I don't know if you noticed, but there hasn't been much balance in terms of cooking from both coasts here lately. Although it wasn't done on purpose, it's been all NY Times all the time, and my LA Times recipes have begun to nurse a distinct grudge against me in their little corner. No more! I promise. It's back to fair and balanced.
One of my favorite things about the LA Times food section is their round-up of the year's Top Ten recipes in December each year. You can rest assured that the list is foolproof (remember this cake? and these eggs? Both on the 2005 list) and it's fun to read about what the editors loved the most. It humanizes the section, and the writers, which is something I find often lacking in the pages of the NY Times.
Regina Schrambling wrote an article about different lentil varieties last year and included this dish that features classic French combinations of frisee, duck confit, little green lentils and a mustard vinaigrette. It's an elegant main-course salad that's also quite satisfying and hearty. I love salads that have warm and cool components, varying textures and a whole layer of flavors, and this salad has all of those things.
There's a lightly dressed tangle of barely bitter frisee topped with a warm mound of delicate, herbed lentils and shredded duck confit (broiled for a bit so that you have tender meat and crispy skin and a few unctuous bits of duck fat mixed in there) that's been dressed with the same mustard vinaigrette. The whole thing is topped off with a shower of browned, chopped hazelnuts that provide crunch and a warm, toasty flavor (underlined if you're using hazelnut oil in the dressing).
Despite all the separate components, everything comes together so quickly and easily that you have no excuse for not making this (well, duck confit can be rather expensive, so that's a hinderance, but I suppose you could always go all Paula Wolfert and make your own to cut costs). And despite the hearty pieces of duck, this is actually a relatively light meal. And pretty. And so French. What's not to love?
Lentil and Duck Salad with Hazelnut Dressing
1 cup French green lentils
1 leek, white part only, cleaned well and diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt, plus additional to taste
1 carrot, peeled
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
1/4 cup hazelnut oil (I used olive oil)
2 confit duck legs
1/4 cup chopped chives
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 small head frisée, washed, dried well and torn into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup toasted, skinned and coarsely chopped hazelnuts
1. Pick over the lentils to remove any stones. Rinse well in a fine sieve under cold running water. Place in a medium saucepan. Add the leek, garlic, bay leaves and 1 teaspoon salt.
2. Cut the carrot in half crosswise, then lengthwise and add to the pot. Add cold water to cover by 2 inches.
3. Bring to a boil, stirring often. Reduce the heat to very low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are just tender but still firm, 17 to 20 minutes. Do not overcook. Remove from heat and drain well.
4. While the lentils cook, heat the oven to 500 degrees. Whisk together the mustard and vinegar in a small bowl. Whisk in the oil to emulsify.
5. Discard the bay leaves, garlic and carrot from the lentils. Combine the lentils and all but 1 tablespoon of the vinaigrette in a shallow bowl, mixing well. Set aside in a warm spot.
6. Lay the duck legs on a foil-lined broiler pan. Broil them 6 inches from the heat source, turning once, until the skin is well crisped and the meat is warmed through, about 10 to 15 minutes. Using a fork and knife, shred or chop the meat and skin into rough pieces, trimming excess fat.
7. Add the meat to the lentils and mix well. Add the chives and tarragon and salt and pepper to taste.
8. To serve, toss the frisée with the remaining 1 tablespoon vinaigrette and distribute it among 4 salad plates. Top with the lentil mixture. Sprinkle with hazelnuts.