Maybe it sounds better in Italian, una ricetta per le lenticchie or as David Tanis suggests French lentils, I could even make something up like superlative recipe for lentils gently pan fried in a saute of seasonal vegetables – but then you would have to punch me and then I might have to punch you back, it would all get very messy, libellous even, so I won’t call it that. Actually, I don’t really know where I am going with all this, I like it, straightforward, simple, it’s a good name, a recipe for lentils. After all its the name my friend scribbled at the top of the recipe she jotted down for me on the back of a shoe repair shop receipt (which I still have, £12.99 was the price of a repaired boot zip) long before I had even heard of David Tanis.
A recipe for lentils it is.
First up some good lentils, the tiny slate – green french lentilles de puy or the highly and rightly prized Italian lenticchie di Castelluccio di Norcia are both ideal. Joyfully needing no soaking the lentils are simply rinsed, covered with cold water and then gently cooked at a lively simmer with an onion, carrot, stick of celery, a couple of bay leaves and some whole black peppercorns.
While they cook, creating a most pleasing scent in your kitchen, you soften some finely chopped onion, carrot and celery in a shallow pan. Once the lentils are suitably tender but still with a some bite – about 20 -35 minutes depending on the type and how old the lentils are – they are tossed with the softened vegetables, seasoned and voilà.
I like the earthy, robust yet delicate taste of lentils particularly when they are cooked until they reach a point of moist creaminess – without being total mush- ready to soak up any flavours or juices you offer, whilst maintaining a very slight nutty bite . This way of cooking lentils renders them gloriously flavoursome, vegetables and bay leaves lending their goodness to the lentils while they simmer away, then the trio of gently softened carrot, celery and onion bestows the second layer of flavour.
I think this is one of the best and most useful recipes I have been given in the last few years, it is certainly delicious and one we return to weekly, eating it hot, cold (not too cold) and everywhere in between. We often eat it topped with a poached egg – as I just have, 2 actually.
While we are on the subject of poached eggs, I am having a phase a bit like the one I had for olive oil fried eggs, the ones I plonked on top of nearly everything. The fried eggs have been sidelined, a bit like your best friend when you tumble into the first heady weeks of a new love story. Of course your best friend will return to center-stage, she is your best friend after all and she understands, it has happened before and she will return the favour when it suits her. So now its poached eggs on nearly everything. It all started about 3 weeks ago after reading in Elizabeth David’s book ‘Is there a nutmeg in the house‘ and her advice on how to prepare neat, plump, well shaped and comely poached eggs. Neat, plump, well shaped and comely poached eggs – goodness, I don’t just want one, I want to be one.
This is the jist of her advice. Fresh Eggs, well not too fresh, 3 days old is ideal, Yes, I know, how. I suppose until I get my own chickens I had better get friendly with the egg man at the market and get pencilling dates on eggs.
Ordinary pan, 2 small cups, a slotted spoon, a metal tbsp.
Choose small eggs and plan to poach only 2 eggs at a time to start. Three – quarters fill a ordinary pan with cold water. bring the water to simmering point and add a tablespoon of wine vinegar. Break each egg into a small cup and then slide them gently into the simmering water. Count to 30. Turn off the heat. With a metal spoon roll each egg over once or twice (ED notes this sounds dangerous but will work if the eggs are in the right condition.) Skim of any white bits that have floated to the top, cover the saucepan and leave the eggs for 3 minutes. With your perforated spoon lift out the eggs and blot on kitchen towel before serving immediately.
Back to the lentils
A pile of these lentils goes beautifully with some poached cod or alongside some meaty sausages or roast pork. For grander occasions you could pair them with gamey things, venison, pheasant or best of all smoked goose – look at me all grand. I admit I only ate this particular combination once, but they were a very fine couple indeed.
A recipe for lentils
- 250g lentilles de puy or lenticchie di Castelluccio di Norcia
- 1 medium carrot peeled and chopped in 2
- 1 small mild onion peeled and chopped in 2
- 1 small stick of celery
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 whole black peppercorns
- 4 tbsp good extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
- 1 medium stick of celery finely diced
- 1 small mild onion, peeled and finely diced
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pick over and rinse the lentils then put them in a pan along with the carrot, celery, onion, bay and peppercorns (first stage ones.) Cover with plenty of cold water.
Bring the pan to the boil and then reduce the heat to a lively simmer until the lentils are just done – this should take about 20 minutes.
While the lentils are cooking in a large shallow pan gently warm the oil over a modest heat and then soften the diced carrot, celery and onion (stage 2 ones) until soft and translucent, this should take about 10 minutes..
Drain the lentils, discard the vegetables, bay leaves and peppercorns if you can find them.
Combine the lentils with the softened vegetables and then season accordingly with salt and freshly ground black pepper.