Wednesday 21 April 2010

Recipe: Duck Breast with Lentils

A re-working of a Paula Wolfert recipe from about forty years ago, the original version used an entire jointed duck, the pieces of which were braised in liquid over a couple of hours - at some times with the associated lentils, and at others on their own. The duck in question must have been of a serious age, as the ducklings generally available these days won't stand up to such treatment (or if they do stand up to it, they certainly don't benefit from it, and the end result is tough as old boots...and certainly won't repay the effort of all that time hovering over the stove).

This version, instead, combines Wolfert's delicious lentil treatment with a sliced duck breast, which has been lightly grilled, in a dressing of garlic, thyme and bay. The quantities given here for the lentils are probably much more than needed for one dinner - but the leftovers keep and re-heat well...and are excellent either as the base for a poached egg, as a starter, or else as the accompaniment to something like roast pork.

I've included all the 'duck stuff' in this recipe, on the assumption that you'll have taken the duck breast from a bird which you've boned and cut up, and therefore will have to-hand duck fat and duck stock; if not, then substitute a mixture of butter and oil for the duck fat, and use any decent stock in place of duck stock.

For two:

Ingredients: 1 or 2 Duck Breasts (depending upon the size of the bird and the appetite of the diners); 1 tbs Olive Oil; 1 large Garlic clove, minced; half a tsp dried Thyme; 1 large dried Bay leaf, crumbled; salt & pepper, to taste.
250g Lentils (soaked overnight, if using that sort; personally, I never use the pre-soaked ones these days) ; half a medium Onion; 1 small stick of Celery; 1 medium Carrot, peeled; 2 tbs Duck fat; 1 cup White Wine; 2 cups Water; 2 tbs Tomato paste.

1. Smear the Duck Breast(s) evenly with Oil, Garlic, Thyme, Bay leaf and seasonings. Put to one side, while you cook the Lentils.
2. Melt the Duck fat in a pan, and in it sauté the finely diced vegetables for ten minutes or so, stirring frequently, until they have obviously collapsed.
3. Add the Wine and Water, along with the Tomato Concentrate, and stir well to mix everything together. Add the Lentils; stir again, then bring the mixture to the boil, and then cook at a high simmer until done, which should take 35-40 minutes. When cooked, check and adjust the seasoning. Set aside and keep warm until you're ready to serve.
4. Under a hot grill - at a distance of about three inches - cook the breast(s), about six minutes with the fat-side up, and a further four minutes after you've turned them over. Leave them to rest afterwards for two minutes, to allow the flesh to firm up.
5. Slice the breast(s) finely, and serve along with the Lentils on heated plates.

Sunday 18 April 2010


Effectively. Or, at least the move from the Ground Floor of the old house, completion on the sale of which happened on Thursday. The 'completion' meeting seemed to me very long and somewhat fraught, involving strained tempers on a number of fronts (the buyers got restrainedly shirty with their agent, as did we with ours, and the Notary was a bit surprised when the Technical Department starting re-drafting chunks of the contract of sale, even as we all sat there). I didn't follow a lot of it, as I was succumbing to a lousy head-cold, and just wished we could sign the bloody thing and then all go home.

In the ten days beforehand, we moved everything - and I mean everything - ourselves to Santa Caterina. The idea had always been that the more difficult pieces would be left to professional removers, but as we shifted more and more stuff, the amount left seemed a sillier and sillier proposition...and so we ended up doing the whole lot. Anything which wouldn't fit in the car (even with the back door left open, and driving very slowly the length of Martyrs' Square) went onto a hand trolley that we filched from the Brazilians...including the occasional portrait, a very large fridge, and some enormous mirrors, the process of moving which left me a nervous wreck (I have a phobia about moving large fragile things - just like having a fear of heights is about worrying that you'll throw yourself off, so I know as soon as I come anywhere near large sheets of glass or mirror, or even a heavy pile of expensive porcelain, that the stuff is doomed...)

Menu planning went largely to pot during the removal period, and even where I did think of a menu for a particular dinner, in practice necessity often became the mother of invention as I realised at the eleventh hour that some vital ingredient was still in the kitchen in the old house - so, the dried fruit in Budino Toscano gave way to dried strawberries (and it became a ricotta and strawberry cheesecake instead), and I had to devise a completely new version of pissaladiere nicoise in the absence of both anchovies and olives, and so got creative with dried thyme and emmental as a replacement.

The weather is now beautiful. Although Spring has only just formally got underway, we now have the clear skies and sunshine of full summer. All of the citrus trees are throwing out industrial quantities of new leaf (and flowerbuds, in the case of the sweet orange), the lilacs are heavily in bloom, and the azaleas are just starting to flower. Unfortunately, the weeds are flourishing just as well as the flowers....which now consigns me to an afternoon clearing out the strawberry and raspberry beds, before we erect the fruit cage, later in the week...

Tonight's dinner:

Caprese Salad

Fillet of Salmon in Lardon Sauce, on a bed of braised Endive.

Home-made vanilla ice cream, with coffee powder & Scotch