French lentils, with their motley coloured blue skins, are an excellent choice for cooking. They require no soaking and hold their firmness well.
This peasant style French lentil casserole is one I like to cook because it’s wholesome, hearty, and a great alternative to meaty dishes. I’ve just finished working on a round of winter recipes for the magazine that were rich and decadent and used various cuts of meat that needed long and slow cooking. Ben Dearnley, one of Sydney’s well known food photographers, shot the pics yesterday, so officially, it’s a wrap! It’s time to satisfy my hunger for some lighter vegetarian fair.
Don’t underestimate the importance of fresh herbs in a casserole. These should be used in the cooking and the finishing of the dish. My dearest winter herbs – lemon thyme and fresh bay leaves – are put to work in this lentil rich dish as the corner stones of flavour and labour alongside a large red chilli, split down the middle, which is then simmered gently in the lentils for a peppery bite to the dish. Diced carrots, celery, onion and garlic are necessary casserole ingredients.
The other herb that i use time and again is parsley. Here, it’s roughly chopped and pounded in the mortar and pestle with red wine vinegar, for acidity, and extra virgin olive oil for a smooth grassy flavour. If I was not to show restraint, parsleys vibrant colour and flavour would possibly end up in every savoury dish i cooked. Yet, with an abundant amount growing in the garden I hardly see reason to hold back. I also encourage finishing this casserole with a wild rocket pesto. Rocket leaves can be blitzed with pine nuts, parmesan, lemon and extra virgin olive oil for excellent results and a dollop added to the finished meal.
Once cooked, this casserole doubles as a soup base and can be extended with a good vegetable stock and some toasted sourdough. It freezes well so portion it up into small amounts and satisfy your vegetarian cravings at a later date, possibly as a remedy to over indulgence.
French lentil casserole
2tbsp olive oil
1 red onion
2 sticks celery
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tbsp picked and chopped lemon thyme
3 fresh bay leaves, or two dried bay leaves if fresh unavailable.
1 large red chilli, split length ways
1 cup French lentils
1 litre vegetable stock
350g washed kipfler potatoes
2/3 cup roughly chopped parsley
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Cracked black pepper
Dice the onion, celery and carrots into 1cm dice. Heat olive oil in a heavy bottomed casserole dish and add vegetables, cook gently for several minutes. Add garlic, herbs, and salt and cook a further 2 minutes.
Slice washed kipfler potatoes (skin on) into 1cm thick rounds. Add vegetable stock, lentils, kipfler potatoes and whole red chilli to the casserole dish, bring to the boil and cook gently for 15 minutes. Use a ladle to skim any excess scum that cooks out of the lentils. Cover with a lid and simmer a further 15-20 minutes. Check seasoning and set aside.
Place the roughly chopped parsley in a mortar and pestle, add red wine vinegar, sea salt, black pepper and extra virgin olive oil, pound till ingredients are well combined (you could also use a small food processor, or chop parsley by hand and mix together in a small bowl).
Add the parsley oil to the lentil casserole and stir to combine. Divide between bowls and eat.