"This dish is for when you want to fuss a bit" is how Deborah Madison begins her intro to the recipe. True. It’s also for when you want incredible, lingering aromas in your kitchen and a richly flavored sauce. I would also say this is a mind-changing meal for anyone who thinks vegetables are boring. I read Local Flavors last summer and made use of some local bounty with a few recipes from the book. I also tucked this recipe into the back of my mind for when winter arrived. The stew is made with parsnips, carrots, mushrooms, and herbs, and it’s served with lentils and potato puree. I just happened to have some du Puy lentils sent to me by my favorite Parisian cowgirl and a little package of dried porcini from our nearby Italian market, and the time had come for a slow-braised meal. So, yes, there was some fussing and use of several pots and pans and lots of chopping, but it was all very simple and very worth it.
You begin with the sauce which contained a lot of the same ingredients as the braised vegetables. You can use the trimmings from the mushrooms and parsnips which will be braised in the next step. Those trimmings were combined with onion, carrot, celery, garlic, thyme, a bay leaf, and some rosemary and were cooked in a large pot until the vegetables browned. Meanwhile, dried porcini were rehydrated in warm water. After the vegetables browned, tomato paste, flour, red wine, and the porcini and the soaking liquid were added. That was left to simmer for 45 minutes, it was then strained and further simmered to reduce a bit, some soy sauce was added, and butter was whisked into the sauce. See, that was easy, but just a little fussy, right? When you smell the sauce simmering, though, and I have to pause on that memory for a moment, you won’t mind. Next, it was on to the braised vegetables. Carrots, shallots, and parsnips were browned in a wide skillet. Mushrooms, a bay leaf, thyme, and minced rosemary were added. Some of the sauce was poured over the vegetables, and they were simmered for 25 minutes. At the same time, the lentils were cooked in water and drained, and then butter and some sauce were added. One more step would have been preparing potato or rutabaga and potato puree, but I got lucky here. I had some leftover mashed potatoes in the freezer which made quick work of that part of the dish. Certainly, this could be prepared over the course of a couple of days. You could prep all the vegetables and start with the sauce one day, and then wait to braise the stew vegetables and cook the lentils the next day.
The potato puree was mounded in a wide, shallow bowl. Some lentils were placed next to it, and the vegetables nestled all around in the red wine sauce. I would argue this dish was the boeuf bourguignon of the vegetarian world. The sauce’s flavors were layered and complex. The braised vegetables and lentils were steeped in those flavors, and the potato puree rounded out this ideal, winter comfort food. Next time I decide I want to 'fuss a bit,' I’ll at least double the quantity of sauce so I can stock my freezer for a lazy day.