##Winter is still upon us and although we are now experiencing a mildish invierno, there’s still plenty of time left to snuggle up with your stove cooking some delicious winter warmers. I love to cook simple food in the winter. I don’t mean there isn’t much time involved to cook but rather, due to the seasonality of what is available, this is naturally the time of year for lentils, cabbage, rhubarb, potatoes and slow-cooked meats… all to be savoured before we burst forth into spring and summer.
I decided to make this lentil dish the other day as I hadn’t for a long time and it really is yum, I have vowed to make it more often now, while it’s still cool anyway. It’s really easy even if the directions seem long, don’t be afraid. If you’re a veggie, or cooking for veggies, just omit the pancetta, it will still taste great.
SMOKED PANCETTA AND GREEN LENTIL CASSOULET
Serves 4 – 6
200gms pancetta, diced
2 onions chopped finely
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely diced
3 bay leaves
500gms French Puy Lentils or Green Lentils
2 cloves garlic for seasoning lentil water
100mls of chicken stock or water
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
This dish may not sound particularly appealing, but I urge you to give it a go, you will be pleasantly surprised at just how tasty it is and it’s a perfect winter dish, this is the time of year for legumes and root vegetables, homely country fare.
If you can find French Puy Lentils grab them, they are small and tasty and quicker to cook, otherwise regular green lentils will be perfectly all right (soak them overnight in plenty of fresh water before proceeding with the recipe).
Rinse your lentils thoroughly and put in a large saucepan of warm water with the bay leaves and a clove or two of garlic, slightly smashed. Bring them to the boil and simmer gently for about 15 mins, until al dente (boil the green lentils for 30-40 minutes). Add some salt to taste towards the end of the cooking time, drain, remove the garlic and bay leaves and set aside.
In the meantime, if your pancetta is thinly-sliced already… simply dice it up. You can buy it in strips of a thicker width to suit your preference, diced up bits of pancetta about 1/2cm thick are pretty yummy. Fry your diced pancetta in a large heavy-based saucepan that will hold all of the lentils as well. Once the pancetta is slightly browned and the fat is rendered, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Now sauté the onions and garlic off in the fat from the pancetta, the onions will take up any of the juicy, sticky brown bits from the pan and it will all start smelling delicious. Allow the onions and garlic to cook gently on medium heat until they are soft and translucent, don’t cook them on such high heat that they begin to caramalise. Now, stir the pancetta back into the onions and add the lentils as well. Mix everything around until well combined.
Add in the chicken stock or water and put a tight fitting lid on the saucepan, leave on a very low heat for a further 15-30 minutes, depending on type of lentils, stir the cassoulet occasionally and check for doneness, the lentils will be soft and cooked all the way through, with no crunchiness to them. Check for seasoning and add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to suit your taste.
This is a great side dish to accompany meat and mashed potatoes, and believe me, even blokes will eat these lentils, and the smoky pancetta flavour is really appealing. Try it with duck breasts, which are available in the Mercado Central, and individually packed in El Corte Inglés.
Duck breasts are easy to cook as well and they are perfect when served medium rare. Duck, unlike its clucky cousin can be served more like a steak, rare or medium rare to medium. So… make some small slits across the fatty skin side of each breast and place in a very hot sauté pan, skin side down. It will get quite smoky but don’t worry. Cook the skin side for about 5-7 mins and then season the meat side with sea salt and black pepper and a sprinkle of finely chopped ginger, if you fancy. Turn the meat side down onto the pan and cook, still at quite high heat for a further 5 minutes or so. Allow the meat to rest, at least 5 minutes, before slicing and serving over some fluffy mashed potatoes and the lentil cassoulet.