Many of my friends don't cook anymore. They entertain in different ways with lovely drinks parties, visits to a favorite restaurant, or other outings somewhere in the city, but (alas) no longer with dinner parties at home.
Other friends of mine who still love to gather guests around their dinner tables, do so with gusto and seem to receive as much pleasure as they give.
Certainly that seemed to be the case for my host last November when he served a memorable Sunday night supper for six - a big pot of savory, fragrant and gorgeous red lentil and butternut squash soup, almost addictive in its deliciousness, served with warm flatbread on the side. A pinot noir from Oregon and an Argentinian chardonnay were offered, and a pear tart concluded the meal.
Generous as good home cooks usually are, he e-mailed me the recipe several days later so I could pass it on to you. The origin is apparently Palestinian, and he believes it came from an article in Saveur magazine.
Rather than pear tart, I think I'd use the pears in a salad to serve after the soup. Soup and salad recipes follow.
Red Lentil and Butternut Squash Soup
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 medium carrots, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
1/2 butternut squash (about 1 pound), peeled, seeded and cut into small dice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 cups chicken stock
1 cup red lentils
Finely chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
Paprika, for garnish
Flatbread and lemon wedges for serving
Heat oil in a 6-quart saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add garlic, carrots, celery and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly caramelized, 12 to 14 minutes. Stir in cumin, red chile flakes, squash, salt and pepper. Cook until squash is soft, about 15 minutes,
Add stock and lentils; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, slightly covered, until lentils are very tender, about 20 minutes. Let soup cool slightly; then, working in batches, puree soup until smooth. Reheat; then ladle hot soup into warm bowls and garnish with parsley and paprika. Serve with flatbread and lemon wedges on the side.
Pear salad with gorgonzola, hazelnuts and shallot vinaigrette
Crumbling the bacon over this salad is optional. I have done it both ways to good effect.
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup olive oil
3/4 cup thinly sliced shallot
5 tablespoons sherry vinegar
6 bacon slices (optional)
6 cups loosely packed baby arugula
2 heads Belgian endive, trimmed, sliced crosswise
3 ripe Bosc pears, halved, cored and thinly sliced
3/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
1/3 cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.
Add shallots and sauté until tender and golden, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk vinegar and remaining 1/2 cup olive oil to blend. Stir in shallots and season generously with salt and pepper. Cover dressing loosely and leave for at least 2 hours on the kitchen counter to meld flavors.
In the same skillet used for the shallots, cook the bacon until it is crisp. Drain well on paper towels; then crumble into small pieces. Set bacon aside.
Just before serving, combine arugula, endive and pears in a large bowl. Pour about 3/4 of the dressing over them and toss to coat. Save the rest of the dressing for another day. Sprinkle salad with gorgonzola, bacon and hazelnuts and serve.