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)

Squash, Lemongrass and Lentil Soup

A few weeks ago we went away for the weekend and returned home to discover that someone (probably me) hadn't closed the door to the freezer properly so everything had defrosted.  This has happened before (see, it's the doors fault!) and it is always a super, duper annoying bummer.  The biggest offender is hands-down the whole frozen bananas I keep for baking.  Once melted, they produce a brown, sticky syrup that oozes and coats everything in its wake.   So after a long drive and no concrete plans for dinner, I was unexpectedly tasked with the burden of cleaning out the entire freezer while trying to control my behaviour and language in front of my two small children who frequently chose the worst moments to sing their random thoughts at top volume. 

Because we had lost good food to similar circumstances in the past, I was determined to save as much as possible.    I turned the defrosted bread into crisps and breadcrumbs, the melted frozen wild blueberries into Blueberry Vanilla Chia seed Jam and we ate all of the leftovers within the week.  Phew!   But there was one item that sat for longer than I intended in the fridge - a yellow lemon grass curry paste that's part of a recipe from award-winning author and food writer Nigel Slaters'  gorgeous cookbook Eat:  The Little Book of Fast Food.  The recipe is a simple Thai-inspired concoction called Prawns, Lemongrass and Coconut that Nigel in his typical poetic style describes as "Vivid flavours, a little heat.  Uplifting and energizing".  The recipe instructs you to make twice the amount of paste required to make the dish so I always keep the second batch in the freezer.    

After eyeing this turmeric-laced , gingery paste in the fridge for far too long, I decided to chuck it in a soup with a beautiful butternut squash I'd recently purchased on impulse.  It being fall and whatnot it's pretty easy to fall in love with a squash at the market.  The result was a sweet and spicy soup with a warm and fragrant lemongrass punch - perfect for a fall lunch or light dinner.  Next time I make this paste I will quadruple the recipe so I can use it for all sorts of other kitchen experiments.  As long as I remember to keep my freezer door closed, the possibilities will be endless! 

Put the following into a food processor to make smooth yellow paste
1/4 cup cilantro
2 tsp ground turmeric
2 large cloves of garlic
2 lemon grass stalks
2 red bird's eye chilies
2 tbsp. canola oil
2 inch piece of ginger

1 butternut squash (roasted and chopped)
1 onion
1 tbsp coconut oil
4 cups broth
1 can of coconut milk
1 cup of red lentils
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp mirin
1 to 2 tsp sriracha
squeeze of lime

Preheat oven to 350F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  

1.  Cut butternut squash in half, scoop out seeds and drizzle with oil.  Place face down on parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until soft.  Let cool.

2.  Heat 2 tbsp. of oil in a pan and add onions and 1/2 tsp. of salt.  Cook onions until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add half of the amount of yellow lemongrass paste in the pan and fry for a couple of minutes.  Add in 4 cups of broth, 1 can of coconut milk and 1 cup of lentils.  Cook 15 minutes or until the lentils are soft.  

3.  Roughly chop the roasted butternut squash, without the skin,  into 1 inch pieces and add to the pan with the broth and lentils.

4.  Add fish sauce, mirin, sriracha, salt to taste and chopped cilantro.

Makes 6 generous bowls