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New Year's Lentils

This year’s lentil recipe was a bit of a struggle to come up with.  Inspiration just wasn’t striking and I really didn’t want to repeat any of the old standbys, so I went trolling through my ungodly quantity of cookbooks, sure I’d find at least something new and interesting. As I discovered, the sad fact is that lentils are a mile wide and an inch deep in the vegetarian cookbook universe.  Everyone has the requisite take on lentil soup and mujaddarah, most have a burger or a loaf, and a few have a pate of some kind, and that’s about the extent of the creativity.

The closest I got to something holiday-appropriate that I wanted to try was the lentil galettes in Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty, which really fancies things up with a puff pastry circle under a spicy yogurt-dressed salad of Puy lentils and fresh spinach, but that seemed more like a summer dish, and my head wasn’t really in that end of the Mediterranean anyway after briefly contemplating a Spanish-leaning version of the ubiquitous lentil stew.  While the stew was too rustic (read: brown and dull-looking) for a holiday meal, smoked paprika did sound like a great accompaniment for lentils, and it also reminded me of a tomato “confit” featuring smoked paprika that I used to serve on bruschetta at parties. A puff pastry base, an olive- and rosemary-spiked mound of shiny Puy lentils, and a deeply smoky-sweet topping of concentrated tomatoes had definite possibilities.

The resulting galettes were quite successful, the crisp decadence of the puff pastry balancing the softer, earthier textures and flavors of the lentils and tomatoes.  They’re clearly on the fussy party food end of things, and in fact if you cut the puff pastry into very small squares, it would make a fantastic hors d’oeuvre to serve with cava. Since you could really make all the components ahead of time and just warm them back up before assembly, though, it would be an equally good candidate for a brunch a little later in the year, after all the holiday fatigue has worn off and you feel like entertaining again.

Happy 2014 and all that jazz…

Puff Pastry Bases

Spanish Lentil Galettes
Serves 8

For tomato confit:
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil (not extra-virgin)
1 28- to 32-oz can whole tomatoes in juice
1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish

For lentils:
1 cup French lentils
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, minced
1 small clove garlic
½ cup black olives, finely chopped
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish
Splash of sherry vinegar
Salt to taste

For assembly:
1 lb puff pastry
1 egg, beaten with a teaspoon of water
1/3 cup of crumbled ricotta salata
Additional rosemary sprigs for garnish

Cook the onion in 3 tablespoons oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over low and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is golden and soft, 8 to 10 minutes.

Drain, seed, and very finely dice the tomatoes.  Add the tomatoes, paprika, sugar, and salt to the softened onion and cook, uncovered, over low heat, stirring occasionally, until very thick, 25 to 30 minutes. Stir in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, correct for salt as necessary, and cool to room temperature.

Boil lentils with half of the minced fresh rosemary and the garlic clove until tender but not mushy. Drain the lentils and discard the garlic clove, then immediately dress with the olives, olive oil, salt, remaining rosemary and a shot of the sherry vinegar. Taste and add more salt and/or vinegar as needed.

Cut the puff pastry into 4- or 5-inch squares, and if desired, further pretty it up by creating a twisted rim as demonstrated here. Place the squares several inches apart on two parchment-lined baking sheets and refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm the pastry up again.  Preheat the oven to 400F, thoroughly dock the pastry with a fork to contain the puffing, and brush all exposed surfaces with the egg wash. Bake until risen, crisp and uniformly golden, around 10-15 minutes. Cool the pastry bases slightly before compiling the galettes.

When ready to assemble, generously mound each puff pastry square with lentils, top with a spoonful of the confit, and garnish with a sprinkling of ricotta salata and a rosemary sprig.  Serve immediately, with a lightly dressed salad of arugula or other peppery greens.

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