25 February 2013

Lentils with Cherries

Blame the new year, or the weather, but I've been on a weeknight cooking jamboree as of late. This is not typical. Generally I reserve most of my cooking for the weekends when I can progress at a leisurely pace. Weekday cooking is inevitably a frenzy of trying to prepare something quick in the dwindling time between post-work, gym, errands, and crashing into an exhausted heap on the sofa to watch Sopranos reruns at 8. There you have it, my weekday routine. 

Happily I live in a city where you can get pretty much anything delivered to your door. This makes it easy to not worry about what's for dinner, but also can cause the back-up plan for dinner to become the norm. Lately though, the frigid weather and darkness of winter have caused a nesting impulse, and so, here you have it, the home-cooked weeknight dinner. 

Lentils, I think we can all agree, are pretty bland. And yet for this reason, also happily versatile. Any casual passer by of my blog could easily recognize my obsession with Yotam Ottolenghi. It is in fact a side hobby/casual goal to cook my way through every one of his printed recipes, as I know I will never be disappointed, no matter how outlandish some of his combinations appear at first glance. This recipe, for lentils bathed in a sweet and sour syrup and topped with salty bacon and cheese isn't much of a stretch for our imaginations when it comes to thinking about ingredients that will go well together. The sauce can easily be prepared while the lentils are boiling away, and the dish lends itself to interpretation for those wanting to leave out the bacon, try a different type of cheese or greens, or in general doubling the "salad" portion and using the lentils as a salad topper rather than salad itself.

Lentils with Cherries, Bacon and Gorgonzola
Adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

1 cup Puy lentils
2 bay leaves
2 shallots, finely chopped
4 Tablespoons olive oil
3 Tablespoons water
1 tsp granulated sugar
1/3 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
8 slices of streaky bacon cut into 1/4 inch strips
3 oz baby spinach
4 ounces creamy Gorgonzola cheese
salt and black pepper

Place the lentils in a fine mesh strainer and wash under cold water for 30 seconds, then set aside to drain. Transfer to a saucepan and add enough water to cover them by 3 times their height. Add the bay leaves and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the lentils are al dente.

Meanwhile, in a wide pan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil and add the shallots. Sauté over  medium heat for 10 minutes, until golden. Add the water, sugar, cherries, and vinegar and continue simmering over a low heat for 8 – 10 minutes, until the sauce is thickened somewhat. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Drain the lentils well and immediately add them to the sauce, stirring to drench the lentils in the flavorful sauce. Taste and add salt if needed. Set aside off the heat.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a frying pan and fry the bacon for 3 minutes on each side, until crisp. Transfer to a piece of paper towel to cool. Tear the bacon into large pieces and add to the lentils, then add the spinach and stir well. Taste and see if the lentils needs any more oil, salt or pepper.

Transfer to serving plates and dot with broken chunks of Gorgonzola.

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