Category: Vegetable

Fall Lentil Stew

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Even though the official first day of fall was in late September, and daylight saving time ended on November 5, Mother Nature is still having a hard time letting go! The weather here has been unseasonably warm—not complaining—and although it doesn’t feel like the right time yet to prepare heartier fare, Mother Nature weighs in again because the ingredients available in the markets speak to fall and winter dishes. Because fall is one of my favorite seasons for cooking and dining, I am OK with that seasonal ingredient switch.

It has been a little too long since I last posted something new because we have been a little preoccupied with the newest addition to our family—Allie, a four-month-old Portuguese Water Dog pup. Not an easy task to prep, cook, photograph, and then quietly sit down and enjoy a leisurely meal and a good bottle of wine when a young pup wants to help with every step along the way!

Allie

Things are settling down somewhat now, so I am taking advantage of the lull to explore some cooking with fall and winter dishes in mind.

The dish featured in this post is one I have been preparing for years, long before blogs were a way of connecting with like-minded people on subjects of interest. The dish takes little time to assemble, is easy to prepare, uses ingredients that for the most part are pantry items, will satisfy most vegetarians, and is a great source of protein, minerals, and fiber.

First, a few quick thoughts about lentils: It has been written that lentils are the world’s oldest cultivated legumes, dating as far back as 7000 BC. Cultivated in Asia and from the region we now know as Syria, they then migrated throughout the countries around the Mediterranean rim to become an integral part of the culture and cuisine.

Lentils can be sourced in a variety of colors: black, green, brown, red/orange, or yellow. They are one of the easiest beans to digest, cook quickly because they don’t require presoaking like other dried bean varieties often do, and they add a nutty, earthy flavor to the dishes in which they are used.

Over the years, I have used many different types of lentils when making this dish—for example, the black Beluga, the French green, the French Puy (lentilles du Puy), common brown known as the brewer lentil, and the Castelluccio lentils from Umbria Italy.

In this recipe I used the Castelluccio lentils, but had equally good results in the past using the Beluga or the Puy, since all three varieties hold their shape and texture better than some of the other varieties which tend to become softer, almost puree-like once completely cooked.

Lentils are often cooked with pork in Italy. One example is the dish often served on New Year’s Eve featuring the large pork sausage, cotechino. The folklore surrounding this dish is that for some reason, serving lentils on the Eve will bring money to the home in the coming year. That said, I have often cooked sausage right in the stew, either sweet Italian fennel sausage, Spanish chorizo, or the spicy lamb sausage from North Africa, merguez, where the spices in the sausage impart their individual unique flavoring to the broth. With this recipe, I prepared the sausage separately, and served it as an accompaniment as would be the tradition when serving the cotechino. For this recipe I used Spanish chorizo.

 

Fall Lentil Stew

Ingredients (serves two or more)

1¾ cups lentils

2 bunches spinach, thoroughly washed, large stems removed

Spinach

8 cups liquid, either stock, water, or combination of both (water used in this recipe)

2 medium onions, chopped

2 large carrots, cut into wide rings

1 bulb garlic, set aside 7 whole cloves, use remainder for soffritto

Soffritto: 8 to 10 parsley sprigs both leaves and stems, 1 large celery stalk, stalks from one large fennel blub; mince using a food processor

Salt, pepper, red chili flakes

2 to 4 sausage links, pan seared or roasted and then sliced to serve

Mise en place

Method (approximately 30 minutes cooking time)

Heat 4 or 5 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat in a heavy-bottomed stockpot until hot but not smoking. Drop a few pieces of chopped onion into the pot and once they sizzle add all the chopped onion into the oil, sprinkle salt and pepper over, and stir to combine and coat. Sauté the onion until it begins to soften and lightly color.

Soup base sauté

Add the soffritto, stirring to combine with the onion, season with a little more salt and pepper, then continue stirring until you begin to smell the garlic in the sauté. If the mixture is sticking to the bottom of the pot, lower the heat slightly and deglaze with a small amount of the water or stock you are using.

Add the carrots and the whole garlic cloves, again stir and combine into the sauté. Add the spinach, stirring to thoroughly mix into the other sauté ingredients, again lightly sprinkle with salt, pepper, and red chili flakes (if using), then pour the 8 cups of stock or water over. Raise the heat to bring the liquid to a gentle boil, then add the lentils, mixing into the other ingredients.

Once the liquid begins to gently boil again, lower the heat and simmer for another 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. The stew is ready when the carrots are just fork tender and the lentils are soft but not mushy, more al dente like properly cooked pasta.

Stew ingredients cooked together

The dish can be served on its own, or accompanied by the sausage as I did with the chorizo, along with some grilled or toasted bread.

This lentil stew is an easy to prepare, hearty, and healthy dish to segue from the warm weather cooking of summer to the more robust cooking of the fall season leading into winter.

Served

If you make the dish I’d like to know what lentils you decide to use!

Eat well. Be well.

DM

Whenever possible, life should be a pattern of experiences to savor, rather than endure.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Making of a Crostata …

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On July 24th, a piece entitled “The Brunch” was posted on the blog. Two of the featured dishes were a grilled mushroom salsa and a Michigan cherry crostata. As things turned out, there was more than enough grilled mushroom salsa to go around so the leftovers were frozen. Now what to do with them? That is where the crostata comes in. Not all crostata have sweet fillings and are served as a dessert. They can also be prepared with savory fillings and served as a side accompaniment or even as the main dish paired with a salad.

Working with a few basic vegetables I had on hand, along with the mushroom salsa and two cheeses, I was able to prepare a rich and flavorful crostata. Pair it with a side vegetable or salad and a good bottle of red wine and you have a satisfying main course enough to serve 8.

Refer to the blog archive, July 24, 2017, for the post entitled “The Brunch” to get the Grilled Mushroom Salsa recipe. If you don’t have the time to prepare that recipe, instead sauté a pound and a half of your favorite mushrooms along with some onion, garlic, and minced herbs such as parsley, thyme, and marjoram, which then will be added to the other filling ingredients in the crostata.

Just as a quick refresher, a crostata, an Italian term, or galette, a French term, are often used interchangeably when describing a type of tart. In the classic sense, a tart is defined by the type of pan the shell is formed and baked in–round, square, or rectangular, fluted or not, with or without a removable bottom. There is no baking pan used when preparing a crostata or galette because it is a free-form tart where the pastry is folded over or wrapped around the filling with no two looking exactly the same. That is part of the fun with making a crostata or galette.

Pastry Dough Ingredients (serves 8)
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut into ½-inch pieces
3 tablespoons Greek yogurt or sour cream
2 to 3 tablespoons cold water as needed

Filling Ingredients
2 cups of grilled mushroom salsa, or mushroom sauté as alternately described

1 medium fennel bulb, sliced in half then thinly sliced lengthwise

2 medium-size leeks (white and tender green part), tough outer leaves removed, sliced in quarters holding the root end, thoroughly washed, then thinly sliced into ½-inch pieces, discarding the root end

3 to 4 large scallions (white and tender green part), thinly sliced into ½-inch pieces, discarding the root end

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

2 cups grated Fontina cheese

1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Semolina flour

1 large egg, beaten with a tablespoon of water for an egg wash

 

Method

Filling
In a large sauté pan place 4 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil is heated but not smoking, add the fennel, leeks, and scallions, stirring often so they are coated with the oil and begin to gently sizzle. Season with salt and pepper and continue to sauté, stirring and turning over frequently until the vegetables soften and begin to lightly color. Add the reserved mushrooms and thoroughly mix to combine. Saute another few minutes so that the filling is completely heated through and check and correct the seasoning as needed. Set the pan aside to cool.

Pastry Dough
Preheat the oven to 375 to 400 degrees.

In the work bowl of a food processor, place the dry ingredients, pulsing a few times to mix. With the processor running slowly, drop the butter pieces in one by one until they begin to incorporate into the dry ingredients. Add the yogurt and increase the speed gradually until the dough begins to form. If the mix seems to thick, add a tablespoon or two of water until the dough pulls away from the sides of the work bowl and all the butter is incorporated.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and form into a flattened disk. Wrap the dough in clear film and chill for 15 minutes.

Once chilled, unwrap and return the dough to the floured surface. Flour your hands and a rolling pin and gently roll out the dough to a round shape of approximately 14 inches. Place the rolled out dough on a sheet of baking parchment paper in a large sheet pan. Sprinkle some semolina flour around the center of the flat pastry, leaving a 2-inch margin around.

Sprinkle half the Fontina and the Parmigiano-Reggiano over the semolina and then spoon the cooled filling sauté onto the dough, working from the center out up to the 2-inch margin. Top the filling with the remaining cheeses.

Start folding the dough over and on itself around the tart until the filling is completely enclosed. Pinch or crease any of the seams so that the dough doesn’t come apart during baking.

Ready for oven

Using a pastry brush, spread the egg wash all over the folded dough which will insure a good seal on the seams and nicely color the tart during baking.

Place the sheet pan on the center rack of the preheated oven and bake for 40 minutes until the crust is firm and golden brown.

Baked

Serve a slice with a side salad or another vegetable. In this meal I served my caponata to accompany.

Sliced

Plated

Leftovers can be fun! Enjoy.

Eat well. Be well.
DM

In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different. Time heals … food comforts!

 

 

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