Saturday, June 16, 2007

Italian Sausages with Kale and Lentils, ala Millie and the Waverly Inn

This week brought unexpected adventures both culinary and anthropological, with a trip to Graydon Carter's subject-of-much-grousing remake of the once and perhaps future downtown legend Waverly Inn. Leave it to me, apparently socially unaware, to not know just how hard a table ours was to score. We were the guests of regulars, and the scene more or less lived up to the hype--we met Ron Perelman, aka the provider of Ellen Barkin's recently auctioned treasure trove, and Congressman Harold Ford (now that's a sighting) was in the booth next to ours--but the surprises were the food and wine, which were both really lovely.

In L.A., my newly former home, celebrity hangouts are wildly uneven when it comes to both food and service. Les Deux Cafes anyone? At that fine establishment, when my husband asked for another bottle of overpriced San Pellegrino, an indignant busboy sniffed (imagine the ponderous French accent, s'il vous plait) "I do not do wat-err."

Granted, at the Waverly, we were there with our own famous friend. Even so, I got the feeling that the food we ordered was the real deal, consistent, unfussy, delicious and not just to impress our hosts. My salmon--just seared on the outside, perfectly cooked medium within, was served on a bed of finely chopped kale mixed with tender lentils, the whole with a buttery richness that made it addictive. My husband's sole was similarly simple and perfect, as were the giant steak frites. (And, as an aside, Sam Kebab, the sommelier, couldn't have been more helpful or clever in choosing our Pomerol.)

Since that meal, I've been puzzling over how to recreate my entree. Yesterday's strawberry-picking excursion provided an unexpected opportunity.

More on the berries tomorrow, but suffice to say that in addition to delicious, fragrant organic berries, Thompson-Finch Farm also sports a small stand with just-picked, all organic veggies and herbs and similarly slow & healthy meats. Perfect, pale green kale gave me the motivation to try to make the lentil and kale from the Waverly, and my friend Millie, when she saw the (local, organic) sweet Italian sausages I also found there, encouraged me to forget the salmon and serve the side with grilled sausages. She was right, and the meal couldn't have been easier.

Grilled Sausages with Kale and Lentils du Puy
Serves 4

1/2 c. dried lentils (I like the small green French du Puy lentils, but the black beluga ones--often available at Trader Joe's--are delicious, too)
1 bay leaf
2. T. extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 bunch kale, tough stem ends trimmed, all chopped into 1/4 inch (give or take) dice
1/2 c. chicken broth (homemade, of course, is best, but boxed is fine, too)
1/2 T. unsalted butter
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 lb. good quality sweet Italian sausages, either turkey or pork

Rinse the lentils thoroughly and check for stones. Place them in a small saucepan and cover with water so that about 1-1/2 inches of water are above the top of the lentils. Add the bay leaf, and bring to a slow boil. Lower the heat to bring to a simmer, and cook uncovered until the lentils are just tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat, drain, and toss with 1 T. olive oil. Set aside.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a dutch oven over medium high heat for one minute. Add the kale and garlic and saute unti the kale begins to wilt. Add the chicken stock and simmer until the kale is tender, about 15 minutes or until it's to your taste, and the stock has cooked off. (If you find you need more stock, add it a bit at a time--you don't want to drown the kale in liquid.) When it's cooked to your liking, season with salt and pepper to taste and remove from heat.

Heat your grill to high or a frying pan (best is cast iron) and add the sausages. Cook over medium-high heat until nicely browned on all sides and cooked through, probably about 12-15 minutes.

While the sausages are cooking, Return the kale to low heat. Stir in the lentils and the butter and bring the whole mixture up to temperature. Season again with salt and pepper, and serve the sausages atop a bed of the lentil and kale mixture.

This is delicious with a nice fruity red wine, like this one.

The Intuitive Cook Reaps Bounty

Not the paper towels. I'm a 7th Generation girl, myself. But having just moved to the upper Hudson Valley, I find myself in the cradle of great eating, a little Alice Waters, a little diner, a whole lot of organic produce and neighborhood pork, poultry, beef and dairy.

To fully enjoy the abbondanza, I joined a local CSA. And I'm taking every opportunity to visit local farms, eat neighbors' chickens' eggs (and, hopefully, soon, my own--uh, chickens' eggs, that is) and cook up a storm with whatever is local, in season, and carefully grown or raised. To that end, Trip to Bountiful. I hope we'll all enjoy the ride.

I will try to tell you what I'm getting from the farm, and how I'm preparing all or some of it, each week. While not everything will be a masterpiece, hopefully it will help me (and you) figure out how to eat what's best and freshest in this glorious season.