Lentils tend to divide opinion – and Hubby sits on the ‘unconvinced’ side of the fence, by and large. These braised lentils seem to have changed that opinion, so – particularly if you expect lentils to be a bit floury and tasteless – I suggest you give this cooking method a try.
I prepared these lentils for Sunday evening dinner, and served them with roast confit duck legs and potatoes roasted in duck fat, but they would make a great accompaniment to all sorts of roast meats and game. The duck confit came in a tin, brought back from France for us, which has been sitting in the cupboard waiting for a suitable occasion. The lentils make a very traditional accompaniment – the roast potatoes, admittedly, less so!
To serve two –
- 120g of dried Puy lentils
- Half an onion
- A clove of garlic
- 2-3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- 40g of pancetta or dry cured streaky bacon (I used the last of my Christmas spiced home-cured bacon from the freezer).
- Half a pint / 300ml of vegetable or chicken stock
- Half a glass of white wine (optional)
- Olive oil
- Red wine vinegar
- Salt & pepper
Accompanied with –
- Two confit duck legs – ours were tinned, but they’re easy (if a little time consuming) to make at home!
- Potatoes, suitable for roasting
Preheat the oven to 200C. Open the tin or jar of duck confit and spoon a couple of tablespoons into a roasting tin, and pop this in the oven to heat. Peel (and halve, if appropriate) your roast potatoes and toss these in the melted duck fat, along with a sprinkle of chopped fresh rosemary, salt and pepper, and put in the oven.
In a saucepan, heat a slug of olive oil (about a tablespoon). Slice your dry cured streaky bacon into small pieces, and fry gently until just taking some colour. Add half an onion and a clove of garlic, both finely chopped, and a good big teaspoon of chopped fresh rosemary, and fry until nicely softened. Rinse your lentils (Puy lentils don’t need pre-soaking) and add these to the pan and stir for a minute or two. The quantity of lentils will look tiny for two portions, but don’t worry!
Now add your stock (and wine, if using – I had a little bit left over in the bottom of a bottle, it seemed a shame not to throw it in – it’s not part of the original recipe) and bring up to a simmer. I used vegetable bouillon powder as my stock – due to lack of alternatives – but I think this recipe would be really improved by using real home-made, unsalted stock.
There’s some salt in the bacon already, and lentils tend to cook better in an unsalted solution – a bit like plums if you stew them with sugar, the skin tends to harden up a bit in a salted cooking liquor. Remember the confit duck legs are salted in preparation, too. It’s not the end of the world if, like me, you have to use packet / cube stock, but you may find the whole meal just marginally over-seasonned if you do.
Cover the pan and keep cooking at a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 40 to 45 minutes. You’ll probably find about 15 – 20 minutes have now passed since you put the potatoes in the oven.
Remove two duck legs from the tin, scrape off most of the fat from their surface, place them in a roasting tin, skin side up – sprinkle a little coarse salt over the skin – and put these in the oven with the roast potatoes. For the next three quarters of an hour or so, check on them occasionally, turning the dish if your oven has hot spots. I find roasting them for about 40 minutes gives crisp rich golden brown skin and falling-apart meat without any dryness.
About an hour after the potatoes went in the oven, everything should be more or less done. Check on the lentils, which should have absorbed essentially all of their cooking stock. Taste them for doneness – if they still seem a little hard or floury, turn the heat up for a final five minutes, but do keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t run dry and burn!
Once you’re happy they’re well cooked, taste for final seasoning. It’s unlikely you’ll need to add any salt, but a big pinch of pepper and a little splash of red wine vinegar (start with a teaspoon, then taste to see if you need any more) really brings up the flavours.
You’re done! Spoon the lentils onto your plates with a slotted spoon to leave behind any surplus cooking liquid. Add the roast duck and potatoes, and enjoy!
This is a splendid winter dinner, and would work well for entertaining, too. The lentils really compete with the duck to be the stars of this dish, full of wonderful complex aromatic, earthy flavours which complement the succulent, tender, crispy and slightly sweet duck absolutely perfectly. And potatoes roasted in duck (or goose!) fat are just the very best – these had an amazing surface crunch with soft fluffy insides. Perfect.
The Naked Chef, by Jamie Oliver
Penguin Books, 2001
Paperback, 250 pages, full colour. RRP £12.99.
[Full disclosure: This is my book, which I bought. I have received no payment or sponsorship for this post, nor have I accepted a review copy. I do not have an amazon affiliate account and do not profit from any links provided.]
‘The Naked Chef’ hit the shelves last century – the hardcover edition came out in 1999! – so this is a bit of a period piece now, I suppose. It’s been on my shelf for nearly all that time. A (startlingly young-looking) Jamie Oliver was in the vanguard of what became a veritable tidal wave of celebrity chefs gushing from screen to bookshelf, throughout the ‘noughties’.
This is a tricky book for me to review. It’s been with me such a very long time – one of the first books that Hubby and I bought and cooked from together, it played its part in cementing our shared love of food and cooking. Coming back to it now with a fresh eye, it hasn’t dated badly, despite the decade and a half that has passed since publication. Fewer exotic ingredients than are fashionable now, certainly, but very much ‘on-message’ with a focus on fresh good quality ingredients and simple, pared down preparation.
I particularly love the extensive chapter on home-made pasta. It’s funny, I used to make my own pasta all the time – I have a great collection of accumulated pasta-paraphenalia to show for it! – but like so many simple, worthwhile food preparation habits, it’s depressingly easy for them to fall by the wayside, victims to our busy lives. There’s a recipe for borage, nettle and marjoram ravioli which I definitely need to try, come the summer! The whole book has an overall Italian flavour to it, lots of olive oil, fresh herbs and garlic, without feeling like an ‘Italian’ cookbook as such.
It looks like the book may even be out of print now, though it should be widely available second hand. Despite its vintage, it’s aged very well. If you enjoy clean, fresh flavours, and fancy a bit of millennial nostalgia, I can wholeheartedly recommend it to you. And if you bought it at the time – lots of us did! – and it’s been gathering dust on your shelf, rather neglected for the last few years, like my copy, perhaps it’s a good time to dig it out, and give it a fresh look?
‘Cooking the Books’ is my self-imposed blog challenge for 2014 – I’ll be trying to cook a new recipe from one of my (rather extensive!) collection of cookbooks once a week, write it up and review it. Wish me luck!
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