Comfort food isn’t something I often associate with the summer. It’s a description I tend to use for sausages and mash, roast dinners and bowls of soothing Thai chicken soup. But sometimes I crave a particular taste, a particular combination that I know will make me feel, if not warm and comforted, at least a little better. I suppose it must be something to do with familiarity, the need for food that can be made on auto-pilot instead of something that requires thought. Last night I didn’t want invention; I wanted repetition and I wanted, yes I admit it’s weird, a warm Puy lentil salad with goat’s cheese. Unlike other lentils, the blue-green Puy ones don’t go to mush when you cook them so they’re great for a dish like this. They also have to be one of the most beautiful ingredients on the planet.
I’ve made different versions of this (HFW has a recipe, so does Delia Smith and so does Bill Granger) and have learnt that it is gloriously adaptable to whatever you have in the fridge: the cheese can be any soft, mild one (or feta if you want the saltiness); the greenery anything from spinach to flat-leaf parsley to rocket, and the flavourings as simple as olive oil and lemon juice or hyped up a bit with capers and anchovies rather than pine nuts. If you don’t eat the lot when it’s just made, it’s good cold too.
For two you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
Olive oil, about 2 tablespoonsful
Sea salt and black pepper
Bay leaf or two
Half a lemon (I know you can’t buy half a lemon…)
Greenery: a couple of handfuls of spinach/watercress/rocket
Puy lentils, 100g
Goat’s cheese, about 100g
Pine nuts, 30g
NB There are more complicated ways of making this but I think this is the simplest. HFW’s way of cooking the lentils is the one I use because it’s so straightforward.
1. Boil a kettle-full of water and whilst it’s boiling peel and chop the onion and put it into a saucepan with the lentils and bay leaves.
2. Pour the boiling water over the lentils in the pan, bring the lot back to the boil over a medium heat then lower to a simmer and leave the lentils to cook until just soft (about 20 minutes). Don’t put salt in the cooking water because it tends to make the lentils hard.
3. Whilst the lentils are cooking, wash and drain the greenery, chop the cheese into small cubes, juice the half a lemon and dry-fry the pine nuts until they just colour.
4. Once the lentils are cooked, remove the bay leaves and drain the lentils and onions in a colander (make sure you give them a good shake because too much residual water will dilute the dressing). Return them to the warm pan, but no longer over the heat, stir in the greenery (it will wilt a little), then stir in the cheese, lemon juice, a couple of good tablespoonfuls of olive oil and the pine nuts. Mix it all together gently, without bashing the cheese up too much, season to taste and eat, if you’re like me, out of a bowl whilst sitting cross-legged on the floor.