This recipe was given to me by my daughter’s babysitter, who was from Naples; it had been given to her by her mother who had received it off her Mother. This is the wonderful thing about Southern Italian cooking, as there is a continuation of recipes which are passed down through the generations and are very rarely changed.
There are a lot of regional differences for Lentil dishes, but during my time here in Italy, I have not tasted any that can compete with this Neapolitan one. Here is what you need to do.
Two hundred grams of green Lentils. (medium)
One large onion. (red if possible)
Three large potatoes.
About a hundred grams of ‘Pancetta.’ (belly pork) I suggest one piece, rather than cut up.
A cauliflower. (medium)
Wash the lentils and put to one side to drain. Pour some olive oil into a pan, with a teaspoon of salt, cut up the onion and fry on a low heat with the piece of Pancetta. When the pancetta and the onions are just getting a little burnt, add some water. The water should just be enough to cover the pancetta. Continue to boil the mixture, and add water as it reduces down. Boil for about twenty minutes.
Add the lentils to the onion and Pancetta, and continue boiling. Cut the potatoes into cubes, and shred the carrots as finely as possible. Add the potatoes and the carrots to the mixture and bring to the boil. When it is boiling, turn the heat down and simmer very slowly for an hour to an hour and a half, adding water if it gets too thick. While this is cooking boil or steam the cut cauliflower.
When the lentils are cooked, remove the pancetta and cut it up into pieces. This pieces of meat should now be beautifully tender, and can either be added back into the Lentils or eaten separately. Put pieces of the cut cauliflower into a dish, and ladle the lentils over them. Serve the dish with a glass of chilled wine.
A variation of this recipe is to add some chopped red chili peppers to the onions as they are frying with the pancetta. The lentils can also be frozen and used as a sauce to be eaten with spaghetti or rice sometime in the future, so as you can see it is an extremely versatile dish and typically Neapolitan.