We just returned from another weekend away, but this time I really wasn’t ready to come home. For the past four years, we’ve been going to Ocean City with my best friend Jeremy, his wife Sara, and for the first time this year, their cherubic son Jackson. We spent lazy hours on the beach, in the pool, drinking beers in the hot tub, and eating family dinners on our deck. It’s always difficult to leave the beach, that magical edge of the world where no one wears a watch and only your appetite and the tides dictate your schedule. But this year it was particularly bittersweet, because Jeremy and Sara and Jackson are moving to Florida in two months and this will likely be our last annual trip to Ocean City.
Tonight’s dinner had to be something comforting and satisfying and familiar, some miraculous bowl of deliciousness that would make it okay to return to reality. Clearly I needed pasta, so I turned to a seasonally inappropriate recipe that I’ve been making for years. The recipe is from a pasta cookbook that I inherited from one of my mother’s best friends after she gave up carbohydrates, a concept that causes me actual physical pain.
The recipe makes me think of my dad even though he never cooked it for me and I never cooked it for him. The sauce begins with a mirepoix and herbs, then a healthy serving of lentils, tomatoes, broth, and bacon. There’s something about the classic layering of flavors that I know my dad would appreciate, but it’s also about the lentils. Dad had a habit of clipping unusual and vaguely ethnic recipes from the Boston Globe. One of his favorites was Moroccan Spicy Lentils made with French le Puy lentils, boiled in a pot with a whole onion stabbed with a handful of cloves. The recipe was simple, the ingredients were humble, and you cooked everything low and slow until your kitchen smelled like a souk. It was one of the few recipes of his that I took with me when I left home.
Tonight’s pasta recipe has my kitchen smelling less like a spice bazaar and more like an Italian grandmother’s kitchen, but it still feels like an homage to my dad’s lentils and it still has that seemingly magical ability to lift spirits. And so, I’m feeling slightly better, mostly because my house smells like bacon and onions, but also because I am trying to focus on the positive things. I’m remembering the five days we just had, the four years of nearly constant companionship with one of the best people I’ve ever met, and the fact that there will be many more vacations to exciting new destinations in the future of this lifelong friendship.
Moroccan Spicy Lentils
1 1/2 cups French le Puy lentils
4 whole cloves
1 whole yellow onion
2 bay leaves
1 two-inch piece lemon rind
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 cup parsley
1/4 cup cilantro
1-2 Tablespoons lemon juice
salt & pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, combine lentils with water to cover the lentils by two inches. Stick the cloves into the yellow onion. Add the onion, bay leaves, and lemon rind to the pan. Bring to a boil, lower the hear, and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until tender. Discard onion, bay leaves, and rind. Drain the lentils. In a large skillet, heat oil and saute the red onion for 5 minutes. Add garlic, tomatoes, cumin, ginger, turmeric, paprika, and cayenne. Cook for 3 minutes. Add parsley, cilantro, and lentils. Cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice 1 tablespoon at a time, season with salt and pepper.
Farfalle with Lentils from Pasta Harvest by Janet Fletcher
1/4 cup olive oil
2/3 cup minced celery
2/3 cup minced carrot
2/3 cup minced yellow onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons minced fresh sage
2 cups strained canned tomatoes
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup dried lentils
2 slices thick-sliced bacon
salt & freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup minced parsley
1 pound dried farfalle
1/2 – 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Heat olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over moderately low hear. Add celery, carrot, onion, garlic, rosemary, and sage. Saute until vegetables are quite soft and sweet, about 15 minutes. Add tomatoes, chicken stock, lentils, and bacon. Bring to a simmer, cover and adjust heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until lentils are tender and ingredients have coalesced into a flavorful sauce, about 1 hour. Uncover and stir once or twice to make sure the lentils are not sticking to the bottom of the skillet. If sauce seems a little too thin, uncover it during the last few minutes of cooking to allow it to reduce. Remove bacon slices and discard. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in parsley. Keep warm.
Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Transfer pasta to a large warm bowl. Add the contents of the skillet and toss to coat. Add Parmesan and toss again, adding little of the reserved water if necessary to thin the sauce. Serve immediately on warm dishes. Serves 4.