My love of the outdoors may be an overriding passion in life.
But the other two passions are food and history.
(Don’t want the history? Skip to the recipe.)
And sometimes I enjoy combining these two passions at once.
Having a nasty cold this weekend, and needing to catch up on a project anyway, I stayed home all weekend. And did mainly short hikes less I got too stir crazy!
So in between writing, taking cold medicine, napping, and yet more writing, I read. And I looked over our pantry.
With a cold snap about to hit as well, history and my pantry inspired me to make another dish from my childhood. A simple lentils and sausage stew. A filling dish that is easy to make, inexpensive, and the basic recipe (it turns out) pre-dates even the Roman Empire!
One of my favorite cookbooks in my collection is Preserving Our Italian Heritage. A book published in 1991 and curated in the 1980s The contributors are almost all women of my grandmother’s or even my great-grandmother’s generation (When great-grandma cooked for me, my eight-year-old palette did not appreciate the strong tasting food. Food that now costs too much in most “gourmet” delis!).
Simple recipes with few ingredients. And the directions assume a person knows how to cook. And much as when Grandma gave out recipes, the recipes are more of an approximation of what she would do in the kitchen. For example, the amount of olive oil to use is seldom listed. And what is a “bit” ?!?! 🙂 And the best part of the book? The recipes aren’t just (or even mainly) the red sauce staples that people associate with “Italian cooking.” Instead, these are simple recipes found around a grandmother’s kitchen table and not at most restaurants. And passed on from generation to generation.
And I do mean from generation to generation.
The basic recipe for “Lentils and Sausage” goes back to even before the time of the Roman Empire.
A basic mix of carrots, celery, onions, garlic, and sausage sauteed and added to the slow cooking lentils. The mint, cumin, salt, pepper, and other spices also ended up being readily available during the time of Rome.
There are many variations of this basic recipe.
I’ve seen recipes use the post-Columbian introduction of tomatoes. And while Romans would add cabbage to many of their dishes including lentils, spinach did not get introduced to Italy by the Arabs until about the eighth century. Pasta (or macaroni as we called any non-spaghetti-like pasta product growing up) is also a product of later Arab influence.
But the basic recipe, at its core, would not differ much from what a peasant of Campania would make. Be it 100 CE or 1910 CE.
If “Sunday Gravy” is something I make recalling my southern Italian ancestors and their ragu, making “Sausage and Lentils” is not only making a recipe from my childhood and something often made by Mom in the winter. I am also making a dish that is quite possibly over 2000 years old and showing the ebbs and flows of Mediterranean history on a stove top. For an amateur historian who loves to cook, I find it fascinating.
So here’s my variation of this classic dish. I don’t use tomatoes, but I do use spinach. And Ancient Roman garum is something I’ve never used, but I don’t think any Ancient Roman ancestor would turn their nose up at commercial hot sauces first introduced in the 19th-century, either.
Oh, and another twist. I am using a rice cooker. A rice cooker is a marvelous little invention that does more than cook just rice. I cook stews, beans, and (yes) rice in it all the time. Works well! The rice cooker completes the dish in about an hour. But let it sit on the warm cycle and simmer a bit, and the stew is even better.
As with all recipes, this recipe is just a suggestion. Tweak to your preference!
- 16 oz dried lentils
- 32 oz chicken or vegetable stock
- 3 sausage links
- 1 medium onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 large carrot, diced
- 3 stalks celery, diced
- 10 oz of spinach
- 3 stalks diced green onions
- Olive oil
- Salt, pepper, red pepper, marjoram, oregano,
- Also optional: I had a leftover rind of Pecorino Romano I diced up. It melts into the lentils while cooking and gives great flavor. On the same theme, I had a small bit of pepperoni leftover from a pizza Joan made. Finely chopped up, adds to the richness of the dish. Optional is just a fancy way of saying I had leftovers I needed to use up. 😉 But that’s what soups and stews are for, right? I also like to add a splash of hot sauce. Not authentic. But I love the taste!
- Rinse lentils under cold water in a colander
- Add lentils in rice cooker pot with vegetable or chicken stock
- Turn rice cooker to Whole Grain setting
- Next, make a soffritto. The means sauteing the onions, two of the three stalks of the celery, and carrot in olive oil until glassy. Then add the garlic, sauteeing a bit more. Then add the herbs and spices. Sautee some more. Then sautee the sausage until partially cooked.
- Add the soffritto to your lentils in the rice cooker and stir.
- Add the spinach and stir until the spinach is mainly cooked down.
- When the dish is about twenty minutes from completion, you’ll want to add the green onions, the other stalk of celery, and stir. Once you stir, add your optional ingredients and stir again. The cheese rind is delectable for any soup or stew.
- Add water if needed. I like to add a splash of hot sauce at this time, too.
- If you can, let the rice cooker warm the dish even after the rice cooker beeps. Tastes even better.
Spoon into a bowl and serve with a hearty bread! Pair with a glass of wine and salad.