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Lentils With White Wine, Herbs And Tomatoes

Lentils with White Wine, Herbs and Tomatoes

This dish is perfect for those of you who are vegetarian, or observe meatless Fridays during Lent. It’s delicious even if you don’t fit into either of those categories too. I came across it in the amusing book “Lunch in Paris” that I read with my foodie friends book group.
The book is a charming tale of an American woman who, on a short visit to Paris, sits down to lunch with a handsome Frenchman, after which her life takes a whole different path.
Scattered throughout the book are recipes, including this one for lentils that I made for the bookclub dinner, where it was served alongside a pork roast recipe from the book.
It makes a huge amount, so I brought the rest home and had plenty for a couple more meals.
If you still have leftover lentils (as I did), they freeze beautifully and you can refashion them into soup by (vegetarians, look away) adding some chicken broth and sliced sausage.
But if you use them as a side dish, by all means, don’t skip the sour cream or the lime — especially not the lime. It gives a wonderful freshness to the dish.
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Lentils with White Wine, Herbs and Tomatoes
From “Lunch in Paris” by Elizabeth Bard
(my additions in red)
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 carrot, roughly chopped
4-5 small shallots or 1 medium onion, roughly chopped (I used 1/2 onion and about 1/4 cup chopped leeks)
2 1/2 cups dried Puy lentils
6 cups chicken broth
one 16 ounce can while tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 cup dry white wine
a handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, including some of the stems, chopped
1 bay leaf (fresh if possible)
1/4 cup red pepper, diced
1/4 leeks, diced
about six frozen artichoke hearts, sliced
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
sour cream or creme fraiche
chopped fresh cilantro
limes, halved
In a large stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and carrot (and red peppers, leeks and artichoke hearts if using) and sauté for 5 to 10 minutes, until the onion is translucent.
Add the lentils and stir to coat with the oil. Add the broth, tomatoes, wine, parsley, bay leaf and a good grinding of pepper. Leave to simmer over a low heat with the cover ajar until the lentils are tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 1 hour.
Serve in shallow bowls with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkling of chopped fresh cilantro and (essential!) half a lime for squeezing.
Leftovers freeze well. Add more broth to turn it into a soup.
Braised Rabbit

Braised Rabbit

 Before I start, I know that some of you reading are turning up your nose at the idea of eating rabbit, even if you’ve never even tried it. You may be vegetarian, and if so, you get a pass.

 But for those of you who think nothing of scarfing down a prosciutto sandwich or a porterhouse steak, eating rabbit is no different from eating other animals that are killed for your dining pleasure. In fact, it’s much more eco-friendly since it requires less energy to raise, and produces less waste.
Aside from the ecological benefits, rabbit contains the least amount of fat and calories than other meats, is almost cholesterol free and tastes great. Contrary to what a lot of people think, there’s quite a lot of meat on a rabbit in relationship to bone, and it does not have a “gamey” flavor. Much of it is like eating white meat chicken, only tastier.
So step outside your comfort zone and try cooking rabbit, using this recipe loosely adapted from the book “Blue Plate Special” by Kate Christensen. It was my book group’s selection for January, and we always accompany our discussions with a dinner using food that’s mentioned in the book.
Depending on where you live, it may be hard to find fresh rabbit. I live not far from an Amish market that stocks it regularly. But so does my supermarket. Last week I called ahead to order two of them since I was planning to make it for the book group dinner and didn’t want to risk their not having any in the meat case the day I needed it.
Here’s what it looks like before it’s cut into pieces. You can ask the butcher to do that for you — a task I recommend since it’s hard cutting through the bones. See that bit of liver hanging out? Don’t throw it away. I’ll come back to it at the end.
I ordered two rabbits and used two pans to cook them. One rabbit will feed about four people, assuming you have side dishes and a starch.
This is one of the pots I used and it holds one rabbit beautifully. The pot is probably at least 65 years old and belonged to my mother. It’s perfect for braises, stews and even for baking upside down cakes. Browning the rabbit at high heat means your pan will look pretty messy, but this, and my other pot below, clean up spic and span.
Simultaneously, I cooked another rabbit in this enamel coated cast iron pan – very heavy but it cooks very evenly.
With all the other food that was prepared by other book group members to accompany the rabbit, there were plenty of leftovers for me to take home, and reheat for dinner another night with freshly made polenta and herbs. This recipe would also be delicious served with buttered noodles of some sort, as suggested by the book.
Lentils and rabbit are also a match made in heaven and I made this dish of roasted rabbit, lentils and chestnuts a couple of months ago, trying to duplicate a delicious meal I ate last fall at a restaurant tucked away in the hills of Liguria, Italy. If you’re interested in this rabbit recipe, send me an email and I’ll be happy to send it to you. The lentils recipe is from Joe Cicala, chef at Le Virtù and Brigantessa in Philadelphia, and I posted it a few years ago (along with his rabbit recipe) here.
And remember that rabbit liver I told you to save at the top of this post?
Joe also gave me a great idea of what to do with it.
Chop it up with some shallots and sauté it in some butter, he said, then season with some fresh thyme, salt and pepper. Serve it on toasted bread and drizzle it with a balsamic glaze and you’ve got perfect crostini to drink with your pre-dinner glass of wine.
Salut!
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Braised Rabbit
Adapted from the book “Blue Plate Special” by Kate Christensen
printable recipe here

1 rabbit (about 2.5 to 3 lbs.)
4 slices of thickly sliced pancetta (about 1/8″ thick), cut into bits
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon flour
1 cup beef broth
1/2 cup wine
1/2 cup water
minced parsley
thyme, rosemary, bay leaf
salt, pepper
fresh parsley, minced

Chop the rabbit into pieces. Fry the pancetta in 1 T. of the olive oil until crisp and remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. Set aside and resist the temptation to munch on them (ok, have a few bits).
Add the onion and garlic to the pan and sauté until translucent. Remove from the pan. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan, sauté the rabbit in the oil on high heat, until the pieces turn golden brown. Sprinkle with the flour and sauté for a few more minutes, turning. The pan will look a mess, but don’t worry. All that brown stuff on the bottom with help flavor the sauce and loosens once you add the liquid. Remove the rabbit from the pan and set aside. Add the beef broth and the wine in the pan, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom. Put the onions and rabbit back into the pan, add the herbs and some of the water. Simmer, covered, for 45 minutes to an hour, adding more water if the sauce gets too thick. Just before serving, sprinkle with the reserved pancetta bits and minced parsley.

Lentil Salad

Lentil Salad

  Maybe you’ve had enough plain old lettuce and tomato salad by this time of year and you’re ready for something a little different. This salad of lentils from Santo Stefano di Sessanio, tossed with artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers and other ingredients will awaken your taste buds and keep you healthy too since lentils are high in fiber and a good source of protein and minerals.
Lentils from Santo Stefano are just about the finest you’ll find anywhere. They’re known for their small size, earthy flavor and tender outer husk. Because of their tiny size and extremely thin outer coating, they don’t need any special soaking and have a shorter cooking time.
They grow on land that’s within Abruzzo’s Gran Sasso National Park, at altitudes that can reach as high as 1600 meters (higher than 5,000 feet.)   The cultivation of lentils in this area has been documented by monks as far back as the year 998 A.D.

Santo Stefano provides the ideal climate for growing lentils – cold, long winters and a short, brisk springtime. Lentils love the predominantly limestone soil of the area and don’t need any fertilization so they’re ideally suited for the poor terrain of the mountains. They’re harvested between the end of July and the end of August and the town holds a festival the first weekend of September to celebrate the legume. It can take as long as 15 days to bring in the harvest, which is almost always done manually. That’s mainly because the lentils, which must be separated from their pods, are so tiny, and there’s a loss of 30 percent to 40 percent with mechanical harvesting. But it’s also difficult to get equipment into some of the growing areas.  The photo below shows the lentils just released from their dried pod.

Most of the lentil growers in Santo Stefano are older retired people who cultivate them strictly for family use. That means each year fewer and fewer are available commercially, and they’re impossible to find in the U.S.  Even in Italy, they’re not readily available outside of Abruzzo. To help stem the sale of lentils falsely claiming to be from Santo Stefano, the local Slow Food organization, or presidium,  requires identification of the grower to be on the label. Below is a photo of Silvan Fulgensi, among the younger growers, and a member of the presidium, shown holding a sifter used to shake the lentils from their outer pods. Silvan and his wife Anna were just putting the finishing touches on a new bar in town called Il Ristoro Degli Elfi, so if you do visit Santo Stefano, stop in, have a drink and a bite to eat.

 

Lentil Salad
Since you’ll be hard pressed to find lentils from Santo Stefano di Sessanio (unless you’re going to be in Abruzzo), try using Puy lentils from France, found at most gourmet food stores, as a substitute in the recipe below.
1 cup lentils – preferably from Santo Stefano di Sessanio
water to cover
1 bay leaf
Place the lentils and the bay leaf in a pot and cover with water to an inch above the lentils. Bring the water to a boil and simmer in a covered pot, for 20 minutes. Drain, remove the bay leaf and let cool to room temperature, then add the other ingredients.
Add:
1/2 cup canned artichoke hearts, cut up into small pieces
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, diced
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1/4 cup jarred green pepperoncini, minced
1/4 cup minced parsley
salt, pepper to taste
Add the above ingredients to the lentils and mix with the dressing. Serve over a bed of lettuce and garnish with tomatoes.
Dressing:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 T. vinegar (I used white balsamic)
salt, pepper
Le Virtu, DisCanto And Rabbit Too!

Le Virtu, DisCanto and rabbit too!

Doesn’t this look like a lovely pastoral scene — a picturesque Italian village, people dressed in traditional costumes, dancers swaying as musicians play in the background, and a picnic spread on the grass? You’d think it’s a painting, and it is — sort of. But it’s not hanging on the wall of any museum. It’s a mural ON a wall along Passyunk Street in Philadelphia. It also happens to depict Santo Stefano di Sessanio – the village where I’ll be co-teaching a writing workshop with Kathryn Abajian called “Italy, In Other Words.”
I was flabbergasted when I saw it for the first time last week, right next to a restaurant called “Le Virtu” where I went to hear a group of musicians from Abruzzo called “DisCanto.” They had performed in Princeton years ago at the Italian cultural institute I’m involved with, and I didn’t want to miss the chance to hear these talented musicians a second time. Drinks and munchies would be served and I was eager to try some of the restaurant’s food, focusing on the cuisine of Abruzzo.
I met up with Helen Free, who came up from Washington, D.C. for the evening. I’ll be taking over her role this year in the Italy, In Other Words workshop, leaving her the time to organize a new blogging workshop in Santo Stefano for later in the year – Hands on L’Aquila.
Many of the walls at the restaurant are decorated in ceramics made in the town of Castelli, one of the excursions planned during the writing workshop in Italy.
The evening started out with wine and small bites of delectable offerings, including succulent lamb spiedini, and these outrageously delicious stuffed olives.
The star of the show however, (food-wise) was the roast suckling pig, prepared by Chef Joe Cicala, whose culinary talents have been honed in restaurants in Salerno, Italy; Washington, D.C. and New York City (including Del Posto, one of my favorites).
Everyone was salivating at the first smack of the knife, when the crackling skin gave way to the tender, well-seasoned meat inside, infused with rosemary and sage.
The authentic regional food set the stage for the talented musicians, who alternated among a myriad of instruments, including guitar, cello, mandolin, clarinet, accordion, violin and bagpipes. Yes, that’s right — bagpipes — or zampogne — as they’re called in Italian. Scotland has nothing on Italy when it comes to bagpipes.  Southern Italy has a long tradition of bagpipe music, hailing back to shepherds who were away from their families tending their flocks for long periods of time. They would descend from the mountains at Christmas time, surrounded by their sheep as they played the instruments they made using available materials. The well-known Italian Christmas carol “Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle” (You came down from the stars) is traditionally accompanied by bagpipes.
 Members of DisCanto in the photo below are, Sara Ciancone on the cello, Michele Avolio on guitar, Antonello Di Matteo on clarinet and Domenico Mancini on violin.
Here’s a video of the group that night, performing “La Luna Si Fermo'” (The moon stopped.)
It was a fun-filled night of great music, delicious food, renewing old friendships and making new ones.
Among the new ones were Francis Cratil (below) and his wife, Catherine Lee, owners of Le Virtu who were instrumental in bringing DisCanto to the U.S.
We ate a limited sampling of Le Virtu’s food, but it was enough for me to know that I want to go back again and again to try everything on the menu. The flavors were so evocative of real Abruzzese cooking, even though some of the dishes take a more modern twist, but always using authentic ingredients from the region, like saffron from Navelli, and lentils from Santo Stefano, for example.
On the way out, the mural looked even more magical, as decorative street lights provided drama.
And if you zoom in on the mural, take a good look at who’s playing the ciaramella,  that wooden instrument that looks like a recorder (but is really related to the oboe). It’s a member of Discanto – Michele – whom the artist used as a model.
The musicians have gone back to Italy, but you can still feel the Abruzzo vibe on Passyunk Ave at Le Virtu. If you can’t get to Philly though, Francis was kind enough to send me a recipe – coniglio in porchetta — or rabbit rolled and cooked in the style of a porchetta. So now you can have a little bit of Abruzzo and Le Virtu in your home too.

Coniglio in Porchetta
photo and recipe courtesy of Le Virtu
printable recipe here
1 whole boneless Lancaster County rabbit (available from Sonny D’Angelo on Philadelphia’s 9th St.)
3 sprigs of rosemary
2 cloves of garlic
1T kosher salt
1/2 T black peppercorns
1/2tsp red pepper flake
4 oz extra virgin olive oil
1 bay leaf
2 juniper berries
2 cloves

  • In a spice/coffee grinder pulverize the black pepper, bay leaf, juniper berries, and cloves to a fine powder. set aside.
  • Lay the boneless rabbit flat over plastic wrap. cover with a second sheet of plastic and lightly beat with a meat mallet until a universal thickness of about 1/2 inch.
  • Season liberally with olive oil, salt, spice mixture, red pepper flake. Roll the rabbit into a roast, tucking in the sides as you go.
  • Tie the roast up with butcher string and season the outside with any remaining spice mix and salt in a hot saute pan add 2 oz of extra virgin olive oil. when the oil starts to smoke add the rabbit.
  • Let sear heavily on one side for 2 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Flip the roast and sear for an adittional two minutes.
  • Move the hot pan into a preheated oven at 350 degrees
  • Cook for an additional 20 minutes
  • Remove roast from oven and let rest for 10 minutes at room temperature
  • Remove butcher strings and slice into medallions.
  • Serve immediately
Chestnut-lentil ragu:
1 small carrot
1 onion
1 stalk of celery
2 cloves of garlic
2 bay leaves
2 oz extra virgin olive oil
3 sprigs of thyme
1 sprig of rosemary
1 sprig of sage
500 grams brown lentils (from Santo Stefano di Sessanio…or castelluccio lentils if S.S. di S. lentil not available)
1 kilo (2.2 lbs.) shelled chestnuts (either roasted or boiled and peeled
salt and pepper to taste
1 gallon rabbit stock (chicken stock works just fine)
  •  Peel onion and carrot and place them with the celery and garlic in a food processor and pulse until you ahve a fine mince.
  • In a large pot sweat the vegetable mixture in the olive oil on low heat until they become translucent.
  • Add chestnuts and cook for an additional 5 minutes until the chestnuts become tender and start to break apart
  • Add lentils and stirr with wooden spoon to mix.
  • tie the herbs together with butcher string to for a bouquet garnis, add to the pot.
  • Add the stock and season with salt and pepper
  • Cook over low heat (a light simmer) until the lentils are tender (about 30 minutes)
  • if additional liquid is needed add water a little at a time until the lentils are cooked. (much like the style of a risotto)
  • serve immediately under roasted rabbit in porchetta, or add additional stock to make a great soup. Garnish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Lentil Sausage Soup

Lentil sausage soup

Buon Anno!

Want to get your new year off to a good start? No, I’m not talking about the umpteenth resolution to lose weight. I’m talking about lentils. They are traditionally eaten by many Italians on January 1 to augur a year of prosperity and good luck.

I would have gotten this to you earlier so you’d have more time to cook this today, but my computer was non compos mentis until a half hour ago, when it finally came to its senses and started working again. (Personally, I think it just wanted to watch the Philadelphia Mummer’s Parade in its entirety just once.)

You can enjoy this soup any time of the year, although it’s particularly welcome on a cold winter day, joined by a hunk of freshly baked bread straight out of the oven. You did read yesterday’s post and run right out to get some yeast, right? Right.

I use Italian sausage in this recipe – the kind you get when you order a sausage and pepper sandwich at any Italian street festival. In Italy, lentils are served on New Year’s Day with a type of sausage called cotechino, or with zampone, a stuffed pig’s trotter. Neither is easy to find where I live, but truth be told, I don’t like either of them.

If you prefer, leave the sausage out entirely and make it a vegetarian soup. It will still be good, but not as rich in flavor. This makes a LOT of soup. It would be perfect to invite a gang of friends for an informal meal and serve this with a salad and some cheese and crackers. Otherwise, it stores well in the freezer.

Lentil Sausage Soup

3 links, or about 10 ounces Italian sausage
1 lb. dry lentils
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large carrot, or 2 small carrots, sliced
4 cups Tuscan, or lacinato kale, chopped (or regular kale if you can’t find the other kind)
12 cups water
1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon salt
1 tsp. black pepper
2 tsps. dried basil
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

Take the casing off the sausages and fry in a skillet, breaking up the links into bite-size pieces. Drain.
Rinse the lentils in a colander. In a separate large pot, saute the onion, celery and garlic in the olive oil until translucent. Add the lentils and the rest of the ingredients, including the drained sausage. Cook for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. You may need to add more water if the soup gets too thick. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve.