In all the years I have lived in southern Spain, I recall only twice ever that the temperature dropped below freezing. Once, many years ago, I awoke to find icicles hanging from a drippy tap in the garden. Another time, the dog’s water bowl was frozen over. On another occasion, although it wasn't so icy cold, we awoke to find the ground covered in snow! The kids raced to ski down the steep driveway before it melted off.
So when the TV weather woman predicted a hard freeze for my region, I prepared. Dry firewood ready (prunings from the olive trees). Gloves and scarves located. And a big pot of lentils on the stove.
Today is, indeed, mighty cold. But the temperature did not dip below freezing. The sun is shining and I’m going to curl up by the fire and enjoy a bowl of heartwarming, stick-to-the-ribs lentils.
|Castellana and pardina lentils.|
The most common variety of lentil in Spain is the rubia castellana, big, flat disks of a pale greenish-brown color. They cook up ever so soft, without turning to mush. The tiny, dark brown pardina lentils, which always stay al dente, can be substituted. Castilla-La Mancha grows 90 percent of the lentils produced in Spain, but, as this is insufficient to meet demand, much is imported. At my local store in southern Spain, the castellana lentils come from Canada!
Lentils don’t need soaking overnight, as do most legumes. Be sure to use soft water (bottled or filtered, if your water is naturally hard), for cooking. This helps the legume to soften.
|Lentils with chorizo and vegetables.|
Lentils with Sausage
Pork belly, consisting of ribbons of lean and fat, is pancetta or bacon before it is salted and cured. Any fatty bits of fresh pork could be used, including spare ribs cut into short lengths. Fresh pork-link sausage can be substituted for the chorizo. Add additional pimentón, if not using chorizo.
Serves 4 to 5.
1 pound lentils
4 ounces pork belly
4 ounces soft, cooking chorizo or pork-link sausage
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 small onion
1 whole head of garlic
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 green pepper, cut in strips
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera (smoked paprika)
Red pepper flakes (optional)
½ pound potatoes, peeled and cut in 1-inch cubes
Pickled onions and hot peppers, such as peperoni, to accompany
Wash and drain the lentils. Place them in a cazuela or soup pot and add 6 cups of fresh water.
Cut the pork belly into ½-inch strips. Slice the chorizo crosswise. Heat the oil in a small skillet and fry the pork and chorizo on medium heat until lightly browned. Tip the skillet to drain the fat to one side and skim the pork and chorizo out and add to the lentils. Discard the fat.
Stick the cloves into the onion and tuck it into the lentils with the head of garlic, carrots, green pepper, tomato, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Stir the pimentón into 1 tablespoon of water until smooth, then stir into the lentils. Add the red pepper flakes, if using.
Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer and cover the lentils. Cook gently for 30 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook 30 minutes more or until lentils are tender.
Remove and discard the onion and bay leaf. Remove the tomato, cut out the core and discard skin. Use the edge of a spoon to break the tomato into pieces and return them to the lentils. If desired, the soft-cooked garlic cloves can be separated and mashed into the lentils. Let the pottage sit, covered, 15 minutes before serving. Each person adds pickled onions and peppers to taste.