And other winter recipes
You might recall a post we made last year about one of Italy’s most time-honoured traditions: eating lentils for good luck (and prosperity) to celebrate the new year. The customary dish across the nation remains “cotechino e lenticchie.” But I like to experiment with recipes from year to year, which help me discover ever-new ways to enjoy this hearty winter legume. I once tried make a chocolate-lentil pie, which was … let’s just say, not a dessert recipe I would repeat. So I was determined, this year, to find a suitable sweet substitute, appropriate to eat by the spoonful alongside my celebratory champagne at the stroke of midnight. I settled on the pear-lentil combination in home-made tartlets, which turned out to be just the right mixture, in just the right proportion, of earthy and sweet, mealy and creamy. You’ll find the recipe below, along with a few bonus recipes: Lentil-apple salad and Boozy Applesauce. Buon appetito!
This recipe requires the preparation of a pear-lentil filling for a pastry-dough shell. It’s not a difficult process, but a lengthy one, so get started early — the night before, if possible! Yields about 18 tartlets.
For the filling:
6 Bosc (or similar) pears
2 teaspoons of rum
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon of sugar
1/4 cup cooked lentils
1 handful of pine nuts
1. Peel and core your pears, then cut them roughly into large cubes. Place in a bowl.
2. Add the lemon juice, rum, and sugar, stir, and cover the mixture with water until pears are fully submerged. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 6-8 hours in the fridge or overnight.
3. Place contents of bowl in a medium-sized saucepan on high heat until it comes to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until pears disintegrate into sauce, at least two hours. You may have to add water periodically throughout, as the pears absorb the liquid they are in. Stir occasionally to help pears break down.
4. Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, bring 1/4 cup of dry green lentils to a boil (follow the cooking directions on the package), then lower heat and let simmer for an additional 20-30 minutes.
5. Once the lentils are tender and have absorbed all the water in the saucepan, add them to the pears. Let the mixture simmer on low for about 20-30 minutes.
6. If the pears haven’t yet fully disintegrated, you may consider using a hand-held immersion blender to break them down further. Once your mixture has a creamy/mealy texture, add the handful of pine nuts and let simmer on low for an additional 15-20 minutes.
For the shells:
You can follow any recipe for pastry dough (pasta frolla) to make your tartlet shells. The one I always use is the only one I can remember off the top of my head:
1 cup sugar
1 cup softened, unsalted butter
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1 pinch salt
1. Mix the sugar and butter in a food processor on low until creamy.
2. Add the milk, egg, and vanilla and continue to mix on low until well-blended.
3. Add the flour and salt and blend on low-medium until a soft, slightly sticky but compact dough has formed.
4. Roll dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and let it sit in the fridge for about 30-60 minutes (can stay longer if necessary).
5. Pre-heat oven to 350F.
6. Once set, roll out dough on lightly floured surface until about 1/4 inch think, then, using a cookie cutter (or glass, in my case), cut out round discs about the size of a muffin (I used a muffin tin).
7. Use the remaining dough to cut/roll out strips to use in a cross-work pattern on the top of your tartlets (I just picked off bits and rolled them like snakes, play-doh style. Yes, I’m that kind of baker.)
Assemble the tartlet:
1. Place the dough discs into your muffin tin and weigh each one down with a hazelnut, chickpea, or anything else you have on hand of similar dimension and weight. Brush lightly with an egg-wash (1 beaten egg) and put in the oven for 10-15 minutes.
2. Pull out the muffin tin, remove the hazelnuts from the tartlets, and scoop some filling (about 1 – 1 1/2 teaspoons) into each tartlet base. Then cover with the rolled/cut strips in a cross-stitch pattern. Brush lightly with egg wash and put back in the oven for another 20-25 minutes or until the tartlets are golden-brown and the top is firm.
3. Let cool on a cooling rack, remove from muffin tin and dust with powdered sugar. Serve and enjoy!
An easy opener to your meal or a side dish robust enough to accompany your main dish. Serves 10 – 12.
1 cup lentils, cooked (follow directions on package)
3 Macintosh apples, peeled, cored, and cut into cubes
Seeds of 1 pomegranate
approx. 1 cup goat cheese, cubed or softened into a cream
1 package baby spinach, washed
Oil, salt, pepper, and chive to taste
Once the lentils are cooked and cool, combine all elements into a large bowl and mix. Voilà! The most fastidious part of this recipe will be cutting open the pomegranate and removing the seeds (and getting everything around and on you covered in red!).
Very similar to our pear-lentil filling above, serve this jam-like treat as is, spread over bread, use it as pie filling, or package it nicely and offer it as a gift to the buone forchette in your family. This (not too) boozy applesauce is sure to please even the most finicky eaters. Yields about 4 small jars.
6-8 red apples (any kind will do)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tablespoons Amaretto Di Saronno
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1-2 handfuls raisins (Sultana or Golden)
1-2 handfuls pine nuts
1. Let all the ingredients soak overnight submerged entirely in water.
2. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let cook until apples have disintegrated — at least two hours.
3. Let cool and serve as desired.
Buon anno e buon appetito a tutti!