The Musette: petit salé aux lentilles

Petit Salé aux Lentilles is traditional French cooking, the sort you’ll find in French homes the length and breadth of the country. The meat and lentils are cooked, together with carrots, onions, celery and a generous bouquet garni of herbs, then served in a soup plate with the cooking liquid.

Petit salé means lightly salted so if you can get hold of salt pork, use it, otherwise any cut of pork and/or sausages will be just fine. The pork is traditionally placed in cold water with aromatics, usually onion, a couple of garlic cloves, carrot, some peppercorns, a handful of bay leaves and a clove or two. The whole lot is then brought to a light simmer before the lentils are added. However, I think my twist on the classic recipe is more flavourful.

If like me you are using salted pork, soak it in water for at least 7 hours, preferably overnight, regularly changing the soaking water.

Ingredients (serves 3 hungry cyclists)

  • 500g (1lb) pork belly, soaked overnight
  • 2 Montbeliard sausages
  • 250g (9oz) green lentils
  • 2tbsp olive oil
  • 2 fat garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium-sized carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium onion,peeled and diced
  • 1 stick celery, diced
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 500ml (2 cups) vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • freshly ground black pepper and sea salt to taste

Options to serve:-

  • 1 blood sausage, cooked and crumbled with handful of breadcrumbs
  • handful toasted, skinned hazelnuts
  • freshly chopped parsley

Method

1. Add the olive oil to a large saucepan and add the chopped onion, carrot and celery with a pinch of sea salt. Cook on medium heat until the onion is translucent (15-20 minutes).

2. Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute before adding the herbs and lentils and cooking for another five minutes.

3. Add vegetable or chicken stock, bring to boil and then lower heat to a simmer. The lentils should take approx. 30 minutes to cook. After 15 minutes, add the sausages and, if necessary, more hot filtered water to ensure the lentils don’t boil dry.

4. Meanwhile, heat oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas mark 4 (350°F/325°F fan) remove pork belly from soaking water and pat dry. Score skin and rub with olive oil, scatter some (optional) fennel pollen over pork flesh and pop into oven for 90 minutes. I don’t like to “boil” the pork as it’s quite a fatty cut. This way the fat melts leaving just the juicy, succulent meat and crispy crackling.

5. Once the pork belly is cooked, remove crackling and chop pork into bite sized chunks. Add to lentils. Remove sausages and slice on the diagonal, return to lentils. Remove bay leaves and thyme stalks. The lentils should be soft and there should be very little liquid in the pan.

6. Add mustard and vinegar, stirring well to incorporate. Season to taste. Serve in soup bowls decorated with piece of crackling, and one or all of freshly chopped parsley, chopped hazelnuts, crispy black pudding crumbs and a further splash of vinegar.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. If you’re in a rush, you could use tinned lentils which will reduce cooking time by 30 minutes.

2. I use ordinary green lentils rather than Puy as I want some of them to meld into the sauce.

3. I often make this dish with the remains of roasted pork belly rather than salted pork belly but always add sausages and occasionally small new potatoes to make the dish go further.

4. Because the dish, apart from the crackling is soft, i like to add a bit more crunch with toasted, chopped hazelnuts, and/or sausage crumb.

5. I make the blood sausage crumb by skinning a blood sausage and cooking it on a low heat with a handful of home-made breadcrumbs. I find it adds a nice crunch and piquancy. You need smooth black sausage similar to French boudin noir, not Spanish morcilla or British black pudding. If you can’t find these, a nice Toulouse meaty sausage would probably suffice.

4. The dish benefits from reheating, happily resting in the fridge for a couple of days. Equally, the dish can be frozen.

 

The Musette: vegan lentil ragu

I asked my two sisters what they’d miss most if they became vegan. Totally unprompted, they both said “Spag Bol” to which I replied “You know you can make a delicious ragu sauce with lentils don’t you?” They weren’t convinced so I just had to make it for them.

Ingredients (enough for 6 hungry cyclists)

  • 3 tbsp olive oil 
  • 2 medium-sized onions, finely chopped
  • 3 carrots, finely chopped
  • 3 sticks celery, finely chopped
  • 3 fat garlic cloves, crushed
  • 500g (1lb) dried green lentils, preferably Puy
  • 2 x 400g (14oz) cans chopped tomatoes 
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 2 tbsp red wine or balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp each dried oregano and thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 star anise
  • 1ltr (4 cups) vegetable stock
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 750g (26oz) pasta

Method

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onions, carrots, celery, herbs, garlic and tsp salt. Cook gently for 20-30 mins until everything softens and the onion becomes translucent.

Stir in the lentils, bay leaves and star anise and then the stock, bring to a simmer and cook until the lentils are tender, generally around 45 minutes. By then, the lentils will have absorbed most of the stock.

2. Add the vinegar and tomato purée, cook for a couple of minutes before adding the tomatoes. Bring back to a simmer, then cook for a further 45 minutes until the sauce is thick and rich. Season to taste.

3. If eating straight away, remove bay leaves and star anise and keep on a low heat while you cook the pasta, according to the instructions on the pack. I would typically use tagliatelle but other pastas work just as well. Cook the pasta al dente only.

4. Drain pasta well, saving a cup of pasta cooking water. Add pasta water and pasta to saucepan containing lentil ragu and toss to distribute sauce.

5. Divide the dish between pasta bowls or plates and grate over some vegan parmesan.

6. Alternatively, cool the sauce and chill for up to 3 days in the fridge or freeze for up to 3 months. Simply defrost portions overnight at room temperature, then reheat gently to serve.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. You can of course make the sauce in less time but it benefits from further cooking. For example, I would typically cook a meat ragu for at least 2 hours. I recommend using Puy lentils because they will stay whole but feel free to use others which will work equally well.

2. There’s nothing worse that overcooked pasta. Only cook it until al dente as it’ll continue to cook in the sauce.

3. When cooking pasta, always add the pasta to the sauce and not the other way round.

4. Equally you should always add some of the pasta water to the sauce, it makes it much silkier and helps it to adhere to the pasta.

5. NEVER, EVER add olive oil to the water in which you cook the pasta. It prevents the sauce properly adhering to and being absorbed by the pasta.

6. You can use the sauce as the basis for other meals. Here I’ve used it in a sort of shepherds/cottage pie, topped with mashed sweet potato.

You may be wondering why there’s no photos of my delicious lentil ragu tagliatelle. I was too slow with the camera, my sisters ate it pronto! They agreed it was as good as the real thing. But here’s one I made with penne instead.