It’s a New Year

Posted on January 4, 2013

I’m deep in book revisions, reorganizing start to finish what I thought might be a completed manuscript. Well, it was and it wasn’t. Midway through my edits I realized the book would read better, more in narrative style, if I re-organized it. So same chapters, same story, new and improved order. Sounds easy, mostly a tedious cut and paste, but with that comes additional passages inserted her eand there, and deletions too, all in aid of improving the flow of the story. It’s all about the story.

This blog post isn’t, alas. This one’s all about the recipes.

I baked a few recipes from other sources over the last couple of weeks, a dessert from the pages of the Of Duty section of a Saturday Wall Street Journal (best food section in any print newspaper, in my opinion) and a coffeecake from the website, Food52. And then this week – feeling as if I had overdosed on all those sweets and also on holiday roasts and braised legs of this and that animal – reached back into the family canon for a recipe my mother used to talk about, Pasta e Lenticchie. Just the antidote to meats and sweets: a meatless but nonetheless satisfying lentil and pasta dish that feels healthy but tastes delicious and complete.

Let’s start with the lenticchie.

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Lentils are a traditional New Year’s Eve food. Their round, coin shape symbolizes money, and eating them promises prosperity in the days ahead. But don’t limit this recipe to New Year’s Eve. I think you may want to make this recipe many times throughout the winter. In my version, I used campanelle, the bell shaped pasta, but tubettini is more commonly used. So is vermicelli, the long strands broken into inch-long lengths before being cooked with the lentils. As you read the recipe, you may think you will end up with a thick soup, but think of the dish as pasta with a stewed lentil sauce, to be eaten with fork not spoon. Or think of the dish as simply yummy, which it is no matter what food category it falls into.

Pasta e Lenticchie (Pasta with Lentils)

  • 1 1/4 cups dried brown or green lentils
  • 6 cups water
  • 1/2 pound pasta, small shape such as campanelle, tubettini, or broken vermicelli strands
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, sliced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced, larger slices cut in half through the center
  • 4 or 5 tomatoes from a can of whole tomatoes, to make 1 cup chopped, along with their juices
  • 1/8 tsp. red pepper flake
  • 1 tsp. salt, divided use
  • 1-2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

Rinse the lentils well. Place the 6 cups of water in a large saucepan. Add the lentils and bring the water to a boil. When boiling, reduce the heat and keep the pot of lentils cooking at a simmer, stirring occasionally. Cook lentils until tender, about 35-45 minutes.

While the lentils cook, set a pot of salted water to boil. This is for par-cooking the pasta. If using a tube or bell-shaped pasta, you will want to parboil it for half the time called for on the package. (If you choose the vermicelli, it is not necessary to cook it first.)

As the lentils cook and the pasta water comes to the boil, heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add to this the onion and garlic. Saute until the onion softens a bit. Add to this the celery and carrots and saute until almost tender. Add the red pepper flake and 1/2 tsp. salt to the skillet, and stir the vegetables a few more times to combine. Add the tomatoes, stir, and cook for an additional minute. Remove the pan from the heat.

When the water boils cook the half pound of pasta if you have chosen a tube shape. Cook it in the salted water for half the time recommended on the package. Drain when ready.

Check the lentils. After  30 or so minutes of cooking time, they should have absorbed a good deal of the water to look very stew-y, although they will retain their shape. Add to this the drained pasta and finish cooking the pasta in the lentils. About a minute before the pasta is done, add to the lentil and pasta mixture  the contents of the skillet. Stir, and finish cooking for the last minute. Taste and add up to another half  teaspoon of salt. Serve immediately with plenty of grated cheese.

 

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Chocolate-Pear Clafouti from The Wall Street Journal

Aleksandra Crapanzano writes in her Off Duty article: “I’ve taken the most comforting of all French desserts – the clafouti – and replaced the summer cherries found therein with winter pears and dark chocolate.”

My, this made a yummy New Year’s Day dinner dessert.

A traditional clafouti has an eggy lightness, almost like the eggy insides of popovers or Yorkshire pudding. This version is made in the same way, with eggs and a minimal amount of flour, but the texture is more like chocolate truffle, dense but with a meltaway quality. The author recommends eating it straight from the oven but I admit I liked it better the next day, served cold.

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I can’t link you there but here’s the recipe as written.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 10-inch round baking dish and sprinkle the bottom and sides with 1 Tablespoon sugar.

Melt 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate over a double boiler and then allow to cool slightly.

Beat 3 extra large eggs and 1/3 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment or with a handheld beater on medium speed until light and fluffy. Lower speed and mix in 6 Tablespoons all-purpose flour, 1-1/2 cups heavy cream, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, 2 Tablespoons pear brandy and the melted chocolate. Set aside for 10 minutes.

Peel and slice 3 firm but ripe pears, ideally Comice. Arrange the pear slices in a single layer, slightly fanned out, in baking dish.

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Pour batter over pears and bake until top is golden and custard is firm, 35 minutes. Dust with cocoa and confectioner’s sugar. Serve immediately, with a dollop of crème fraîche, if you like.

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My note: Or whipped cream, which is what we did.

Cherry Almond Danish from Food52

I’m sending you to the Food52 website for this recipe, but here are my photos from assembly. This makes a nice gift or addition to a lazy weekend breakfast or brunch. I sprinkled mine with Swedish pearl sugar, but added a glaze and some almonds to finish. A great yeast recipe.

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©2013 Jane A. Ward