Lazy braised lentils, ham hock, mozzarella & pesto
The healthiest populations around the world enjoy small amounts of meat 1-3 times a week, much less frequently than most people. The pork here really is a garnish to the nutrient-dense and high fibre lentils but in no way does this dish feel like deprivation. If you are wishing to incorporate more legumes and pulses into your week, but not sure where to start, this is the dish for you.
This is comfort food in its purest form. A humble pork hock is slowly cooked in a hearty tomato sauce and finished with lentils and herbs. Unchallenging to cook and soothing to eat, this simple dish offers delicious variations to enjoy for a warming breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Honestly, the only non-negotiables here are a daggy bag of dried lentils, a bacon or ham hock and tinned tomatoes. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. I had mushrooms and half a bunch of parsley in my fridge but you could just as easily use carrot, celery, thyme, bay or basil. Don’t have a leftover fennel stalk like I did? Don’t worry. Simply throw whatever you have in a pot and let this delicious braise become oh-so-much-greater than the sum of its parts.
LAZY BRAISED LENTILS, HAM HOCK, MOZZARELLA & PESTO
- 2tb olive oil
- 1 brown onion, diced finely
- 10-12 button mushrooms, sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, diced finely
- 1 fennel stalk, sliced finely
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1/2t smoked paprika
- ground black pepper
- 1 bacon or ham hock
- 2 tins diced tomato
- 4 tins water
- 500g dry lentils (I used the pretty French-style lentils)
- 1/4 bunch parsley, chopped
Heat the olive oil in a large deep pot that has a lid. Saute the onion, mushrooms, fennel and garlic until soft and fragrant. Add the spices and cook, while stirring, until they are also smelling fantastic. Add the hock and the tinned tomatoes. Using one of the empty tomato tins, add 4 tins of water. Cover with a lid. Simmer very gently until the pork meat is falling off the bone, roughly 2 hours. Remove the hock from the sauce and pull the meat from the bone into bite-size pieces. Add back into the sauce with the lentils and herbs and simmer for 20-30 minutes until lentils are cooked.
Note that I haven’t mentioned adding salt – don’t. The hock is sufficiently salty that you will want to taste the final product before adjusting the seasoning.
What I did next: this dish yields 6-8 hearty serves. I froze half for a future easy meal and put the other half into an oven-proof dish and sliced a 125g ball of mozzarella on top. I baked this @ 180’C for 15-20 minutes until the lentils were hot and the mozzarella was gooey. I drizzled pesto on top and served it with a green salad for dinner.
We have also enjoyed this for a Sunday breakfast – baked for the same amount of time but topped with 2 eggs, fresh chilli and herbs and served with bread. Delicious!
Instead of finishing the pork and lentils in the oven, you could quite easily heat them in a pot and serve them scattered with toasted breadcrumbs and crumbled parmesan or fresh ricotta and gremolata.