Sausage Lentil Hot Pot

The weather has been unseasonably warm here, but still I'm craving the comforts of wintery stews and soups.  It must be the short, grey days, the dwindling green produce and the Christmas carols and chesty coughs I'm hearing all over town.   

So what exactly is comfort food?  The consensus on the internet is that  it's a culturally traditional, simply prepared, carbohydrate rich food that provides "the consumer" with a nostalgic or sentimental feeling.  I disagree, or at least I'd like to redefine...  I think comfort food provides the consumer with a feeling of comfort - period.  For me, it's warm in the winter, cold in the summer, local, seasonal and nails it in terms of what I'm craving both nutritionally and emotionally.  Boom.  So, when I stumbled upon this little sausage number by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall on Jamie Oliver's Food Tube, my early December self was compelled to make it the very next day.  I had never heard of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, a British food writer, broadcaster, chef and food activist  who's River Cottage serves as a world renowned centre for culinary greatness and food integrity.  Mr. Whittingstall has been advocating for local, environmentally sustainable food consumption for twenty years.  He is also the first person to flambé and puree a human placenta on television!  So it goes without saying, I've become a bit of a fan.  

This is a brilliant one pot meal that is warm, slightly sweet and full of earthy, thyme scented flavour.   The prunes, if you tear them up a bit, melt into the sauce and offer a sweet, mysterious flavour.  The chunks of carrots and celery add heartiness and texture, absorbing all of those yummy sausage flavours.   This recipe is a starting point for plenty of experimentation.   Fennel, butternut squash and parsnips would be equally at home bathed in the sweet, lentil studded sausage gravy.  Really there are only  two key ingredients here:  good quality sausages and lentils that will hold their shape when cooked for a long time.   I served this with homemade spelt biscuits and sautéed kale, but it would go well with any crusty bread or potato (mashed or baked) and some sort of green veg to round it out.  

2 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped 2 inches thick on the diagonal
2 stems celery, sliced 2 inches thick on the diagonal
2 bay leaves (preferably fresh)
1 sprig fresh thyme
8 sausages
1 cup of chicken or beef stock
1/2 cup French green lentils (du puy are best)
200g pitted prunes, torn (around 8 to 10) 
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 275 F. 

In a large oven proof pot or dutch oven or heat olive oil and add onion. Put on the lid and sweat for 10 minutes or so.  Add the carrots and celery and sweat for another 10 minutes.  Meanwhile brown the sausage in a separate frying pan.  

Deglaze the sausage frying pan with a bit of broth.  Add broth, thyme, sausages, torn prunes, lentilsand salt and pepper to the dutch oven and bring to a simmer.   Everything should be barely covered.  If it's not, add a bit more broth or water.  Pop in the oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.  

Serves 6 to 8 (easily halved, just use a smaller pot)