serves: 8 or more
Lentils and rice are one of my favorite combinations. I fondly recall savoring a dish just like this often as a child; it was comforting and nurturing. It can be enjoyed in many ways: make it dense like risotto or add more liquid to make it soupy. Just rice and lentils are delicious and simple, but you could easily add a few sausages or pork ribs to the pot to make quite a festive main dish.
2 ounces pancetta or bacon, cut in pieces
1 cup onion, cut in 1-inch chunks
1 cup carrot, cut in 1-inch chunks
1 cup celery , cut in 1-inch chunks
6 fresh sage leaves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup dry white wine
10 cups hot water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1½ cups lentils, rinsed and picked over
1½ cups Italian short-grain rice, such as Arborio, Canaroli, or Vialone Nano
1 cup scallion, chopped
½ cup Grana Padano, grated, plus more for passing
Drop the pancetta or bacon pieces into the food-processor bowl, and pulse several times, to chop the meat into small bits. Scrape all the chopped pancetta right into the heavy saucepan. Put the onion, carrot, and celery chunks and the sage leaves into the empty food-processor bowl, and mince together into a fine-textured pestata. Put the butter and olive oil into the saucepan with the minced pancetta, and set over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, as the butter melts and the fat starts to render. When the pancetta is sizzling, scrape in the vegetable pestata, and stir it around the pan until it has dried and begins to stick, 4 minutes or so. Clear a space on the pan bottom, and drop in the tomato paste, toast it in the hot spot for a minute, then stir together with the pestata. Raise the heat, pour in the white wine, and cook, stirring, until the wine has almost completely evaporated. Pour in 8 cups of hot water and the tablespoon salt, stir well, and heat to the boil. (Add all 10 cups of hot water if you want to serve the rice and lentils as a thick soup rather than a denser riso.) Cover the pan, and reduce the heat slightly, to keep the water at a moderate boil, and let it bubble for 20 minutes or so, to develop the flavors. Stir in the lentils, return to a gentle boil, and cook, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until the lentils just start to soften, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the rice, return to a bubbling simmer, and cook, cover ajar, until the rice is al dente, 13 minutes or so. If the dish is thickening more than you like, lower the heat and cover the pan completely. If it seems too thin and wet, remove the cover and cook at a faster boil. When the rice and lentils are fully cooked, turn off the heat. Stir in the scallions and grated cheese.
Serve in warm bowls, passing more cheese at the table.