A lot changed in 2015. I sold and wrote my first cookbook, Bowls of Plenty, a book on healthy, delicious grain bowls (not to be confused with health food) that will be published in in 2017. I paid off my debts. My step-dad, who raised me, left the world after a long and rich life, two friends died young of alcoholism, and a few more acquaintances’ lives got cut short, which is at once sad and also a reminder of how seriously we have to take this business of enjoying life.
And then, of course, there are the things that remain the same: I wrote a cookbook for a celebrity I’d never heard of. I wrote a third cookbook for Nancy Silverton, out this fall, it’s called Mozza at Home. And I woke up at the crack of dawn this morning to make my annual New Year’s lentils, which, according to the Italian tradition, if eaten on New Years, will, because of the coin-like shape of the lentils, bring said eater prosperity in the year ahead. I’ve written about this before, as you can read here, but lentils, like life, change over time. The most significant change in this recipe is that I doubled it, so I can share the hope of good fortune with those around me.
Here’s to your wealth! Until next year.
Makes 6 quarts, or enough for at least 12 lucky, prosperous family and friends.
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 or 3 Spanish onions, diced
4 or 5 celery stalks, diced small
6 or more carrots, diced small
1 small can tomato paste
1/4 pound prosciutto, pancetta, or bacon (or more, I use whatever bacon I had in the bacon drawer; I’ve never heard anyone say, “There’s too much bacon in the lentils.”)
A handful of peeled garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 pounds lentils (preferably Umbrian)
4 quarts chicken stock, plus more stock or water as needed
Pour enough olive oil into a soup pot to cover the bottom generously and begin to heat it over medium heat. Add the onions (I add as I chop) and sprinkle them with salt. Cook the onions, stirring often so they don’t brown, for about 10 minutes. Add the celery and carrots (again, I add as I chop here) and sprinkle them with salt. At this point, if you happen to have an arbol chile pod, fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, or a bay leaf hanging around (which I do in my tiny patio garden), throw those in. These things will add what chefs call “layers of flavor” to the lentils. But they won’t make or break the dish so I don’t want you to go out and buy them just for this. Saute the veggies for about 10 minutes for about 10 minutes, stirring often: the point is to soften but not brown them. While the veggies are cooking, combine the bacon, garlic, and a big glug of olive oil in a food processor and pulse until what you’re looking at is a lumpy, uneven paste. (If you use a mini, you may want to do it in two batches.) Dump the contents of the food processor into the pot with the veggies and saute for about 5 minutes, until the fat has been rendered (that’s melted) from the bacon and you begin to get a whiff of sauteed garlic. Move all the stff in the pan to one side and add scoop the tomato paste out of the can and into the space you just made in the pan. Cook the tomato paste for a few minutes to cook off the raw tomato flavor. (I’m not sure if this makes any difference, really, but no harm in trying.) Add the lentils and stock, bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer the lentils until they are tender. This takes about an hour.
Serve the lentils with good olive oil drizzled on top. According to Italian tradition, you’re supposed to eat them with cotecchino, an Italian meat product that comes in a box, lasts, unrefrigerated, for generations, and that Italians seem to love almost as much as they love their mothers. To me, it tastes like Spam, so I skip it. My sister-in-law, who is Sicilian, likes to add pasta to her lentils. Since this year was all about grains, I added wild rice. Add what you want. The important thing is that you eat the lentils.
Here’s to your wealth.