This is a great cold weather dish. This recipe makes a fair amount, but leftovers are delicious for lunch the next day, or even breakfast with a fried egg on top.
1 ham hock or smoked pork shank, cut into 2-inch pieces (ask the butcher to do this
1 onion, peeled and diced fine, about the size of a lentil
2 carrots, peeled and diced as above (about 1 heaping cup)
2 stalks celery, washed, bitter white base and tip removed, cut as above
1 bunch chard, leaves and stems separated, stems washed and diced as above, leaves cut into 1/4 inch ribbons
1 leek, white and palest green part only, cut into 2-inch ribbons 1/8 inch wide, washed
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 lb. lentils (flat green kind)
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil as needed
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped and 1 teaspoon fresh marjoram, chopped -OR- 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped and 2 bay leaves
Vegetable or chicken stock as needed, or water (about 4 cups)
Place the ham hock into a pot that just fits it, and cover with cold water by an inch. Bring to a boil, and discard the water and rinse the hocks and pot. Again, add cold water to just cover the hocks and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently for 20-25 minutes, skimming the surface of any impurities that rise up. After they are softened and tender, remove the hocks from the water and reserve. Reserve the cooking liquid as well. Taste it for saltiness. If it is very salty, let cool. If not salty, reduce so there is not more than 2 cups. Reserve.
While the hock simmers, heat a 4 quart pot over medium heat and film the bottom with 1/8 inch of oil. Add the onions and sauté until translucent.
Add the carrots and leeks and cook to soften and color a little. Add the chard stems and cook until tender. Add the celery and garlic and stir to coat. Add the herbs combination of choice, stir in, and cook 2-3 minutes or until fragrant.
Add the lentils and stir in to coat with the oil. Taste the hock broth. If not salty, add 2 cups. If very salty, use only 1 cup. Add enough stock or water to fill the pot to an inch over the top of the lentils. Bring to a gentle simmer and skim any foam that accumulates on the top. After 5 minutes (when the lentils stop foaming) add the bay leaves (if using) and season with pepper.
While the lentils simmer, skin the hock and shred the meat. Add the meat to the lentils.
Taste the lentils after 20 minutes. They should be softening. If needed, add salt and more pepper. Cook until the lentils are tender. If needed, add more liquid so the level is just to the top of the lentils.
When the lentils are just getting tender, add the ribbons of chard to the pot and push in a little. Cook until wilted.
Serve in bowls and drizzle with olive oil.
YIELD: 4-6 servings