Soak the dried porcini in boiling hot water for 5 to 10 minutes.
Heat the olive oil in a pot and add the shallot and onion. Let the onion turn gold, about 10 minutes.
Dice the mushrooms and add to the onion. Squeeze the porcini from their water, mince them, and add them to the pot – keep their water. Sauté for 5 minutes, and a good sprinkling of add salt and pepper. Stir and add the filtered porcini water along with some veggie stock, so that you have 1/2 cup liquid. Let the lentils cook until you cover the difference with the rice cooking time (lentils should take 30 minutes, rice should take 20). Once ready, stir in the rice, making sure there is not too much liquid in the pot when you do. Stir for a minute.
Add the bay leaf, and add enough stock to cover everything. Cover, and let simmer for about 20 minutes. Uncover and simmer until most of the stick has been absorbed, 10 more minutes. Stir every now and then. If the lenticchiotto dries up too much, add more liquid.
It will be ready when both the rice and the lentils will be soft and will have turned creamy.
Stir in half the cheese, and the truffle paste if using. Check for salt and pepper. Add the remaining cheese evenly on top, and broil until gold and bubbly.
Garnish with roasted chestnuts if you like.
I have always lived right on this border between Marche and Romagna, two places so different you could barely believe they are neighbors. As a result, Gradara is a cultural limbo which dialect and lifestyle is clearly romagnolo, but with an accent that has a slightly different edge. It is far from the Marche Apennines, and far from the Padan plain that from Romagna fades into Emilia. Our culture, near yet far from everything, seems to reside within us like sheep within a fence.
But how far are we from the heart of Marche, really?
Sometimes, I think it is a matter of seasons.
Marche shines during the fall, when its lush forests and tall mountains turn every shade of red, from burgundy to orange-ish, and its ground is scoured by hunting dogs at the search for truffles and porcini mushrooms. It is a majestic, melancholic scenery - a much less festive, more meditative one than that of Romagna. It is a scenery that sits beautifully in its own silence, like a hermit atop his mountain.
In their dim silence, Marche discloses the wildest beauty for those who open their eyes and see through them. The grandness of its mountains is difficult to capture with a camera: the only way to really experience it is be in the midst of them.
This post was born as a collaboration with Amío Pulses, who made me remember of some dishes I had in my school years in Urbino that I almost forgot about. I am grateful of how I was reminded of the importance of the humblest of foods - foods that have been called ‘the poor man’s meat’ for their nutritional content and that never failed to satisfy a single man or woman throughout this country's history. The ingredients in these recipes are all extremely familiar to me: porcini, lentils and truffle are the halberd of the area I grew up in.