Bowties with Fermented Escarole, Onions, Lentils

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This satisfying wintry dish is all about a well-stocked larder. Lentils, onions, dried pasta, preserved vegetables. The real star is this fermented escarole. It’s another idea from Ideas in Food, although it’s basically saurkraut. Escarole has always been my favorite green, but I always thought it would get stringy and mushy if fermented. Not true. You could put this on anything.

Fermented escarole:

  • 1 head escarole
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 ½ tablespoons salt

Stock:

  • 5 dried Shiitake mushroom caps
  • 1 2-inch piece of Kombu
  • 1 Carrot, roughly chopped
  • 1 head garlic, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon Peppercorns
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 6 sprigs thyme

Onions and Lentils:

  • ½ cup black lentils, soaked overnight in 1 quart of water with 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 pint dry white wine
  • 2 cups dry Bowtie pasta

Cut out the stem of the escarole and wash the leaves thoroughly. Slice the escarole. Slice the garlic. Toss the escarole and garlic with 1½ tablespoons salt in a mixing bowl. Fill a gallon bag with salt and seal it well. Crush the escarole to break some of the cell structure and press water out of the leaves. Weigh down the escarole with the bag of salt and whatever heavy object you can balance safely on the salt. Leave out at room temperature, tossing thoroughly every 8 hours or so.  By the second day the escarole should be totally submerged in water. If not, just add a little tap water to cover. At this point you can either leave it in this bowl or you can transfer it to an airtight container. Leave it at room temperature for at least 2 more days, continuing to agitate it every 24 hours or so. Taste regularly and if it starts to get too acidic just transfer it to the fridge. 

Combine the stock ingredients with 6 cups water in a pot and simmer for 30 minutes. Then strain.

Meanwhile slice the onions and caramelize them slowly over medium heat without salt and with a lot of olive oil. Salt to taste and separate out half the onions. Add the paprika to the onions and coo for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the lentils to the pan with the remaining onions and toast them for 5 minutes. Sprinkle a tablespoon of flour over the pan and toss. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until you smell the flour starting to fry.  Add the white wine and reduce until the pan is almost dry. Add a quart of stock. Simmer for 30 minutes or until tender, stirring regularly and adding more stock if necessary. When it’s done you want nice saucy, tender lentils - not soupy but not too dry either.

When ready to serve, bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. While the pasta is cooking, warm the lentils in a pan. When they’re hot, add in the reserved onions and fermented escarole. Essentially you want equal parts lentils, onions, and escarole. Drain the pasta when it’s done and toss that in. You shouldn’t need too much adjustment of seasoning since all the components are already well seasoned but if need be add in a little white wine vinegar and/or salt to taste. Finish with olive oil, toss and plate.