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Some great news...

After 18 months running this newsletter, I’m pleased to say I’ve got into the BBC!

They left a window open on the first floor so I’m now just wandering around.

In other news, this week we’re cooking Umbrian lentils with sea bass and olive and caper dressing. A dish for all occasions, and an ideal winter warmer.

This week’s album
Donuts by J Dilla

There’s a lot of J Dilla material to choose from, but this album is generally considered to be his best. It was released on his 32nd birthday, three days before he passed, with 29 of the 31 songs recorded in his hospital room. Expect a laid back style of hip hop that features an eclectic selection of samples.

Lovely lentils

This week we’re celebrating the humble lentil. More specifically, those grown in Umbria on the Castellucio plain below the Sibillini mountains. Lentils, in my opinion, are underrated and underutilised. Especially those from Castelluccio which are considered by most cooks to be the best you can buy.

Like all lentils, they’re very healthy (being high in protein, fibre, mineral salts, and vitamins). But what sets them apart is their delicate nutty flavour and ability to retain shape during cooking. What’s more, unlike other legumes or pulses, you don’t have to soak them before cooking.

In order to maintain their natural flavour we’re going to cook the lentils in water, not stock which can often be overpowering. However, to add depth of flavour to the dish we’ll start the cooking process with a sofrito (as we did with ragù alla Bolognese and fennel sausage ragù).

Sofrito is a mixture of onion, carrot, celery, and garlic that’s slowly cooked to form a base on which the layers of flavours will develop. Bay leaves and vinegar also feature to create further taste profiles.

To finish things off we’ll add some simple pan-roasted sea bass fillets and a salty and sharp olive and caper dressing. This dressing really brings everything together.

You could use any fish for this dish - cod, hake, haddock, sea bream, plaice, sole, and trout - but be sure to buy certified sustainable. Lamb or chicken also work well. Or just keep the lentils as is for an ace side dish at your next Sunday roast.

The plains of Castelluccio di Norcia.

What you need

The below serves 4. It takes 20 mins to prep and 60 mins to cook.

10 tbsps olive oil

½ white onion (peeled & finely diced)

1 carrot (peeled & finely diced)

1 stick celery (peeled & finely diced)

2 garlic cloves (finely chopped)

2 dried bay leaves

350g dried lentils (Castelluccio or Puy)

3 tbsps sweet vinegar (balsamic, cabernet sauvignon, jerez)

100g olives (de-stoned)

40g capers (rinsed)

1 red chilli (de-seeded)

1 small bunch of parsley (leaves picked)

½ lemon (zest & juice)

4 sea bass fillets (or fish/meat of your choice)

Sea salt & black pepper

Ready, steady, cook

1. Put a saucepan on a medium heat and add 3 tbsps of olive oil. When hot, add in the diced onion, carrot, and celery. Season with a good pinch of salt. Lower the heat and leave to sweat for about 15 mins.

We want the veg to become very soft but not take on any colour. Once they’re completely soft, add the garlic and cook for a further 3 mins.

2. While the veg sweats, rinse the lentils under cold running water. When the veg is ready, add in the rinsed lentils and stir through. Add in the vinegar, cook for thirty seconds, then pour in enough cold water to cover the lentils by 2.5cm.

3. Add in the bay leaves, then cover everything with a cartouche (basically a disc of baking parchment). Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and leave the lentils to simmer for 30-40 mins. The lentils are ready when they’ve softened, but retained their shape with a slight bite, and most of the water has evaporated.

4. While the lentils cook, we’ll make the olive and caper dressing…

Using a large knife, finely chop the olives, capers and chilli until it resembles a rough paste. Add everything to a small mixing bowl. Chop the parsley and add it to the bowl, along with the lemon zest and juice, 5 tbsps of olive oil, and a pinch of pepper. Set aside for later.

5. Once the lentils are cooked, remove from the heat and season with a few tablespoons of good quality olive oil, a generous pinch of sea salt, and some freshly ground black pepper.

6. Put a frying pan big enough for the fish onto a medium/low heat. Add in 2 tbsps of olive oil and allow to heat up. Pat your fish gently with some kitchen towel, season with salt, and place in the pan skin side down. Immediately turn up the heat. Apply a little pressure on top of the fish - either with your fingers or a lightweight heatproof dish (e.g. a ramekin) - so that the skin connects with the pan.

TIP: adding fish to a not-very-hot pan may seem odd but it's the best way to get a really nice crispy skin. Adding fish like bass to a really hot pan causes the flesh to tense up and the skin to contract. Allowing the pan to reach a high temperature gradually, and pushing down on the flesh so that it lies flat, is your best bet.

7. At some stage you’ll want to turn the heat down slightly… The aim is to cook the fish 90% of the way skin side down. This should take about 3-5 mins (depending on the thickness of your fish). Lift the fish every so often to check how the skin is cooking and, when you think it’s golden and crispy, flip it over. Cook on the flesh side for 20 seconds, switch off the heat, and allow to rest.

8. With your lentils now slightly cooled, check the seasoning for salt and acidity, adding more salt or vinegar if necessary.

9. Spoon the lentils into a bowl and dot over the olive and caper dressing. Finally, top with the sea bass fillet and squeeze a little extra lemon juice over the fish.

Final thought

Like so many recipes, and yours truly, this one benefits from a bit of time on its own to rest. This allows the flavours to really develop and marry together. Making a large batch (the leftovers will keep in the fridge for a few days) is a great way to have a healthy vegetable dish ready at a moment's notice. If you can't get hold of Castelluccio lentils, then French Puy lentils are a perfect substitute.

Same time next week,


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Eat My Words · Kew Gardens · Kew, TW9 · United Kingdom

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