Meatless Mondays have been missing from our house. It was not intentional but I had trouble finding recipes that appealed to the palate and to the eyes. But on one of the daily e-mailings from Healthy-ish, Bon Appetit’s latest venture, I spied this recipe. It looked remarkably good. And I happened to have some French lentils in the pantry. Then I read who its author was: Nate Appleman. If the name sounds familiar, you likely remember Chef Appleman from his appearances on “Chopped” and “The Next Iron Chef” on the Food Network.
Chef Appleman had a spectacular trajectory winning the James Beard Award as “Rising Star Chef” and Food and Wine’s “Best New Chefs” list in 2009. He also had one of New York’s greatest crash and burn restaurant disasters when, the following year, he opened an Italian spot called Pulino’s Bar and Pizzaria. The place was pretty well panned by every New York food critic. So Appleman did the unthinkable. He went to work for Chipotle. Yes, that Chipotle. He’s a much happier man now and bent on creating new concepts and menus for the chain. He also lost 85 lbs. So if I needed an additional reason to want to cook this lentil stew, that was all the persuasion I needed.
This dish starts with a soffritto of onion, carrots, fennel bulb and garlic. “What’s a soffritto?”, Andrew asked. “It’s another Italian word for a battuto.” I answered, not to Andrew’s satisfaction. A soffritto, (I had to look it up) means “lightly fried” which is what you do to this combination of vegetables. There’s quite a bit of stove time in this recipe. It takes a good hour and twenty minutes to come together. But the flavors of the lentils and vegetables make it all worthwhile. Then there’s the genius of poaching the egg right in the stew. The time given for that is 8 to 10 minutes. I think that’s on the far side, especially if you prefer a runny yolk. And finally, the recipe calls for the spinach to be microwaved and draped on top of the beans along with the eggs. I stopped at the microwave and laid the spinach atop the lentils to keep it green and luscious looking. Finally, there’s a wonderful piece of fried bread…gently salted and rubbed with garlic. Just enough evil to make this dinner a winner. By the way, I halved the recipe which is for four. And I had plenty of lentil stew left over. Here is the recipe:
Nate Appleman's Lentil and Egg Stew
A fine way to make Monday Meatless, this is healthy as all get out so you can feel fine about eating the Fried Bread it is accompanied by.
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 fennel bulb, chopped
- 3 medium carrots, peeled, chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, 5 finely chopped, 1 whole
- ¼ cup olive oil, plus more for frying
- Kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 cups French lentils
- 1 3x2-inch piece Parmesan rind
- 1 bunch large spinach, tough stems trimmed
- 4 large eggs
- 4 large slices country-style bread
- Red wine vinegar and grated Pecorino (for serving)
- Step 1 Pulse onion, fennel, carrots, and chopped garlic in a food processor until soffritto is finely chopped. Heat ¼ cup oil in a large pot over medium. Add soffritto, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 10–12 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally and adding a splash of water if mixture is browning too quickly, until golden brown and very soft (it will look almost like a purée), 10–12 minutes. Add lentils and 6 cups water. Lay Parmesan rind on top (it may stick if it falls to the bottom). Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until lentils are tender, 35–45 minutes, depending on type. Taste and season with more salt.
- Step 2 Meanwhile, place spinach in a glass bowl and add a splash of water and a pinch of salt. Microwave on high until bright green and slightly wilted, about 1 minute. Squeeze firmly to expel excess water, then cut in half. (If you don’t have a microwave, add the spinach directly to the pot and let it wilt slightly before making divots for eggs.) Thin stew with water by ¼-cupfuls if needed to loosen. Scatter wilted spinach across the top.
- Step 3 Using the back of a spoon, create 4 divots in surface of stew and drop an egg into each. Cover pot and simmer stew very gently just until eggs are set, 8–12 minutes.
- Step 4 While the eggs are cooking, heat a small saucepan over medium-high, pour in oil to come ¼” up sides. Working one at a time, fry slices of bread, turning once and adding more oil as needed, until golden brown and crisp, about 1 minute per side for each slice. Season lightly with salt and rub with garlic clove.
- Step 5 Carefully divide stew and eggs among bowls, add a splash of vinegar to each, and top with Pecorino. Serve with fried bread.