‘Italian’ Lentils

"Italian" lentils

I first made this dish several aeons ago when I was a poor, struggling university student. I’ve made it many, many more times since and have had a lot of fun coming up with variations for it.

"Italian" lentils

“Italian” lentils

It’s simple, incredibly affordable and very tasty.

And it has lentils in it.

Deal with it.

Way back then, I had made this dish one evening as my brother came home from work, pronounced it to smell “good” and asked for some. I served him up a bowl (while refusing to tell him what it was), which he then inhaled – followed by another two more bowls. When I finally revealed that he’d been eating red lentils, he snarled something about “disgusting hippy food” and refused to come near it again.

His loss.

Honestly, this is the perfect dish for those times when you have very little money/ have very little time/ don’t feel well but really-should-eat-something/ have no idea what to make for dinner/ are just too gosh darned tired to cook.

I found this recipe in this little book, which is now out of print (so I shan’t feel bad about reproducing it here!)

Start by dicing an onion, you don’t want it too fine as it will add texture to the finished dish.

Roughly dice an onion

Roughly dice an onion

Then a rasher (or two) of streaky bacon. The smokiness of the cured meat really adds to the flavour.

Cut up some streaky bacon

Cut up some streaky bacon

Then make up 600 ml (a pint) of chicken stock from powder or use your own. 🙂 The stock will be responsible for the flavour of your finished dish, so choose well.

chicken stock (2)

Home-made stock

If you don’t have any cooked rice in your refrigerator ready to be reheated, then you might want to put some on to steam at this point. Your rice and your lentils will finish pretty much simultaneously.

Now, set a smallish saucepan over a medium heat and add your bacon. You are aiming to render the fat from the meat before adding anything else. There is no need to oil the pan. I’ve made this dish quite successfully using pancetta instead of bacon as well. As you can see from the picture, the fat from the meat is sufficient to lightly fry or sauté the onion.

Pancetta, or prosciutto, also work quite well in this dish and add a touch of the gourmet.

Pancetta, or prosciutto, also work quite well in this dish and add a touch of the gourmet.

So, add your onion! You’re wanting to fry it gently without it colouring up. Cook , stirring constantly, until it becomes translucent (clearish). You may also wish to add some crushed garlic at this point, but it’s not necessary.

Split red lentils - aren't they pretty?

Split red lentils – aren’t they pretty?

Next add your split red lentils and stir them well. You’re aiming to coat them with the fat from the meat. This step helps to disperse the smoky flavour throughout the dish.

Add your lentils and stir well, with the pan still on the heat.

Add your lentils and stir well, with the pan still on the heat.

The recipe calls for 100g (4oz) of lentils. However, after you have made this a few times and seen the simplicity of it, you’ll stop measuring stuff and just do it all by eye.

You know who I’m talking to, you peeps who insist on measurements for everything, you! *sigh*

Anyway, once this is done, add your stock all in one go. It will look as though you have drowned it.  Stir well and bring to the boil.

Don't panic!!!

Don’t panic!!!

Reduce to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes or so, stirring frequently. Do not walk away!  This cooks very quickly. Your lentils will start to break down and form a paste.

Almost done...

Almost done…

It is up to you how liquid your finished dish is. I like mine to be on the firmer side, my partner prefers a more “soupy” dish. Your choice. Take it off the heat when it meets your preference – or experiment.

At this stage, stir through a tablespoon of tomato paste or purée.  As far as I can figure out, this is where the “Italian” in the recipe title comes from. The last time I made this, I used pancetta and stirred in some basil pesto instead.

Add some tomato paste or pesto

Add some tomato paste or pesto

Mix thoroughly and serve.  This is quite filling and more than enough for two people. I like it in a bowl, served on plain rice.

For another variation, try adding some curry paste at the onion stage and frying it a little to release the flavours before adding the lentils. There will be no need to add anything more than the stock for the dish to be complete.

If you wish to make the texture a little more interesting, then try stirring through some rinsed tinned chickpeas with the tomato paste.

Have fun playing with the dish, or stick to the recipe – it’s delicious either way.

It will also cost about AUD $2 to make. Total. Even betterer.

Italian Lentils

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


2 rashers fatty smoked bacon

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 small onion, chopped

100g (4 oz) split red lentils

600ml chicken stock (may be from a stock cube)

1 tbsp tomato paste (purée)


Fry the bacon over a medium heat until the fat begins to run, then add the garlic and onion and fry until translucent.

Add the lentils and stir to distribute the fat evenly throughout the dish.

Add the chicken stock, stir well and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10 to 15 mins, stirring frequently.

When lentils have reached desired consistency, add tomato paste and mix through thoroughly.

Serve with steamed rice.




  1. Love it – except for including piggy-wig meat. Pigs are so intelligent (somewhere equal to us I think) so I just won’t eat them. But I’m a lentil lover too. And I have big glass storage jars scrounged from a rubbish area in the Harry Seidler apartment block wherein was my long ago studio apartment in Elizabeth Bay and off a footpath in Cheltenham. In these I store all this stuff – lentils, barley, rice, soup mix. My love of lentils, grains and my storage jars is sufficient to provide me with a warm inner glow. 🙂


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