No resolutions for this year, and most of all, no “best of” for the year which just ended. 2012 has been, for the most part, stressful, challenging, mentally and physically tiring. There have been a lot of highlights, of course, and most of them have happened outside of these pages, in sudden, unexpected, unplanned moments. Yes, 2012 has been so necessary for my personal growth, and I am so grateful for it to be in my records. But now, I’m also quite grateful for it to be over.
The way we (Italians) say goodbye to the old year (and perhaps, the old self) and welcome the new one is lentils and cotechino, each symbolising wealth and good luck. But as you might know by now, boiled cartilaginous sausage, for good that it might be, is just not in our favour. We were left with the lentils. We love lentils, we adore them, but we find sometimes difficult to make them feel, well, festive; or fit into the idea of a “special meal”, they are usually part of our everyday diet anyway.
Ottolenghi’s amazing vegetarian book, Plenty, came into help with a recipe that feels special. The combination of ingredients is unique and novel and turn a simple lentil salad into a feast. Truth to be told, when I first saw the recipe in the book I wasn’t fully convinced. I finally tried it and it was a success. A palate feast, with lentils and celeriac turned special by the magic touch of herbs and nuts. Glorious.
Celeriac & Lentils with Hazelnuts & Mint
1 tbsp peppercorns
6 tbsp fresh mint, leaves picked and washed
Preheat the oven to 140C/275 °F. Scatter the hazelnuts over a baking tray and roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, set aside to cool down, then chop roughly.
Put the lentils, water, bay leaves, cinnamon stick and peppercorns in a small saucepan. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the lentils are al dente, then drain and remove the bay leaves and the cinnamon.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, bring plenty of water to a boil, drop in the celeriac along with the lemon juice and some salt, and simmer for 12 minutes, or until just tender. Drain.
In a large bowl, mix the hot lentils with the olive oil, two tablespoons of the hazelnut oil, the vinegar, a few grinds of black pepper and salt to taste. Add the celeriac, stir, taste. Stir in half the mint and the hazelnuts, then pile in a big heap onto a suitable serving dish. Drizzle the remaining hazelnut oil over the top, then garnish with the rest of the mint and nuts.
Serve warm or cold.