Buckwheat Vermicelli with Red Lentils & Dandelion Greens
You hear a lot of talk about "la cucina povera" and how trendy and clever it is to eat like the "poor" people in Italy do- and the truth of the matter is, that if you actually DO, it actually IS. Because they don't know what is expensive or in-vogue... but they do know what is good for you and what good flavor combinations are. They know how to create a meal from seems like nothing and the most important thing about it is always, always... that it is actually delicious!
So let me share this little dish of deliciousness here with you! What I had was the last little bunch of dandelion greens, left over from Saturday. Basically, I just did not want to let them wilt and go to waste and decided to improvise a simple dish that I could incorporate them into. Along with a couple of handfuls of red lentils and a portion of Asian buckwheat vermicelli, I whipped up this great fusion/hybrid that has the slightly bitter greens of southern Italy, the red lentils of the Orient and one of the preferred noodles of Japan. 3 examples of simple fare from around the world and one great plate of food right on my table! And maybe, at some point in the future, also on yours!
The first step was to wash the greens thoroughly, as they do tend to be a little sandy sometimes and then to cut them into bite-sized lengths. I then cut the stalks in half or into thirds if they were particularly wide, so that they would be easier to pick up and eat, but also so that they would cook more quickly. I boiled them in ample, lightly salted water for 10 minutes or so until they were relatively soft and then added the noodles. I kept the seasoning with salt relatively modest at this point as I was planning to add salted ricotta later- do take that into consideration if you are doing the same or adding some other matured and salted cheese!
The handy thing about "Soba", or Japanese buckwheat noodles, is that they are sorted, bundled and tied with a little ribbon into individual servings when you buy them... I like that! It just makes it a lot easier and more convenient! So into the saucepan with the greens went the single portion of noodles and 2 handfuls of red lentils. I turned the heat back up to maximum and once the water came back up to the boil, reduced the temperature again to a low simmer and quickly got ready to finish the dish...
In a frying pan, I sizzled a little crushed garlic and a small shallot with a little olive oil until they began to brown- this took just 2-3 minutes, but in the meantime, the pasta was ready and the lentils were nicely "al dente". The Japanese noodles cook a lot more quickly that spaghetti for example and also have a softer, smoother consistency- perfect in this combination with the "nutty" flavor of the lentils and the light bitterness of the greens.
I drained the pasta off and transferred it to the frying pan, grated it with a little nutmeg and then tossed it in the garlic flavored oil to get it lightly coated and very aromatic. I added a ladle of the cooking water and tossed the noodles, lentils and greens until it became absorbed and the noodles took on a smooth and shiny glaze together with the oil.
I served them up with a sprinkle of grated salted ricotta cheese, some chili flakes and a last, light drizzle of olive oil. Totally simple, totally quick and totally delicious! Need I say more? Nah- I didn't think so! Except that I hope you try this out for yourselves sometime soon!