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Castelluccio lentils with tomatoes and Gorgonzola
Lentils are a hard nut to crack. I used to think, with brash ignorance, that there is an innate blandness to them, that no matter how hard I tried, or in what context they came, I could never get them to shine as, say, a potato or a bowl of rice can when put in the right hands. This misconception was probably due to countless bad lentil dishes I had over the years. I imagine an old-style health food shop with piles of grey lentil stews, under-seasoned and un-loved.
Lentils do need way more gutsy flavours—vinegar, garlic, pepper, pungent oil—to come to life. If you don’t get this, as I didn’t, you are always left with a slight disappointment. However, once I did crack this nut, I realised that they can take on flavours and deliver them like no other starch or pulse.
In this salad I douse the lentils with vinegar, onion, salt, pepper, garlic and oil as soon as they are cooked. When warm, they soak in the aromas properly. Gorgonzola, lots of herbs and dried tomatoes are mixed in at the end. The result in such a bang of flavours, I assure you you’d never look at lentils the same again. Ever.
Castelluccio lentils from Umbria are tiny brownish jewels with a delicate flavor and a wonderfully tender texture. Like Puy lentils, they don’t disintegrate in the cooking, which makes them ideal for salads. You can get them from Italian or gourmet markets, or use Puy instead. This substantial dish, which is best eaten at room temperature, can be served on its own or with steamed seasonal greens such as broccolini or baby fennel.
5 plum tomatoes
8 thyme sprigs
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
1 tbsp good-quality red wine vinegar
1 tsp Maldon sea salt
1 1/3 cups Castelluccio lentils
3 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
3 tbsp chopped chervil or parsley
3 tbsp chopped chives
4 tbsp chopped dill
3 oz mild Gorgonzola, crumbled
To make the oven-dried tomatoes. Preheat the oven to 275°F. Quarter the tomatoes vertically and place skin-side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Arrange the thyme sprigs on top of them. Drizzle over the olive oil and balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with some salt. Roast for 1 1/2 hours, or until semi-dried. Discard the thyme and allow to cool down slightly.
Meanwhile, place the red onion in a medium bowl, pour over the vinegar and sprinkle with the sea salt. Stir, then leave for a few minutes so the onion softens a bit.
Place the lentils in a pan of boiling water (the water should come 1 1/4 inches above the lentils) and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, or until tender. Drain well in a sieve and, while still warm, add to the sliced onion. Also add the olive oil, garlic and some black pepper. Stir to mix and leave aside to cool down. Once cool, add the herbs and gently mix together. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
To serve, pile up the lentils on a large plate or bowl, integrating the Gorgonzola and tomatoes as you build up the pile. Drizzle the tomato cooking juices on top and serve.
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