I tend to go kind of overboard for parties. Call it the latent Jewish/Italian mother in me, but I’d prefer not to have hungry people leaving at the end of an evening. Is that so wrong?
However. I have been the victim of serious miscalculation in the past, with regard to both the number of expected guests and the amount of time needed to have everything ready by the appointed hour. (OK, so the time-management thing is an ongoing problem. I’m working on it.)
I started this Lentil and Pumpkin Stew with Roasted Garlic on one such festive occasion, only to realize that friends were arriving in 20 minutes, and this wasn’t even close to being finished. The whole pot went into the fridge mid-simmer, and I picked back up with it a day or two later. Butternut squash was more readily available than pumpkin, so I used that instead; otherwise, I followed the recipe to the letter. Well, except for one tiny detail. I’d been planning on feeding an army and had doubled—or maybe even tripled—the proportions.
Luckily, the stew wound up being just as good as it looks: A colorful, belly-warming pot of interesting flavors and nutritious goodness. We ate it for a few days, then stuck the rest in the freezer. One batch made for a week of good office lunches, but I reached my limit after that. I couldn’t even glance at the one remaining container and summon any kind of appetite for it.
Until last night, that is, when laziness finally won out.
It turned out to be a bit worse for the wear after a month or two in the freezer; its chunks of squash and once-hardy lentils were beginning to disintegrate, so I hit it with the immersion blender for a second or two, then stirred in some spinach and topped with fresh scallions and one of my favorite hot sauces (from this restaurant, in case you’re curious).
It wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever eaten, by any means, but it was warm and filling, and, best of all, it was practically free.
Lentil and Pumpkin Stew with Roasted Garlic
From The New Spanish Table, by Anya von Bremzen
Serves 4 to 6
1 large garlic head, plus 4 minced garlic cloves
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing the garlic
2 medium-size onions; 1 cut in half, 1 finely chopped
1 fresh thyme sprig
1 bay leaf
1½ cups green or brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
8 to 9 cups water or chicken broth, or more as needed
2 Italian (frying) peppers, cored, seeded and chopped
2 large ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
½ pound pumpkin or butternut squash, cut into ¾-inch cubes
½ teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 medium-size pinch of saffron
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, preferably aged, or best-quality red wine vinegar, or more to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. (I used the toaster oven.)
2. Cut the top off the head of garlic and discard it. Brush the cut edge of the garlic with olive oil, place it in a small baking dish (or wrap with aluminum foil, as I did), and bake until soft, 25 to 30 minutes. When the garlic is cool enough to handle, place it in a double layer of cheesecloth along with the onion halves, thyme, and bay leaf and tie the cheesecloth shut.
3. Place the lentils in a 4-quart pot, add 8 cups water, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Skim any foam off the surface, then add the cheesecloth bag, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, half of the Italian peppers, and half of the tomatoes. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the pumpkin and cook until it is almost tender, 20 minutes.
4. While the lentils are cooking, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add the chopped onion and remaining Italian pepper and cook, stirring, until the tomato is softened and reduced, 5 minutes. Add the onion mixture to the lentils. If the lentils seem too thick, add some or all of the remaining water. Season the lentils with salt and black pepper to taste and simmer until the lentils and pumpkin are very soft, about 10 minutes longer (it’s all right if the pumpkin begins to disintegrate a bit).
5. Remove the cheesecloth bag from the lentils and discard all but the garlic head. Squeeze the flesh from the roasted garlic and chop it finely or coarsely mash it with a fork. Place the raw minced garlic, the parsely, saffron and a small pinch of salt in a mortar and, using a pestle, mash them to a paste. Add the roasted garlic and mash until combined. Add 2 tablespoons very hot water to the mortar and let sit for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir the garlic mixture into the lentils. Add the vinegar. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt, pepper, and/or vinegar as necessary. Let the lentils cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then serve.