Rose Prince is spreading the word about the earthy qualities of lentils, with the help of gently roasted partridge and spicy merguez sausages. Serves two.
Partridge with roasted quince, Italian lentils and Merguez sausages
- 2 partridges, dressed and seasoned
- 1 quince, quartered and cored (or an eating apple)
- 3tbsp melted butter
- 4 paprika-flavoured merguez sausages, or fresh cooking chorizo
- 250g Italian brown or green Puy lentils
- 1 litre of water or stock
- 75ml glass red wine (optional)
- 1tsp tomato puree
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and halved
- 1 medium carrot, finely sliced
- 2tbsp olive oil
- 1 small white onion, finely chopped
- Half a celery stick, finely sliced
- Chopped flat-leaf parsley, to serve
- Brush the partridge and quince with the melted butter. Preheat the oven to 150°C and gently roast the partridges for 45 minutes. The merguez sausages and quince need less roasting time, so add them after 20 minutes of cooking. Remove from the oven and set aside in a warm place.
- Put the lentils in a saucepan and cover with the water or stock to a depth of 4cm. Add the wine, tomato puree and garlic. Do not add salt — it will make the lentils hard.
- Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 25 minutes before testing to see if they are cooked. They may need a little more liquid — do not boil them dry. They should be soft on the outside with a firm centre, but not too firm.
- Meanwhile, in a separate pan, fry the carrot in the olive oil until it shrinks but does not brown. Add the onion and celery. Cook until soft, then set to one side. Drain the lentils — if there is any remaining liquid in the lentil pan — and add them to the vegetable pan.
- Boil any remaining liquid in the lentil pan until it is reduced to two tablespoonfuls. Add this to the vegetable pan. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then stir in some chopped parsley. Tip the lentils on to a platter — any left over will store in the fridge for two days.
- Remove the legs from the partridges and arrange them on the lentils with the quince. Either slice the sausages or split them open and remove the meat, then scatter it over the top. Add more parsley to serve.
Cooking with lentils
My mother was one of those 1970s cooks who were a little ahead of the game. While others indulged in the new wave of convenience foods, such as Vesta curries and Angel Delight, she read Elizabeth David and other food writers whose cookbooks were packed with authentic recipes for Mediterranean food.
While not a complete purist, she was certainly an economic cook. We ate a lot of offal. The braised ox tongue was challenging for us children, but she adopted the continental ‘lure’, making it as attractive on the plate as possible, removing the membrane and snipping away anything that might be too much of a chew.
One day, she served it with small brown-coloured lentils, instead of the usual mashed potato. I recoiled when I saw them. What were they? That first time, I couldn’t swallow them and promised myself never to eat them again. But everyone else around the table praised her lentils to bits. Something happened the next time they were put on the table, this time with hot gammon. I liked the earthy taste and they did not seem so brown.
Now, barely a week passes without me cooking a large pan of lentils. I always make extra because the spare is good for a healthy lunch. They are a cheap food, but do not always buy the cheapest green lentils. Look for puy lentils, which have a bluish-green appearance when raw. Or, if you live near an Italian deli, ask for the special brown lentils from Tuscany.
They are quick to cook — 25 minutes or so — and it is important to watch that they do not overcook. Ideally, they should be al dente to the bite. Lentil novices will soon be hooked.