Saturday, November 19, 2022


 How do you plan for an open house? Even with RSVP on the invitations, I did not have an accurate count of how many would show up for my afternoon gathering. I definitely over-catered. I bought too much wine (a not-too-expensive Rioja crianza red and Rueda Verdejo white). Many guests brought wine and most preferred beer for afternoon imbibing. The mojitos secos, a minty, non-alcoholic drink, and a bright hibiscus punch also proved popular. Wine keeps. Only the ice is gone forever. 

As I had houseguests, we easily finished most of the leftover food. The Moroccan-style eggplant dip and the potato salad were the most popular dishes. The muy tipico remojón of oranges, onions, olives and cod didn’t “sell” too well. (See last week’s blog for recipes.) 

And the ham—that ham! My jamón ibérico de bellota goes on and on. It’s my breakfast treat, with toasted molletes, olive oil and tomato, or tapa-time snack with fino Sherry. 

I bought way too much bread. Most is stashed in the freezer, to be used as needed. Maybe it will find its way into turkey stuffing. Unopened packages of regañás (crunchy crackers) will keep. 

I cooked twice as much lentils as needed for the lentil salad that I served at the party. I needed to use them up. I also had on hand a whole cured panceta (pork belly), a bonus gift that came with my ham order. Lentils + panceta = lentejas a la riojana, to be served, of course, with Rioja tinto.  

Leftover cooked lentils, sofrito and crisp-fried panceta add up to Rioja-style lentils. Served with a leftover Rioja Tempranillo crianza red wine.

Rioja-Style Lentils
Lentejas a la Riojana

The lentils can be cooked in advance then finished with the sofrito and panceta before serving. Instructions for preparing panceta and cooking lentils follow.

Use rendered panceta fat or fat plus olive oil to make the sofrito. You can use prepared tomato sauce instead of the grated fresh tomatoes in the sofrito. I used sautéed piquillo peppers, leftover from my party menu, instead of red bell pepper in this recipe. Use the carrots that have cooked with the lentils. My lentils were cooked with wheat berries, a nice addition. 

Sliced panceta.
Serves 6.

4 cups cooked lentils
4 tablespoons panceta fat and/or olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 green pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves chopped garlic 
1 teaspoon smoked pimentón (paprika)
3-4 plum tomatoes, grated
¼ cup white wine
2 cooked carrots, diced
Cooked potatoes, diced (optional)
3 ounces panceta, sliced or diced
3 ounces sliced chorizo
Panceta fat, to serve (optional)

Bring the lentils to room temperature if they have been refrigerated and place them in a pan.

Heat the fat/oil in a skillet. Sauté the onion, green and red peppers and garlic until they are softened, 4 minutes. Stir in the pimentón. Add the grated tomatoes and fry until tomatoes give off their liquid. Add the wine and cook off the alcohol. Add the diced carrots and potatoes, if using. Cook the sofrito 5 minutes. 

Crisp-fried panceta.
Stir the sofrito into the lentils. Taste and add salt as needed. Cook the lentils gently for 10 minutes. (Add water if needed.)

In the skillet, fry the sliced panceta and chorizo until panceta is crisped. 

Serve the lentils. Divide the pieces of panceta and chorizo between the servings. If desired, spoon a little of the fat in the skillet over them. 

Spoon on extra flavor--panceta fat.

To cook the lentils:
Best for this recipe are the tiny green or brown lentils (verdina or pardina) or similar French ones such as Puy. Wash the lentils. Soaking is optional. The lentils will cook much quicker if soaked for 8 hours before cooking. Drain them and place in a large pot.

Lentils can be cooked in advance, cooled and refrigerated until ready to proceed with the recipe for Rioja-style lentils.

1 pound small green or brown lentils, soaked and drained
8 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 onion, quartered
2 carrots, peeled
2 potatoes (optional)
2 teaspoons salt

Place the lentils in a large pot and cover with 8 cups of water. Bring them to a boil and skim off the foam that rises to the top. Add the bay leaf, onion, carrots, potatoes, if using, and salt. Bring again to a boil. Lower heat so the lentils just simmer gently. Cook, covered, until they are tender, 45-60 minutes. Add additional water as needed so the lentils are always covered with liquid. Discard bay leaf and onion. If they are not to be used immediately, cool the lentils and refrigerate them in their cooking liquid.

For the cured panceta (pork belly):
Panceta is pork belly or unsmoked bacon (pancetta in Italian). It is dry-cured with salt, garlic and pimentón. According to the label, it can be kept in a cool place up to two years. It may be presented in a slab or rolled. 

In theory, cured panceta can be eaten without cooking, but it’s much more palatable if roasted or fried so it’s crisped and some of the fat is rendered out. It also can be added directly to soups and stews. 

Rendered panceta fat, great for cooking.
Sliced or diced and fried panceta (torreznos) is classic with pasta carbonara. Try it tossed with vegetables (brussels sprouts!), shrimp, scrambled eggs, salads, legumes of all sorts. The fat that cooks out of the panceta can be used in cooking—fry eggs in it, make smashed potatoes, baste a turkey.

Pork fat is a saturated fat. However, it is no more unhealthful than butter. My piece of panceta comes from acorn-finished pigs of the ibérico breed (cerdo ibérico de bellota). This fat is partially a monounsaturate, like olive oil. 

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Place the rolled panceta on a cutting board, fat-side up. Use a sharp knife to score the fat. Make slits about ¼ inch deep. This helps to render the fat as the panceta roasts. Place the panceta, fat side down, in a heavy oven-safe pan. Roast it 30 minutes.

Very carefully pour or ladle off the rendered fat into a heatproof bowl. Turn the panceta fatty-side up. Raise oven heat to 425ºF. Return the panceta to the oven and roast it until the fat begins to bubble and crisp, 15 minutes. Remove. 

Slice the panceta and serve hot or room temperature. Crisp the slices in a skillet, if desired. Store the unused panceta tightly covered and refrigerated. Store the reserved fat, covered, in a cool place.

More recipes from La Rioja:

More lentils:

More recipes with panceta:


  1. Those are fabulous Lentejas a la Riojana! I used to cook something similar in the poshish Calella restaurant I worked in. It was the most popular dish on the menu and got removed for being too successful and down to earth! Interestingly, the United States exports more lentils to Spain than Spain produces these days. I think the same might apply to beans.

  2. Mad Dog: Cocina de cuchara is always popular. Even in poshish restaurants, well-heeled businessmen want food--como hace mamá. Yes, I have noticed on labels legumes exported from Canada.

  3. Is belly pork easy to find in Spain? I haven't seen it (would love some fresh as well).

    1. Guy: Yes, pork belly (panceta) can be found at butcher shops and supermarkets everywhere in Spain, both fresh and cured. The panceta from ibérico pigs is less widely available.