Spicy Wheatberries and Lentils with Beet Greens, Olives, and Hazelnuts
Yield: 4 servings
Please forgive me for using a list of ingredients that are all pre-cooked. I know it adds about ten hours of prep time if you want to make it from scratch exactly as written. I'm terrible like that.
But that's the beauty of such dishes, right? You don't really need to follow the recipe to the letter. It's a mélange de frigo. Use what you got.
The olives I used were from a large gourmet grocery (cough cough whole foods cough), and were pre-pitted and marinated with red chilies. I minced and used all three chilies that I picked up along with the olives, and I dearly loved the level of spice. Use less chili (or none) if you're a wuss.
Greens from 2 bunches of beets, washed well
2 tablespoons olive oil (or bacon fat, if you're fancy)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup cooked lentils du Puy
1 cup cooked wheatberries
1/2 cup green and black olives marinated in chilies (or olives and your preferred red chile or hot sauce)
1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted
2 cups baby spinach
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Salt and black pepper, as needed
1. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, roughly chop the beet greens into 1/2 inch lengths. Add the olive oil to the pan, followed by the chopped stems of the beet greens. Salt lightly, toss to combine, and cook for 2-4 minutes to soften the stems.
2. Add the remaining bits of beet greens, along with a splash of water (or stock, if you have it), about 1/4 cup or less, and cook until wilted and the liquid has mostly evaporated.
3. While the greens cook, mince the garlic. Add to the pan, and cook about 1 minute.
4. Add the lentils and wheatberries. Cook another minute or so, until warmed through.
5. Meanwhile, chop the olives and hazelnuts roughly, and mince any chile that may be included in the olives. Add to the pan, and remove from heat. Stir in the spinach at once, so the heat can wilt it. Squeeze a little lemon juice over everything.
6. Taste, and correct the seasoning as needed with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and additional olive oil. Serve warm, or at room temperature.
Don’t tell my clients this, but much of the time, the “recipes” I use are little more than a list of ingredients, and the vaguest notion of a method.
In putting a client’s weekly (or monthly) menu together, I pore over food preferences and sort through endless recipes, trying to find the one dish that will bring their menu together in perfect harmony. Occasionally, that one flippin’ dish eludes me. It can drag on for hours if I let it.
Sometimes in a fit of frustration, I scribble a list of ingredients I want to use. More often than not, I can at least see a theme, if not the barest bones of a recipe. I refine it, I call it good enough, and I call it a day.
This method generally results in something that falls between “pretty good” and “very tasty” (to my chagrin, because I’m always aiming for “holy crap, this is awesome”). When I get very lucky, though, I get something that comes awfully close to my target descriptor. I smile, jump up and down, and all becomes right with the world.
With this recipe, I got very lucky. But this one particularly surprised me, mostly because I’d hardly give this recipe a second glance in a cooking magazine or on another blog. It’s full of things I don’t love and never crave. (But then, I’m not the one I was trying to please here.)
Sun-dried tomatoes, for one. They’re often leathery and too sweet, and I don’t remember the last time I voluntarily brought the stupid things into my house. Beans, for another. Nothing against beans, there are just other foods higher on my list that I’d rather eat.
And let’s not even start a discussion about that adjective: “Tuscan”. Again, nothing at all against Tuscany. It is a stunning place, full of wonderful people and incredible food. But use that word to describe a food of American provenance, and I’d probably drop it faster than a red-hot poker.
But dang, you guys. Dang. This is a killer recipe.
It reads as slightly indulgent, with voluptuous Parmesan cheese and olives, but it’s full of nutritious ingredients, and it’s not so rich that you can’t have a spot of dessert afterwards. And please don’t forget to pour a glass of wine with dinner, either.
As for technique, the idea is to add the ingredients to the pot as you chop them, so it all comes together in a streamlined and simple way. Easy peasy.
Sun-dried tomatoes, beans, and “Tuscan” notwithstanding, I liked it so much, I made it again at home the next day. And clearly, I still liked it enough to share it with you all. That should tell you all you need to know.
Just don’t expect any more sun-dried tomatoes anytime soon, okay?
It's true, I typically don't like sun-dried tomatoes. But here they are. Be sure to get the ones packed in olive oil; they tend to be more flavorful and not so leathery.
Cook the onions as slowly as you have time for. I made this twice, and found the lower-heat/longer-time method resulted in something just a skosh more flavorful. Once the dish sat in the fridge for a day, however, I think it was probably all equal.
It occurred to me while writing this that a splash of white wine, or maybe a few anchovy fillets would work beautifully in this dish, but it was really quite good as is. If it ain't broke, and all that jazz. Enjoy as is, then tweak it if you must. I probably will next time.
8 ounces small pasta of choice, such as ditalini, cavatelli, or orecchiette
Olive oil, as needed
1 large bay leaf
1 teaspoon whole fennel seed
1 teaspoon dried Herbes de Provence
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or more to taste
1 onion, diced
3 to 5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup mixed black and green olives (3 to 4 ounces), chopped
One 3 ounce container sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil, drained and chopped
2 cans white beans, such as Cannellini or Great Northern
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed
Fresh minced basil, to finish (optional)
1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt heavily, and cook the pasta until just al dente. Drain, toss with a little olive oil, cover, and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-low heat in a Dutch oven or any other big, heavy pan. Add the bay leaf, fennel seed, herbes de Provence, and crushed red pepper. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
3. While the spices and herbs cook, chop the onion. Add it to the pot, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and stir to coat with the oil.
4. As the onion softens, chop the next three ingredients in the order listed (garlic, then olives, then tomatoes), and stir each into the pot as it is prepared.
5. Stirring occasionally, cook until the onion is well softened, but not browned, 10 minutes or so. Depending on your stove and your pot, this may take longer or shorter than indicated.
6. Add the beans with their liquid, and stir to combine. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a rapid simmer. Lower the heat as needed to maintain the simmer and prevent scorching.
7. Simmer uncovered until the liquid has reduced and the beans are no longer soupy, 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, and mix in the Parmesan, lemon zest, lemon juice, and several grinds of black pepper. Taste, and correct seasoning as needed with salt, pepper, and a splash or two of olive oil (a good time to use the oil left over from the sun-dried tomatoes).
8. Stir in the cooked pasta. Serve at once sprinkled with minced basil and a gratuitous drizzle of olive oil, with a lovely little green salad on the side and a nice Italian wine.
Dinner, from the book I cannot stop using: Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi. I must be sounding like a broken record, but that cookbook has majorly influenced the way I cook, both at home and for clients.
This is his Beet, Orange, and Black Olive Salad (and I didn’t send you, but you can find the recipe here). The flavors in this one are not shy, but much more toned-down than you’d think by looking at the ingredient list. Overall, it’s extremely well balanced, a little unusual, and absolutely fabulous.
I modified the recipe by roasting (not boiling) the 4 smallish beets for 45 minutes at 425° F, and serving it over a mixture of quinoa and red rice (1/2 cup and 1/3 cup respectively, by dry measure, cooked separately but concurrently).
The (ahem) red salad green was something I picked up at the farmers’ market, and which nomenclature I promptly forgot. It looked like a cross between frisée and some spindly arugula, and had a lovely bitterness.
For the olives, I used the wrinkly oil-cured type because that’s what I had. Those are super-pungent and normally bully past every other flavor, but here, they were actually subdued. I might chop them a little smaller next time (I basically just halved them here), but not by much. The saltiness jumping out every so often, not in every bite, was excellent.
Oh yes, and it’s scallions instead of red onion. I forgot the red onion at the store.