Winter Warmer Lentil Salad

A medley of earthy flavors will melt in your mouth

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By Anna Herman

A good salad is always greater than the sum of its parts, whether assembled from the freshest garden greens or a thoughtful mixture of leftovers. Salad—from the Latin for salt—is the alchemy of disparate ingredients pulled together with a lively vinaigrette, or some other preferred dressing.  In winter, I’m more than willing to trade the crisp crunch of lettuce for the warmth of wilted greens.

Lentils cook quickly and absorb flavorful vinaigrettes or seasonings, making them a very useful legume. Red, green and brown lentils, which get so soft as to lose shape, are perfect for soups and stews. Black and French lentils (lentilles du Puy) cook quickly, but retain their shape when soft and are best for blending with a grain for a pilaf or featuring in a salad.

Sherry Dijon Vinaigrette:

• 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

• 1/3 cup sherry vinegar

• 1/2 cup fruity olive oil

• 1 clove garlic, very finely minced or
pressed through a garlic press

• 1 teaspoon salt

• Fresh ground black pepper

• 2 to 4 teaspoons minced scallions
and/or parsley (optional)

Add all ingredients to a jar. Close
with a tight-fitting lid and shake well
to emulsify.

Salad:

Serves 4 to 6

• 2 medium beets, trimmed and
washed (or 2 store-bought roasted,
peeled beets)

• 3/4 cup uncooked lentils du Puy
(French green lentils)

• 1 bay leaf

• 1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed

• 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

• Salt and pepper as needed

• 3 tablespoons olive oil

• 4 tablespoons minced onion

• 2 to 3 cups sliced mushrooms— any variety or a mixture— the more interesting the better

• 3 heads of frisée, trimmed, washed well and spun dry. Frisée is in the chicory family along with endive and escarole. If frisée is unavailable, feel free to substitute.

• 3 tablespoons toasted walnut pieces

To Assemble:

1. Heat oven, or toaster oven, to 375 degrees. 

2. Wrap beets individually in aluminum foil and place in oven. Cook 25-45 minutes until soft to
the touch when pressed. Larger beets will, of course, take longer to cook.

3. Remove beets from oven and allow to cool, still wrapped.

4. Remove foil. Using a paring knife to assist, slip off the beet skin. Slice into bite-size pieces and toss with 2 tablespoons of the sherry Dijon vinaigrette. If using store-bought roasted beets, cut into pieces, toss with vinaigrette and let beets sit out to room temperature.

5. In a medium saucepan, add the lentils, bay leaf, garlic and thyme, and add enough water to cover by 1/2 inch. Bring to a boil, lower flame to a simmer and cook 10 to 12 minutes until a tested lentil or two are just soft and cooked through. 

6. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir, and let lentils sit on stove as you prepare remainder of salad.

7. In a sauté pan, heat oil until it shimmers over medium heat.  

8. Add the onion and mushrooms, season with salt and fresh pepper, and stir often until mushrooms and onion wilt and caramelize.

9. Add the frisée on top of the mushrooms, put a top on the pan, and let frisée wilt for 2 to 5 minutes, depending on how tender the frisée was to start with. If substituting Belgian endive, do not wilt. If substituting escarole, let cook for up to 6 minutes until well softened.

10. Drain lentils, remove smashed garlic and bay leaf, and toss with 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette.

To Serve:

Remove frisée from the pan and use it to line the bottom of a serving plate or platter. Add 2 tablespoons of vinaigrette to the mushrooms remaining in the pan and mix well. Spoon lentils in the center of the frisée-lined plate. Arrange mushrooms and beets on top. Sprinkle with walnuts. Drizzle any remaining vinaigrette on top to taste.

Turn this into a complete meal with a hunk of hard cheese or breaded baked goat cheese
and a crusty bread. A mug of beer or hard cider wouldn’t be amiss.

Recipe: Grandma’s Manicotti

Cheese-filled crepes and a warm salad will satisfy in the cold weather

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By Brian Ricci

This month’s recipe for manicotti is based off of my grandmother’s. She used to make this most often for Sunday afternoon family dinner. With a great spread of food before us, we would gather around her big table and eat for what seemed like hours. The prep could be done the day before, leaving her time to spend outside of the kitchen with her children and grandchildren.

Crepes
Makes about 15 crepes

• 6 eggs

• 3¼ ounces all-purpose flour

• 1/2 cup water

• 1 tablespoon salt

• Pinch of parsley, chopped roughly

Process all the ingredients together in a food processor or whisk together until just combined. Allow to sit at room temperature for 1 hour. In a nonstick pan, add tablespoon of oil or butter and set the heat to medium. Ladle about 1 ounce of batter into the pan and swirl around to spread and coat the bottom of the pan. Allow the batter to cook evenly—this takes about 1 to 2 minutes. You are looking for the crepe batter to go from wet to dry—but no color. Then, take the crepe off using a spatula. I tend to do this project first and wrap them in bunches of 10 to keep them fresh.

Cheese Filling

• 2 pounds ricotta

• 5 eggs

• 4 ounces Parmesan, grated

• 6 ounces fresh mozzarella, shredded

• 1 teaspoon nutmeg, grated

• Salt and pepper to taste

The filling is very straightforward. Simply mix these ingredients in a bowl using a spatula. When complete, fill each crepe with about 1/2 cup of the mixture by placing it 1/3 up from the bottom. Then roll the bottom end and tuck it underneath to create a cylinder of deliciousness. To finish, bake in a Pyrex or baking dish lined with olive oil in a 350 F oven for 20 to 30 minutes to set the egg mixture. Modifications: You can add some simple tomato sauce to the manicotti just before baking. For the winter, try adding braised greens, mashed sweet potatoes, or even pickled peppers or onions for a more nourishing or robust flavor.