They say money can’t buy you friends, but I’ll be darned if food can’t. Who can resist a juicy beefsteak tomato, or a handful of yellow sungolds? It’s like an offering of sunshine. Much more personal, in my opinion, than a grimy gray bill.
Broccoli rabe over a mound of creamy, tomato-braised lentils was something I’d made back in the fall. It was toward the end of the tomato harvest, and one guest of the small dinner party I was cooking for arrived with an offering: a tomato. I decided to alter the braised lentils I was making slightly by tossing it in, chopped up, at the end. It was divine: creamy, earthy and yet fresh. The lentils were cooked al dente in veggie stock, while stirring, so that its procedure and resulting texture very much resembled risotto. And it was topped with a cluster of broccoli rabe that had been blanched and quickly sauteed in olive oil and garlic. We all enjoyed it the most out of all the night’s courses, and it could have never been as good without that happenstance tomato gift.
It’s also a fairly well-balanced meal, in nutrition and flavor. The bitterness of the broccoli rabe — definitely one of the bitterest greens of them all — gets subdued by being blanched first, but maintains a sharp contrast against the buttery braised beans, with peppery basil and tart tomato mixed in.
I never got around to posting its recipe last year, because I didn’t take any photos. Over the months, I’d been waiting for broccoli rabe and fresh tomatoes to come back in season so I could do a little re-shoot.
Then last night, I dined with a table of friends, some old and some new, and we bonded over a wealth of food offerings. One paid for the shared meal’s plentiful courses; others, fascinating insights about them; and for my part, once the meal was done, I passed around produce that I’d just picked up from my CSA share (because my fridge has been overtaken with ingredients for Friday’s luau). We had food all over the place, cooked, raw and in a rainbow of colors. Walking home, I suddenly realized that I had given away exactly the ingredients for this savory dish.
Ah, well. Maybe the friends who’d gotten the tomatoes, or that broccoli rabe, can make it now with this recipe.
Clearly, food is my favored currency, but for others, skilled trades such as photography suffice just as well. These photos had been taken by another friend at that dinner long ago, whom I happened to run into (and gave four freshly-baked pies to after taking a pizza class) recently. He’d sent a number of photos from the night, and kindly allowed their use in anything. So these are Albert’s photos in this post. And as you can see, they’re a lot better than mine.
Tomato-Braised Lentils with Broccoli Rabe
(makes about 4 servings)
1 large bunch (or 2) broccoli rabe
1 large tomato, chopped
1 1/2 cups dry lentils
1 clove garlic, minced
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 medium onion (or shallots), finely chopped
about 3 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1-2 tablespoons butter
handful fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Sweat onions over low heat for about 8 minutes until translucent, seasoning with salt and pepper. Add the minced garlic and cook another minute. Add the lentils, tomato paste and a splash of the stock. Increase heat to medium and stir occasionally until stock has been absorbed. Continue adding stock and stirring occasionally until the lentils are just tender, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a separate pot of water to boil and prepare a large ice bath. Drop the broccoli rabe in the boiling water and cook for 1-2 minutes. Remove with tongs and immediately place into ice bath until cool. Drain and pat dry. In a separate pan or skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the sliced garlic clove and the broccoli rabe. Season with salt and pepper and sautee for 2-3 minutes.
Add the chopped tomato to the lentils and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the cream and butter, and taste for seasoning when warm. Stir in the basil leaves and serve the lentils immediately, with the sauteed broccoli rabe on top.
(for 3-4 servings)
1 bunch broccoli rabe: $3.50
1 large ripe tomato: $1.00
1 1/2 cup dry lentils: $0.25
1 onion: $0.30
3 cups vegetable stock (homemade): $1.00
1/2 cup heavy cream: $0.75
1 tablespoon tomato paste: $0.20
handful fresh basil: $0.25
butter, olive oil, 2 cloves garlic, salt and pepper: $1.00
Four brownie points: There are so many nutritious things about this dish that it’s easy to wave away the butter and cream. But, that’s what makes the dish so much more satisfying than, say, lentil soup. Going back to the good, broccoli rabe is an excellent detoxin, with plenty of Vitamin K, A, C, and phytochemicals believed to have cancer-fighting benefits. It’s no wonder lentils are loved by health nuts, for their protein, fiber, iron and carbs to fill you up.
Seven maple leaves: Tomatoes and broccoli rabe are indeed now in season, but you can use any type of tomato or leafy green as you wish for this. Blight hit your patch of heirlooms? Beefsteak taking too long to ripe? Or just picked up a carton of cherry or grape tomatoes from the market? Anything goes. For the greens, too, baby bok choy would make a mild-tasting substitute, or more dense greens like kohlrabi tops and collards could easily get used up here, too.