There is a tiny panificio on the corner of Via Galvani and Via Mastro Giorgio in Testaccio where they sell wee rose-shaped hollow bread rolls called rosette. If you’re going to pop in to buy their rosette, make sure you go on a Thursday, because on that particular day, they prepare a fresh ciambella; ring-cake, which you buy thick slices of by the gram, warm in your oven for breakfast, slather with yoghurt and wash down with a caffè latte made with your favourite Palombini coffee beans.
Those wee rosette you walk out of the bakery with in your brown paper bag are baked till each roll’s five-petals begin to rise and swell, creating that delicious, chewy crust with a down-like softness on the inside. The rosetta is the perfect vehicle for mopping up those puddles of briny, garlicky sauce from your sauté di vongole veraci; sautéed clams, made with the sweetest clams you bought from your pescivendolo at the Testaccio farmers’ market to go with that bottle of Falanghina.
And the rosette are particularly fantastic for sharing with your friends to dunk in the chana dal you make for them when there is no fresh naan from the tandoor available anywhere in Rome. Chanay ki dal is that creamy, spicy soup, laced with ginger and caramelised onions you probably love to pour over fragrant basmati, adding squirts of tart lemon juice; or perhaps you scoop it up with naan, with a side of mango pickle at your grandmother’s home. Or maybe you like to have it in a bowl with a large dollop of Greek yoghurt or crème fraîche on top.
If you are in Rome, just make sure to invite your friends over for a Thursday meal of lentil soup- so you can pick up a few slices of ciambella with your rosette. And if you’re really gracious, you’ll share some slices of ciambella with your friends after dinner with a glass of vin santo.
I am sure many of you are wondering why there is no ‘tarka’ or tempering of onions and spices poured onto this dish at the end- this is Saimaa, my darling aunt’s method- she prepares a tomato-onion base and then adds the lentils, as I have done in this post. My Ami’s method is different- she prepares the lentils (without the addition of any onions or tomatoes) and adds the ‘tarka’ at the end (golden-brown onions). Both methods are authentic; it is a matter of preference as to which method you adopt.
*2 tbsp corn or any other neutral oil
*½ small onion sliced thinly
*3 small tomatoes, blanched, skins removed and diced
*1 tsp tomato paste (optional)
*¼ tsp turmeric powder (haldi)
*1 tsp salt (or more, to taste)
*½ tsp red chilli pepper (to taste-or can be omitted altogether if you don’t like spicy soups)
*1½ litre of boiling water (approximately 6 cups)
*400g chana lentils (approximately 2 cups)
*2 1-cm thick slices (a little less than ½-in.) of peeled ginger
*fresh cilantro (or your favourite herb) for garnishing
*paprika or sumac for garnishing (optional)
*olive oil for drizzling
Note: If you soak the lentils in cold water overnight or for an hour prior to cooking, you can reduce the cooking time from 1½ to 1 hour.
*Coat bottom of a large pot with oil and place on medium-low heat.
*Add sliced onions and cook for 30 minutes; checking every 10 minutes. Cook till onions wilt and turn golden.
*Add chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, turmeric, salt and chilli pepper and turn flame to medium-high. Sauté for 2-3 minutes till tomatoes look jammy (i.e., their liquid has reduced).
*Add boiling water, lentils and ginger. Reduce heat to low. Stir and cover pot with lid.
*Simmer until lentils are tender- test a grain between your thumb and forefinger- about 1½ hour.
*Remove and discard the ginger slices.
*The proceeding steps are optional; they are for those who want a thicker, soup-like consistency. If you don’t want a soup, but a traditional Pakistani-style Chana Dal, once the lentils are tender, loosen them with a little bit of water till the desired consistency is achieved and taste for salt and red chilli pepper. Serve with fresh, chopped coriander on top.*
*When lentils have cooled, with a teacup or American measuring cup, transfer 1 cup of lentils and process in a blender till smooth and creamy. Loosen with a little bit of water. Pour back into pot. (For those of you who have an immersion blender, you can blend the soup directly in the pot.)
*Slowly add boiling water to soup till desired consistency is achieved. Taste for salt and red chilli pepper.
*Serve with fresh coriander or your favourite herb; a sprinkle of paprika or sumac (optional); a drizzle of very good olive oil and lemon wedges to add tanginess.