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Umbrian Pasta with Lentils

A traditional way of cooking pasta shells on the high Italian plains of Umbria, where top-quality green lentils are a favoured crop.

The shells hold the lentils and a little delicious sauce, but good quality olive oil and grated Pecorino Romano (hard sheeps' cheese) need to be offered at the table for extra lubrication, for there will be no sauce as such.

Key Features

  • Suitable for Vegetarians
  • Suitable for Vegans


315g/11 oz Dried Pasta Shells
315g/11 oz Puy or Italian Green Lentils
30ml (2 rounded tablespoons) Marigold Swiss Bouillon Powder
1 big Onion, peeled and cut in half
10 fresh Sage leaves
2 big sprigs of fresh Rosemary
5ml (a rounded teaspoon) of Salt
6 big fresh Tomatoes, peeled by dipping into boiling water for 20 seconds
1 small handful Parsley - flat-leaved if possible - chopped with any clean stalks; or fresh Coriander, if preferred (but this isn't authentic)
2 big or 3 medium cloves of Garlic, peeled and chopped
4 tablespoons Olive Oil

To Serve:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Freshly-grated Pecorino Romano (or Fresh Parmesan if preferred)

Equipment: a large stainless-steel or glass pan - able to hold about 8 pints; a very big frying pan - or similar (able to hold all the ingredients).


1. Rinse the lentils in a colander, and remove any small stones (which are rare these days).

2. Put the lentils in a saucepan and cover them with cold water.

3. Bring them to the boil, then simmer them for about 5 minutes, strain them, but reserve the liquid.

4. Put 3 litres (about 5 pints) of hot water - this amount including the reserved cooking liquid into a big saucepan and mix in the Marigold Powder, plus the halved onion, rosemary stems, sage leaves and a rounded teaspoon (5ml) of salt.

5. Add the blanched lentils, and bring the liquid to the boil, stirring occasionally.

6. Cook at a simmer for 20 minutes, or until the lentils are softening but still bitey.

7. Add the pasta shells and return to the boil.

8. Cook until the pasta is al dente - probably about 10-11 minutes, but follow the instructions on the packet, because some quick-cook varieties take 6-7 minutes.

9. Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes roughly - reserving any juice. Put these in a bowl with the chopped parsley and garlic.

10. Heat the olive oil gently in a big frying pan then add the tomato mixture.

11. Cook this at a gentle-bubbling stage for about 5 minutes.

12. Strain the pasta and lentils (in Umbria the liquid would be kept to make soup), and add them to the tomato mixture.

13. Pick out the onion halves (if desired), and rosemary stalks.

14. Heat the mixture until it bubbles, then simmer - turning it over occasionally for about 5 minutes.

Serve in big pasta bowls, and allow your guests to drizzle over the extra virgin olive oil and help themselves to cheese.

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