I love tiny plump lentils. Brown lentils from the Umbria Region of Italy as well as green ones from Le Puy France in the Auvergne Region are my favorites. Unlike the widely known brown lentil in America, these tiny brown and green lentils don’t lose their shape or their texture unless they are badly overcooked. Be sure to wash the lentils and pick through them to remove any stones or debris to avoid any unpleasant surprises. Serves 8
1. Dice one half of the onion into ¼-inch pieces. Stick the cloves into the remaining onion half.
2. Heat a medium pot over medium high heat. Add the bacon and render until it exudes fat and starts to brown. Turn up the heat and add the diced onion, celery, carrot and garlic. Sauté the vegetables until they start to brown, season with salt and pepper.
3. Add the lentils to the pan and sauté until the lentils are warm to the touch. Add the bay leaf and the onion half with cloves. Add the tomato puree and 5 cups of liquid. Bring the pan to a boil then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Taste the broth for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary.
4. Cook until the lentils and vegetables are tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Add more liquid as lentils about it. Finished lentils should have some liquid but not be too soupy. Remove the bay leaf and the onion half with the cloves. Lentils can be served immediately or stored in the refrigerator for a few days before serving. They can also be frozen for up to 4 months.
5. To reheat: gently warm the lentils over low heat adding enough water to loosen to stew like consistency.
Note: The lentils can be made a day or two ahead of time. Store them in their cooking liquid under refrigeration until ready to use.