PEPPERY PUY LENTILS WITH FENNEL, OLIVES AND ROAST TOMATOES
A one-pot, looks-like-you-slaved-all-day-over-it kinda dish… but in reality it comes together really easily! I was craving something hearty and tasty, peasant-food style, after all this rain after rain. Where’s the June weather I’ve been waiting for?? Puy lentils, only available from the Puy region of France, are also grown elsewhere where they are known as French lentils, so check to see what your favourite shop stocks. These green marbled disc-shaped lentils really hold their shape when cooked, unlike more of the lentils I favour, so I love to combine their nutty texture with melt-in-the-mouth roasted veggies and sticky juices that you can only get from a pot roast.
So how do you make this deliciousness? Well, soaking your lentils the night before is the first step — this halves the cooking time, releases their little sprouts and makes them easier to digest. Then all you do is take a lovely big roasting dish, give your veggies a 10-minute roast, fold in the lentils and everything else, pop it back in for 30 minutes and cook until everything is tender and caramelising beautifully around the edges.
Fennel, tomatoes and olives make this feel very Tuscan to me (even though I’ve never been there). Throw in some smoked paprika (I like the sweet rather than hot kind) and some pink peppercorns and you’re going into Spanish territory. Throw in some pink peppercorns (just because I had some in my spice drawer and I love their flavour) and you’ve got a bit of Brazil in there too! P.S.: my parsley is homegrown, which I’m pretty excited about. The plants had already started to flower before I harvested them, but it made the dish even prettier!
This dish is delicious by itself, or you can pair it with lightly sautéed grated carrot or some freshly steamed rice, or some really good sourdough.
2 tbsp ghee
1 cup Puy lentils (aka French lentils)
400g fennel (large bulb), cut into 1-inch wedges
300g (8 medium) ripe tomatoes
185g olives in extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1 tsp pink peppercorns (optional — or add more black pepper to serve)
¼ tsp sea salt
Good grind black pepper
1 tbsp bouillon
1 tbsp ACV
1½ cups hot water
2 bay leaves (optional)
Handful fresh flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Pinch asafoetida (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil to serve
Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
Take a large baking dish (almost as wide as the oven) and arrange the fennel wedges and whole tomatoes. Dot the ghee around, sprinkle with a quarter teaspoon of sea salt, the smoked paprika and the pink peppercorns.
Roast for 10 minutes.
Add the drained lentils, olives, vinegar, hot water with bouillon and asafoetida and bay leaves and stir through, arranging the unbrowned sides of the fennel on top.
Add a good grind of black pepper and return the dish to the oven for 30 minutes or until the liquid is all absorbed, the lentils are tender and everything is become sticky and caramelised around the edges.
Remove from the oven and toss through the chopped parsley carefully, season to taste, sprinkle with some crushed pink peppercorns (you can do this with your fingers as you sprinkle), drizzle over some good olive oil and serve.
East by West tips:
Avoid eating the skins of the tomatoes, which can be irritating. They’re easy to pull off when cooked like this.
For something more refreshing as the warmer weather finds its way back, griddle some gem lettuce wedges and tuck into the final dish and finish with a squeeze of lemon juice or a fine drizzle of balsamic vinegar.