While cleaning out our pantry, I came across an opened bag of green lentils that needed to be used up, which was a find that serendipitously followed watching Ina Garten prepare a recipe for them on the Food Network.
In my opinion, Garten is one of the few cooks watching on that network, which over the years has turned from intelligent instruction to fatuous entertainment. Unlike so many of the network’s stars and even many cooks on PBS, Garten provides the viewer with detailed instructions and accurate measurements in her shows.
Indeed, each of the series derives from her latest cookbook, but each recipe she demonstrates can be replicated without the book. Would that more celebrity chefs, like Lidia Bastianich, do the same and not require one to buy a book for exact measurements and cooking times.
But I digress. Garten’s recipe, “Stewed Lentils and Tomatoes,” comes from her 2006 book Barefoot Contessa at Home and can also be found online both on her own website as well as on the Food Network’s site. The versions are slightly different. The former does not include fennel; the latter, however, erroneously calls for 2 teaspoons of oil as opposed to the 2 tablespoons listed in the former. For this post, I’ve combined both versions.
The recipe calls for readily available ingredients and a minimal amount of preparation. The most difficult part is waiting for the stew to cook as its tantalizing aromas fill the kitchen. But when it’s done, you have a dish with earthy aromatics as well as savory and sweet flavors. The lentils still have some bite and are complemented by the unctuous texture of the chunky carrots, onions, and fennel. There’s an underpinning of spice from the curry powder, an herbaceous note from the thyme, and a brightness from the touch of red-wine vinegar added before serving.
This dish far exceeded our expectations. We followed Garten’s suggestion of serving the dish with a fried eggs with a runny yolks that added even more richness. This is one almost vegetarian (i.e., the chicken stock) dish that could make this carnivore look forward to meatless Mondays.
Stewed Lentils and Tomatoes (adapted from a recipe in Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten)
Good olive oil, preferably extra-virgin
2 cups (½-inch) chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
2 cups (½-inch) diced carrots (3 to 4 carrots)
1 cup chopped fennel
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
1 (28-ounce) can whole plum or crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
1 cup French green lentils (7 ounces), rinsed and picked over for stones
2 cups good chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 teaspoons mild curry powder
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon good red-wine vinegar
1. Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a large saucepan.
2. Add the onions, carrots, and fennel and cook over medium-low heat for 8 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to brown and get soft.
3. Add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, making sure the garlic doesn’t color or burn.
4. Meanwhile, place the tomatoes, including the juice, in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse several times until the tomatoes are roughly chopped. Alternatively, you can simply crush the tomatoes by hand or substitute a can of crushed tomatoes.
5. Add the tomatoes, lentils, chicken stock, curry, thyme, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper to the pot.
6. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, covered, for 30 to 40 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Stir occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pot, with a wooden spoon and check to be sure the liquid is simmering.
7. Remove from the heat and allow the lentils to sit covered for another 10 minutes.
8. Stir in the vinegar, check the seasonings, serve hot or warm.
9. Serve in warmed bowls, optionally with a fried egg.
Wine Pairing: Cannonau di Sardegna, Merlot