Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay
 
This hearty salad starts with tiny brown lentils from Umbria, legumes prized for their earthy, nutty flavor and wholesome satisfying character.  Some of the finest lentils are grown on Italy’s Colfiorito plateau near the border of Umbria and Le Marche.  
 
It is here one finds brother and sister Alessandro and Rosalba Cappelletti who specialize in heirloom grains and legumes, preserving these foods for future generations through sustainable farming practices.  Their organic certified La Valletta Farm produces some of Italy’s finest organic grains and legumes.
 
The real star of this salad, however is the dressing.  I have recently been reviewing olive oils sent to me by Olio2go, a retailer of Italian extra virgin olive oils.  For this salad I selected an oil from Tuscany’s Fonte di Foiano made of Moraiolo olives.  The oils from Fonte di Foiano have won numerous awards, including the Los Angeles International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition in 2011, 2012 and 2013.  
 
The oliveta is in Castagneto Carducci, south of Florence, where the rich soil and briny air combine to produce particularly flavorful fruit.  Pesticide use is kept to an absolute minimum, and the olives are pressed within 4 hours of being harvested.  Taken together, these growing and production practices result in stunningly fresh oil redolent of olives with bright flavor and varying degrees of spice.  The company produces a number of olive oils, both single cultivar and blends.  Along with true fruity flavor the oils sport other flavor notes, such as tomato, cardoon, and artichoke.  The real surprise with these oils is their pleasantly bitter and long lasting finish, a characteristic I have grown to love.
 
The other half of the dressing is a red wine vinegar from Verrini Munari in Emilia Romagna.  This vinegar, called Rosso, is made from Lambrusco grapes.  With a jewel-like clear red color and a sweet yet tart flavor this sumptuous vinegar blends harmoniously with the vegetal notes of the Fonte di Foiano oil.  Both the oil and the vinegar are prime examples of products painstakingly crafted by some of the finest artisanal food producers working in Italy today.
 
As good as the lentils are on their own, to add extra crunch, flavor and sweetness I added diced carrots and Quadrato d’Asti rosso bell peppers.  For the tomatoes, select what looks and smells best at your Farmer’s Market or in your garden.  If you are not keen on pistachios or have none at home, try pine nuts or hazelnuts.  Both marry beautifully with the oil.  This salad makes a tasty and nutritious lunch all by itself with a glass of white wine.  It is also a great addition to a buffet table.  Serve it warm, at room temperature or chilled, but add the Gorgonzola dolce and red onion just before you serve it.
 
Lentil Salad
serves 2 as a light lunch or 4 to 6 as a side dish
 
1 cup Umbrian lentils
2 carrots, washed, peeled and cut into ⅛ inch dice
1 red bell pepper, cut into ⅛ inch dice
2 tablespoons Italian parsley leaves
8 large basil leaves
½ cup halved or quartered tomatoes
¼ cup roasted pistachios                   
Red onion, thinly sliced
2-3 oz. Gorgonzola dolce, crumbled
¼ cup Verrini Munari Rosso Vinegar
⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon Fonte di Foiano Moraiolo Extra Virgin Olive Oil 
Kosher salt and black pepper
 
If your pistachios are not already roasted, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Place the pistachios on a sheet pan and roast 8 to 10 minutes, tossing twice, until nuts are fragrant.  Transfer nuts to a clean dish and set aside to cool.  Chop coarsely.
 
Rinse the lentils.  Place them in a 2-quart saucepan, and cover with 2 inches of cold water.  Cover and heat to boiling.  Remove the cover, and reduce to a gentle simmer.  Continue simmering until lentils are tender, but still intact, about 18 minutes.
 
While the lentils cook, make the dressing.  Place Italian parsley, basil leaves, vinegar, ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, and ⅛ teaspoon black pepper in the workbowl of a food processor fitted with metal knife.  Process until smooth.  Remove the feed tube, and with the machine running, slowly add the Moraiolo extra virgin olive oil.  Check for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper, if necessary.
 
When the lentils are tender and cooked through, remove the pan from the heat and drain well, discarding cooking water.  Transfer the drained lentils to a large mixing bowl, and add diced carrots and peppers.  Allow to cool slightly.  Add half the dressing and toss to coat, adding more, if desired.  The salad may be refrigerated for up to 24 hours at this point.  If you are making it ahead, cool the salad to room temperature, cover it tightly with 2 layers of plastic wrap and refrigerate. 
 
To serve, scatter the pistachios atop lentils.  Arrange halved tomatoes on the salad and top with crumbled Gorgonzola dolce and thinly sliced red onion.
Fonte di Foiano Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Verrini Munari Rosso Vinegar are available online from Olio2go.com
 
Questions? Email me at [email protected] or visit my site at AdriBarrCrocetti.com
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