“Simple and practical” is how Tessa Kiros describes the recipes she’s collected for this homage to matriarchy.

Transporting us beyond the food, Kiros uses photos to evoke the comfort of an Italian household from an era when recipes – and wisdom – were passed from woman to woman over a cutting board. Sprinkled throughout the book, that advice spans the Heloise-esque (use talcum powder to lift an olive oil stain from your silk blouse) to the Zen (“Blossom where you are planted”). These elements make this a wonderful gift book.

Spaghetti with Lentil Ragu caught my eye because I’ve never tried a lentil sauce for pasta, and I don’t recall my Italian grandmother ever making one. When I told my husband what I was making, he said, “Blech.” Once he tried it, however, he gave it a thumbs-up. It has earned a place in my recipe file.

The recipe calls for a bunch of fresh sage. I plucked six big leaves from the garden, but I could have used more. It’s the sage that makes this dish special.

I expect this ragu would do well tucked into the recesses of a tubular pasta, as well as the spaghetti that the recipe calls for.

One caveat: While the book is beautifully illustrated, most of the text is printed in a light sans-serif typeface that is a challenge to read while bustling in the kitchen.




If you will be making the lentils ahead of time, they will absorb water as they sit, so you will need to add a little more water when heating through before serving. Kiros says she sometimes tears in a little fresh mint with the parsley. If you have any leftover ragu, she suggests serving it with boiled potatoes the next day.

Serves 5

7 ounces small brown lentils

Bunch of fresh sage


1 medium clove garlic, peeled

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium red onion, chopped

1 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes

Salt and pepper

Good pinch of chili powder


2 heaping tablespoons chopped parsley

14 ounces spaghetti

Freshly shredded Parmesan, to serve, if you like

Rinse the lentils, pick out and discard any hard odd bits, then put in a pot and cover with water. Add the sage and garlic and simmer, partly covered, for 25 minutes or so. Add a little hot water if the level becomes low and season with salt toward the end of the cooking time. Drain, but don’t throw out the cooking water.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a saucepan and sauté the onion, stirring with a wooden spoon, until it is sticky. Add the tomatoes, a pinch of salt, pepper and the chili powder. Simmer, mashing down any large lumps, for 10 minutes or so, until the tomato has collapsed.

Add the lentils, along with about 1 cup of the reserved cooking water, and simmer, uncovered, for another 10 minutes, for all the flavors to combine. Add a drop more water, if it looks too thick or cook a little longer if too thin. Stir in the parsley and remove from heat.

Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water to al dente. Drain the pasta and serve in warm, wide pasta bowls. Ladle some lentil ragu over each dish. Some like this spaghetti with Parmesan, but others insist it should be served without. (It’s your call.)

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