Green Lentil Garlic Sausage Cassoulet

11CassouletPlateOverheadbfLOLentils can be a challenge.

Want soup? Yep, pretty simple, pretty common, and pretty likely to be… well, let’s just say «OK».

As it happens, you can do a lot more with lentils than just soup (check out this very nice spinach salad), but this recipe, which I found while surfing for something different to do with a packet of French green lentils also provided the secret (!) to tasty lentils:

01aIngredientsbfLOCook the lentils separately from the seasonings, and then combine them.

Who knew?

01BaconbfLOAlso, did you know that all lentils are not created equal? Yellow, red, and orange lentils tend to cook up mushy; so do plan on using them when you want soup, but for a salad, or this truly fine cassoulet, you want green or brown lentils.

As usual, I played fast an loose with the original recipe, but this version is made with ingredients you can get easily at your local market (well, except for those French green lentils, you may need to shop for them).

•1 package uncured bacon
•1 bay leaf
•2 onions, 1 whole, 1 diced
•2 whole cloves
•2 cups French green lentils
•2 tbsp olive oil
•3 carrots, diced
•2 celery stalks, diced
•1/8 tsp Cayenne
•Sea salt, pepper
•3 cloves garlic, minced
•2 tsp chopped fresh sage
•2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
•4 cooked linguiça – or other good quality garlic sausage like kielbasa, cut into slices
•2 cups panko crumbs
•1/8 cup olive oil
02BaconLooselyCoveredbfLO•1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
•1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
•Dijon mustard
•Cornichons (or, use spicy sweet pickles if these little French beauties are hard to find)

Cover the bacon with 8 cups of water in a large pot and bring to a boil.

Attach the bay leaf to the onion with the whole cloves and add to the boiling pot.

03BaconBoiledCrispedbfLOReduce the heat to medium, loosely cover, and simmer for about an hour.

Remove the bacon to a rack set in a baking pan, toss the onion, and pour the stock through a fine meshed sieve, skimming off any fat on the surface.

The bacon hasn’t given us all it’s goodness just yet. Separate the boiled slices, arrange on the baking rack, and pop into a hot oven for ten or fifteen minutes to crisp. Set aside to cool.

05LentilsBowlbfLOPour the strained and skimmed stock over the lentils in a large pot (a Dutch oven should do you fine here) – adding water, if needed to cover the lentils by half an inch.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes, stirring every now and then. The lentils should be tender, but not mushy (not so much of a problem with the green ones).

Drain the lentils, saving the stock once again, and transfer to a large bowl.

06VeggiesSauteedSeasoningbfLONow, we’re ready for the seasonings.

Heat the oven to 375°.

Heat the two tablespoons of olive oil in the emptied Dutch oven and add the minced onion, carrots, celery, 1/8 teaspoon of Cayenne, and a little sea salt and pepper.

07bLentilsVeggiesTossedbfLOSauté for eight minutes, until the veggies are tender but still brightly colored, then add the garlic, sage, and thyme and cook for another minute.

Turn the seasoned veggies out on top of the lentils in the bowl, then crumble your nicely crisped and cooled bacon over the top of the veggies and gently toss to blend together.

Here’s where you need to make a choice.

08LentilsStuffSausagebfLOThe original recipe called for turning the lentil mixture into a 3-quart baking dish; but I opted to use a slightly smaller paella pan. Everything fit, but I think I mebbe ended up with too thick of a layer of panko crumbs on top. It was still good, mind you; but just because you have all those crumbs, don’t think you have to use ’em.

Arrange the sliced garlic sausage around the pan and gently push into the lentil mixture.

Add enough reserved broth (with water, if needed) just to cover.

10BakedAddHerbsbfLOStir the panko crumbs together with the olive oi, season lightly with salt and pepper, toss to combine and arrange over the top of the lentil mixture in the baking dish.

Cover tightly with foil and place on a rimmed baking pan in the oven for 45 minutes.

Remove the foil and return to the oven for another ten minutes, just until the crumbs are golden brown.

11CassouletPlatebfLORemove from the oven, let rest for fifteen minutes, then sprinkle with the parsley and chives and serve with the cornichons and Dijon mustard.

A note on the cornichons and Dijon:
The original recipe lists these as an optional addition, but I think they made the dish. Use smooth or whole-grained Dijon (Trader Joe’s has a very nice version of each, both at a terrific price); and, as I noted above, if cornichons are as surprisingly difficult to find in your local market as they were in both of mine, a spicy sweet pickle will do nicely as a replacement (I used Famous Dave’s Signature Spicy Chips here).

One. Fine. Batch o’ Lentils.

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