Given that my wife is female and her heavy and varied involvement with food (cooking school, PhD in Food Studies (scroll to bottom), sometimes-food-blog, etc.), most people assume she’s doing all the cooking at our house. Not so. In fact, even before we were married, I did so much of it that at our sealing we laughed when Grampa said (tweaking us both in turn), “Now Ben, when you come home, and C. has burned the roast…”
We maintain a strict division of labor in the kitchen. She does all the baking, and most of the French and American food. I do most of the Mexican, Asian (except Korean), and pseudo-Italian food. And so I present below a recipe I made up, good for fall. It’s become a favorite at our house, and it packs a good punch. What I love most is when people compliment C. on it, and she disarmingly says “Oh, Ben made it.”
Italian Lentil Stew
Spicy Italian sausage. (Don’t worry about the “spicy” part. It mixes in with lots of other stuff. I’ve made it with 6 links and made it with 3, it just depends how “meaty” you want the stew.)
4-5 cups Lentils (I’ve made it with both red and green. Green break down less, but I prefer the color of red.)
1-2 Large Onions, medium dice.
Bag of spinach
5 good-sized carrots (peeled, diced into medium size. You want them soft but distinguishable by the time it’s down cooking.)
1/2 cup or more Kalamata olives (De-seeded and chopped, but not too finely. You want to see the olive chunks, and get nice salty bursts, not just contribute to the general flavor. Do not substitute canned black olives.)
3 10.5 oz cans undrained diced tomatoes. (I prefer the Muir Glen fire-roasted, but they’re not cheap.I’ve also made it with two cans diced and one crushed.)
6 cloves Garlic (I prefer it roasted, but unroasted is good too. Roasting mellows the flavor, so add more if you like.)
5 cups chicken broth (You may well need more. This is an estimate. You want to mostly cover the lentils, which will absorb liquid.)
3 Tb Basil (less if it’s fresh.) A bit of oregano. (Sometimes instead, I’ve just added a decorative dollop of pesto to the top of everyone’s bowl.)
Salt, freshly ground pepper
Parmesan-Reggiano or Grana Padano for serving. (If you have an old Parm-Reg rind, throw it into the pot when you add the bouillon and tomatoes.It still imparts flavor. Stuff in a green cylinder does not count as Parmesan cheese.)
Big frickin pot.
1) Strip sausage out of casing, and start frying and breaking up in pot, over medium/high heat. I put in a little olive oil before, so the sausage won’t stick.
2) When it’s getting nicely broken up (leave it in larger chunks if you like) and somewhat browned, add onion, carrots. Stir for a bit until the onion and carrots start cooking.
3) Add lentils, and stir all around, It helps them absorb some flavors in the oil, for a minute or so.
4) Add chicken broth, and stir. Add tomatoes and mix it up. If you need more water, add more water until all the ingredients are covered, but you’ll need to compensate by adding more spices and chicken bouillon. Less water will be more stew-like, more water will be more soupy. Lentils absorb water over time, so keep an eye on it.)
5) Turn heat down until it simmers nicely, and give it 20 minutes or so.
6) Add washed spinach and stir thoroughly. The spinach will shrink down a lot.
7) Add the crushed/diced garlic, some salt and pepper, and basil. Once the carrots and onions and lentils are the right text texture to eat, add in the olives, and stir.
8) Add more basil, salt, pepper to taste. (or a dollop of pesto if you like)
Serve in bowls with Parm/Reg, a few red pepper flakes, and crusty bread.
This makes a LOT.Plan on serving 6-8 adults and having leftovers, which freeze well.
Variants: We’ve sometimes added zuchini, used different kinds of tomatoes (make sure some are diced; using all crushed doesn’t produce good things), or left the spinach out if we don’t have any. I’ve also used leftover turkey broth instead of the water/bouillon combo. I also like using both fresh AND roasted garlic. Adding a red/yellow/orange pepper doesn’t do much for the flavor or health, but certainly doesn’t hurt.
Health info: On the one hand, it has italian sausage as a base. On the other hand, you’re getting lentils (a superfood with protein, complex carbs and fiber), spinach (another so-called superfood, one of the leafy greens), carrots, and canned tomatoes (higher in lycopene than fresh, oddly enough.)
Happy Fall eating