When I read this article about home comfort eating in The Times the other week, I couldn’t wait to make the braised sausages and lentils recipe. It seemed so perfectly suited to Aga cooking and simple to make, but on my first attempt I ended up with far too much liquid in the pan, even after the lentils were thoroughly cooked and tender. I remembered the important Aga rule always to use less liquid than the recipe states, but I obviously didn’t reduce the quantities by enough. The resultant dish was delicious though, and I resolved to have another go very soon.
I was reminded of it last weekend which we spent away, leaving my sisters-in-law to look after the two elderly ladies of the household: my 91 year old mum-in-law and our 13 year old (also 91 in dog years!) spaniel, Rosie.
It was a special weekend because our son W and his fiancée, K, were hosting a lunch for the two families to celebrate their engagement. This took place at our flat in London where they are currently living. They served up a veritable feast of ham hocks, roast chicken and gratin savoyard with leeks. There were also braised puy lentils, a delicious winter slaw made with red cabbage, celeriac and sprouts and a mixed green salad. For pudding K made tiramisù and her younger sister a blueberry and cinnamon cake. They probably expected to serve all these dishes buffet-style, but we found that we could seat all fourteen of us at two pushed together tables.
It was a very happy occasion and a lovely way for us all to get to know each other. We like K’s family very much and I feel fortunate that we’ll have in-laws that we get on with. Knowing that we would be eating well in the evening too, I was quite restrained and limited myself to a small amount of lunch. At about 5 o’clock my husband and I left youngest son J with his brothers and future in-laws and headed off to the depths of rural Hampshire to stay with our good friends R and P in their beautiful barn conversion. R is a superb cook and after a drink by the roaring log fire, we sat down to a dinner of salmon terrine, beef with a fennel and thyme crust, roasted vegetables, and dauphinoise potatoes (by now I was so glad I hadn’t eaten too much at lunchtime). She also served a deliciously melting chocolate pudding, from a recipe by chef Marcus Wareing.
On Sunday the four of us went for a walk which we enjoyed despite the rain. It helped us work up an appetite for a delicious lunch of sausages and a bulgar wheat salad (R and I agreed that sausages go so very well with grains or pulses) and this is what jogged my memory and led to me attempting the braised sausage and lentil dish again.
There were only three of us so I reduced the quantities in the Times recipe, but this is one of those dishes where you don’t need to be too precise. (We had some left over which reheated beautifully for lunch the next day.) I also adapted the recipe slightly to suit my available ingredients. This is what I did:
- 250g puy lentils
- 4tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 onion
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- Pinch dried chilli flakes
- Large handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 stick celery, diced
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 glass red wine
- 1 tin whole plum tomatoes, drained
- 6 good quality pork sausages
- Chicken stock, approx 300ml, but probably less
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- A couple of handfuls of spinach leaves
- Salt and pepper
- Cover the lentils with cold water, bring to the boil on the boiling plate, then simmer for 5 minutes on the simmering plate. Tip the lentils into a sieve and wash under cold water until cold to the touch.
- Pour half of the olive oil into a wide, shallow casserole or sauté pan. Place it on the simmering plate and add the onion, bay leaf and a pinch of salt. Coat everything in the oil, then cover and cook in the simmering oven for about 15 minutes until the onions are soft but not coloured.
- Add the dried chilli, some ground black pepper, the parsley, celery and carrot. Stir, then cook covered in the simmering oven for a further 15 minutes, until soft.
- Add the garlic, stir, then pour the red wine over the vegetables, bring to the boil on the simmering plate and reduce by two thirds.
- Add the blanched lentils, whole drained plum tomatoes, chopped up a bit, and place the sausages on top. Then add about 200ml of the chicken stock and bring to the boil.
- Now you have a choice: if you have lots of time, place it, uncovered, in the simmering oven for a couple of hours, checking the stock level after about an hour and adding more if it’s looking dry, until the lentils are soft. The problem with this method is your sausages might not brown very well, but 10 minutes in the baking or roasting oven at some point during the cooking should resolve that. I was in a hurry, so I cooked mine for about an hour in the baking oven (I think the roasting oven would be too hot), turning the sausages over half way through to brown them all over. I added a little stock during the cooking time but don’t think I used more than 250ml in total, a lot less than the Times recipe specifies.
- When the lentils are tender and the sausages cooked, move to the simmering plate, add the spinach leaves and allow them to wilt. Remove from the heat, stir through the rest of the oil and the balsamic vinegar and check the seasoning.
- To serve, you could sprinkle over a little more chopped parsley.
I hope you enjoy this recipe. For me, making it was a pleasure because it was so straightforward and – a huge plus – you don’t have to brown the sausages in advance. Have I mentioned before my dislike of browning meat? It makes such a mess with fat splashing everywhere, even in my hair, and leaving a thin film of grease on almost every kitchen surface.