Lentils with sausages + mustard vinaigrette

Without going too much in to detail -- not sure I have the energy or the strength for that -- the events of the past two or so weeks have turned what has been a fairly unassuming start to the year into a decidedly painful one. While I'm trying my best to hold on to any and all positive thoughts in the midst of the gaping hole my nonno's passing has left -- the remarkable legacy he left behind and all he achieved in his nearly a century (!!!) of life, how the deep sadness my family is experiencing is simply a testimony to how much he was loved -- I am struggling. As always, I've turned to cooking and baking as a way to keep me distracted and occupied, comforted, at least fleetingly. If I've said it once I've said it a hundred times -- I haven't yet come across a situation that a little time in the kitchen can't remedy, and lately cooking has once again come to my rescue, a brief antidote to grief. For that I am grateful. 

Today's recipe for lentils and sausages is comfort food in its purest form, nourishing and sustaining in exactly the way a person requires when riding out the waves of a loss. It is a familiar, humble dish -- lentils, onions, carrots, a little celery -- and yet exactly the kind of thing I that has kept me going in these past few days. As I write this, it comes to mind that it is just the sort of dish my nonno would have approved of -- filling, wholesome, welcome to a grating or two of Parmesan, his favorite cheese -- any of the countless times he inquired via Skype what was for "supper" (always supper, never dinner). 

I'll be back soon with some new recipes, hopefully a few more for homemade cheese (graduating from this recent ricotta to mascarpone, then hopefully to mozzarella?) in honor of my nonno, the cheese-maker in the family. In the meantime, do me a favor and give your grandparents a phone call of even better, a hug, and make this dish for them, if you can, and tell them how much you love them. 

A couple of notes: You can make this vegetarian and serve these lentils with burrata over the top instead of sausages, a nifty idea I got from Deb Perelman. Any green or brown lentils will do here.

Serves 4.

2 cups French green lentils (13 oz), picked over and rinsed
6 cups (1500mL) water
1 teaspoon salt
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery ribs, diced
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon (a generous pinch) dried thyme
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Black pepper
A handful of finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 sausages, cooked (I used prosciutto sausages)
Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)
Bring lentils and water to a boil in a large saucepan, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until almost tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, then simmer lentils, covered, until tender but not falling apart, 3 to 5 minutes.

While lentils simmer, sauté over medium heat the onion, carrots, celery, garlic cloves, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of black pepper in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a large skillet, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are just softened (this will take 8 or so minutes). 

Make your vinaigrette -- whisk together the vinegar, mustard, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few more grinds of black pepper in a bowl. Add remaining 1/2 cup oil in a slow stream, whisking until blended well.

Drain lentils in a colander and add to the vegetable mixture in the skillet. Remove the garlic cloves and discard. Add the vinaigrette to the lentils and vegetables. Cook over low heat, stirring, until heated through. Stir in the parsley. Serve the lentils on a platter topped with the sliced sausage and a flurry of Parmesan, or burrata if you prefer. Dig in.

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