. I then added enough boiling water to cover them by a couple of inches. I seasoned with salt, pepper, some dried marjoram (I had no fresh) and a little cayenne... then reduced the heat and let them simmer away for 10 minutes.
You may ask yourselves why I always refer to measurements in "handfuls" and I will gladly explain. I once read that the correct amount of cereals, rice or pasta you should eat in relation to your size, is basically one of your own hands full of whatever it is you are planning on eating. If you are on a diet that is. So I usually stick to that as a rule of thumb. It makes sense to me because measuring cups are standardized and the same size to all people, but our hands are, generally speaking, of a size that usually matches the rest of our bodies... so a small Sicilian will have a different sized serving than a tall American. Simple. Still- certain dishes do indeed require that you have a decent amount of mass for them to work... just boiling one handful of lentils and one of noodles would have been pretty pathetic- haha! And I am not on a diet right now- but still eating sensibly... and yep- TWO handfuls of both lentils and noodles makes for a pretty decent sized meal!
After the lentils had boiled for 10 minutes, I added the 2 handfuls of pasta rings and made sure there was enough water in the saucepan to cover them by at least 1". The idea was though, to try to keep the water to a minimum so that nothing needed to be poured off and so that all of the flavors of the sofritto remained in the broth. Just keep an eye on it and as the pasta swells up and cooks, just top it up slightly.
These pasta rings do take deceptively long to cook- so I light it simmer away for 15 minutes, after which time much of the water had been absorbed, but they were still "al-dente". And for this kind of dish they do need to be a little softer and soupier to taste nice. But that of course would happen in the oven!
Next step was to pour the pasta and lentils carefully into a baking dish. I then covered it with thinly sliced leek, which I seasoned with a little salt, pepper and nutmeg. I gave the leeks a light splash of white wine and then covered them with some delicious Bresaola. You could use any other kind of ham you prefer, but I love the lean, beefy flavor!
Into the oven it went for 5 further minutes at 200°F and a final 2-3 minutes under the broiler. What the Bresaola does is that it prevents any steam from escaping from the surface of the pasta as it bubbles away in the oven and therefore causes the leeks to steam wonderfully and to cook nicely and gently. In the meantime, what happens is that the Bresaola dries-out and crisps-up wonderfully- despite being on top of the moist and soupy pasta.
Once it was done, all that I needed to do before serving was to crumble up the crispy ham into the pasta. Underneath were the moist and delicious leeks and of course the combination with the lentils and noodles was fantastic. Sure beats some boring old ordinary soup now, doesn't it? And so cheap, easy and fun to make and eat! Hope you give it a go everybody- you'll like it!