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Warm lentils

(food styling/lisa falso; jonathan wiggs/globe staff)
By Jill Santopietro
Globe Correspondent / April 8, 2009

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Serves 4

It's been a long workday. At home, you pop open a bottle of red wine and stare into the fridge. You then open the drawer of takeout menus, and briefly contemplate cereal. Wine and cereal don't really go, leftovers are tiring, and takeout means spending money. So you look to the pantry and there it is: a forgotten bag of lentils. Throw some into a pot with a carrot, leek, or onion, garlic, and bay leaf, and simmer them in a little water. Within 25 minutes, dinner is ready. Serve the lentils with grilled sausages, some roast chicken, or eat them alone, as I did recently, drizzled with olive oil and a section of crusty baguette revived from the freezer. Not a bad end to an exhausting day.

1/2pound (about 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons) French green lentils
1small leek or onion, trimmed, rinsed and left whole
1large carrot, halved
2cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1bay leaf
3ounces slab bacon in 1 piece (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste
2small shallots, finely chopped
2tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/4cup olive oil
1small bunch chives, finely chopped
Extra olive oil (for sprinkling)

1. Rinse the lentils and remove any pebbles. Place them in a medium saucepan with the leek, carrot, garlic, bay leaf, and the bacon, if using. Add enough cold water to just cover the mixture. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Let the pan stand for 5 minutes. (The cooking liquid should be nearly absorbed).

2. Remove the leek or onion, carrot, garlic, bay leaf, and bacon from the pan. Finely chop the carrot and bacon, if using. Discard the leek or onion, garlic, and bay left. Season the lentils generously with salt and pepper.

3. In a small bowl, mix the shallots, vinegar, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Set aside for 5 minutes. Add the vinegar mixture to the lentils with the olive oil, carrots, and bacon, if using. Simmer gently for 4 minutes to thicken the mixture. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if you like. Stir in the chives and sprinkle with more olive oil. Serve hot or at room temperature. Adapted from "Chez Panisse Vegetables"