Last week, when it was rainy and cold, I made a big pot of lentils per my daughter Bunny's request. When I think of fall, I think of braises. I think of stews. I think of beans.
Bunny prefers her lentils to be intact (as opposed to pureed for soup) so you can quick-cook this dish and have it on the table within 45 minutes. Or, you can cook it longer, add more water or broth, puree it with a stick blender and make soup.
This recipe is also versatile because you can make it completely vegetarian/vegan by omitting the pancetta. Personally, I find myself arcing back towards a more vegetarian way of eating (I'm a former ovo-lacto vegetarian) and I find that beans are an easy way to be satisfied with rich flavors without adding meat.
CITYMAMA'S LENTILS FLAVORED WITH PANCETTA, RED WINE, AND ORANGE
- 1 bag of lentils, picked over and washed
- 3 bay leaves
- pancetta (about 3 ounces), diced*
- olive oil
- 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 3 celery stalks, sliced
- 2 carrots, sliced into discs
- dry red wine, about 1/4 cup
- the peel of 1/3 to 1/2 an orange (several pieces okay)
- 1 normal-sized can plain stewed (or diced) tomatoes
- organic vegetable soup base or veggie broth (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
Place lentils in a saucepot with 5 cups of cold water and one bay leaf. Bring to boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer covered for about 25 minutes until lentils are just tender and water is absorbed. Do not add salt to lentils during cooking. Set aside.
Meanwhile, in a very large saute pan or dutch oven, saute pancetta in a splash of olive oil over medium heat until cooked through but not crisp, and fat begins to render. Add remaining bay leaves, garlic, onion, celery, and carrots and cook until veggies begin to carmelize. When a nice fond or brown crust begins to form on the bottom of the pan and veggies are nicely soft, splash in some red wine to de-glaze. (I do 2-3 glugs, you can use more or less as you like. Use broth if you don't want to use wine.) Cook until alcohol has evaporated, about a minute or so.
Add the cooked lentils to the pan along with 1-2 additional cups of water into which a spoonful of veggie soup base has been dissolved. (Again, this is optional. You can also add 1-2 cups of broth). The amount of water/broth you add to the lentils depends on how soupy you want them. If you want soup, you may have to add two more cups of water/broth.
Add orange rind(s), stewed tomatoes (and their liquid), and salt and pepper.
Cook an additional 15 minutes before serving (if you can't wait any longer) or longer if you can wait. stirring often. Remove bay leaves and orange and check seasoning before serving.
What to do with this?
- Serve alongside grilled sausages or pork chops or sliced cotechino
- Top with plain yogurt that has been enhanced with orange zest and chopped parsley
- Add cooked elbow macaroni (or other small pasta) for a heartier meal. Top with your favorite grated hard cheese.
- If lentils are fairly intact and not too soupy, eat cold as a salad after swirling in some sherry or balsamic vinegar and drizzling with fruity olive oil
*When I buy pancetta (or guanciale), I ask the deli person to cut me a 2-inch-think hunk. (I just don't like the paper thin slices that come pre-packaged at places like Trader Joes.) Then, I take it home, and use as much as I need. To make these lentils I had about 1/3 of my hunk left. I diced that and used it as the base for the stew.