Lentils with Classic Tomato Sauce

It’s too nice of a day to stay home, even if to sun tan on the balcony. I ditch my beloved sweatpants in favor of a skirt, pack a book, and take my bike for a ride. By the end of the third song I arrive to Duomo, my pale bare limbs in the sea of black tights and long sleeves screaming Northern European! The plan was to check out some cookbooks, but the stocks have changed since March, the full range of Phaidon’s offer replaced with some Italian classics in which I find little interest. I move in search of new items in the tableware section, then to the shoes floor, where my dirty canvas pair is probably the most salient. It’s entertaining to look at pretty things, partly because I don’t even think of buying them, taught that they don’t tend to stay in my possession (or functional state) for too long. In the fancy foods section, however, I make a mental list of what I’ll treat myself to if I ever manage to find a new job.

Not wanting to go back yet, I take some random turns with the intention of getting lost in the tiny streets with miniscule but wonderfully green balconies. All the pretty sights around cause me to regret having left my camera at home. A grey-haired, wrinkle-faced couple kisses in the middle of a street.  Two girls in summer hats sip wine from a bottle at 5 PM. Restaurants start to set out tables for the evening service. Eventually I sit in a cafe with tables outside, and spend the next four hours half-reading, half-people watching. I listen to the cacophony of Italian, German and English, with some engines and klaxons thrown in for diversity. A smoking girl causes me to search my bag in a sudden, desperate craving. No luck. In an attempt to distract myself, I count the tables. 27. With an average of three people at each, there are so many stories, in just one cafe. Everyone is talking, and I have a unexplainable feeling that I don’t need to listen to know the topics . The universality of feelings and occurrences becomes more certain as I talk to other people. We all go through the same excitements and disappointments, the same butterflies and confusions. It’s a soothing perspective.

The sun goes down and I order some wine. It’s still warm, the buzz of conversation intensifies, a broken glass (not my fault for once) is welcomed with a round of friendly applause, the plot of my book speeds up, the waiter asks me if I want something else. I suddenly dream of a plate of pasta in tomato sauce, but that’s beyond the scope of the menu.  

So I make it the next day, swapping lentils for missing pasta. They may be less photogenic than the Italian staple, but lack nothing in terms of flavor, especially when paired with sweet tomato sauce and fragrant fresh basil.


Lentils with Classic Tomato Sauce

(serves 1 for a filling lunch, 2 as a side)


⅓ cup big green lentils

2 cloves garlic

3 cup water

½ + 1 tbsp olive oil, divided

1 small onion

handful cherry tomatoes

½ cup tomato sauce, or more

½ - 1 tsp sugar

pinch salt, pepper

handful fresh basil leaves

1 tbsp sunflower seeds, optional

Start by preparing the lentils. Slice the garlic thinly and cook in ½ tbsp olive oil over low heat. As soon as it starts to turn golden (golden, not brown!), add the lentils, cover with the measured water, add a pinch of salt, bring to the boil, reduce heat to low-medium and simmer for additional 25 minutes, or until the pulses are soft but still holding their shape.

For the tomato sauce, chop the onion finely, heat up remaining olive oil over medium heat, fry the onion until it softens. Add the cherry tomatoes, cut in halves, cook until the juices color the onion light red. Add the tomato sauce, sugar, salt and pepper. Leave on low heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, perhaps adding a tablespoon of water if the pan starts to dry out.

Slice the basil leaves, careful not to crush them. Otherwise half of the flavor stays on the cutting board really. You can also tear them with your fingers if you don’t mind the rustic (read: big) size of the herb in between bites.

Add lentils to the sauce, followed by the basil leaves and sunflower seeds, if using. Stir to combine, taste and add salt and pepper as needed.