Ah, Mondays. And Mondays in February at that. Not my favourite time of year. In fact, I would say that, despite my usual cheerfulness, February is possibly the only month of the year that I don’t really like or cherish. I’m usually still broke, the weather is usually rubbish and there are no special treats to look forward to (so no birthdays, bank holidays, celebrations). Okay, yes, there IS Valentine’s Day but I can’t say I particularly love that. Does anyone?
Which is why food, especially food that is both comforting yet different, becomes all-important in February. This lentil stew, for example, which is easy, cheap and fast, might seem like many others. Except that these are Spanish lentils, a little something you might find in a tapas bar in Andalusia, so far from ordinary and worthy. The combination of smoked pimentón (available everywhere these days, even here), Serrano ham, white wine and parsley turns this humble pulse into something much more vibrant and less earthy. For a vegetarian version, leave out the ham/bacon and add saltiness with some capers (or, if you’re a pescatarian, a few chopped anchovies) stirred in at the end.
So, if like me, you’re missing sunshine and warmth but can’t afford to jet off for any, try this with a copa de vino (hey, it’s February; all you dry bores can stop now…) and dream your way through the rest of winter.
Puy lentils with white wine, pimentón and parsley (adapted from here)
Makes enough for 2 as a light lunch or as a side dish
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
garlic, 4-5 cloves
olive oil, for frying and serving
salt and pepper
Puy lentils, 180g
smoked streaky bacon, 50g (a couple of rashers)
flat-leaf parsley, a couple of handfuls
pimentón, 2 tsps (Spanish smoked paprika; I used the hot/picante version but mild/dulce would work too)
dry white wine, 60ml
lemon zest, a tsp or two
1. Rinse the lentils in cold water then put them into a saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and leave to simmer for about 15-20 minutes or until just tender but not completely soft. Once they are done, drain, reserving the cooking liquid, and keep to one side.
2. Whilst the lentils are cooking peel and finely chop the garlic, onion, carrot, dice the tomatoes and snip the bacon (if using) into small pieces. Rinse and chop the parsley too.
3. Heat the olive oil in a shallow frying pan, add the garlic, onion and carrot and a little salt and cook until soft and just coloured. Then add the bacon and cook for another five minutes or until the bacon has coloured too.
4. Once the bacon has coloured, stir in the chopped tomatoes, pimentón and wine and simmer for another 5 minutes or so, until you have a thick sauce.
5. Stir the drained lentils into the sauce with about 75ml of the reserved cooking liquid, a handful of chopped parsley and a little salt and pepper. Simmer for a further 5-6 minutes then serve sprinkled with the rest of the parsley and the lemon zest.