Eight ingredients. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a weeknight feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.
French cuisine often gets attention for its complicated sauces and fussy ways of cutting vegetables. But some of the best dishes from the canon are rustic, simple stews and soups. This easy recipe for a stew of green lentils and sausage takes inspiration from that branch of the French-cuisine family tree, providing a fast, warming weeknight winter meal.
Sausages are a bit of a wild card when it comes to wine pairings. More of a culinary concept—spiced, salted, fatty meat stuffed in a casing—than a type of flavor, the character of a sausage is determined by what’s inside. One made with chicken and mild seasonings, for instance, would work well with a Chardonnay, while a heavier, spiced beef sausage could call for something like a Malbec.
Gamay, the grape of Beaujolais, however, is a great hedge when it comes to a sausage-appropriate wine. Fruity and fresh, with low to medium tannins and good acidity, it can complement a whole swath of sausage types, from sweet and mild to fatty and spicy.
When I found a Beaujolais Nouveau for $12 in my local market, a dinner plan began to take shape. The tasting note on WineSpectator.com indicated the wine was aromatic, fresh and light in tannins. That meant, in theory, I could choose a spicier sausage, as the heat and bold flavors wouldn’t tangle with the structure of the wine. But I wanted to be sure, so I picked up two types of sausage, one made with chicken and sun-dried tomatoes that could play to the fruitiness of the wine, and an andouille-style pork version with Cajun seasonings.
When Nouveau is not in season, a regular Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages or cru Beaujolais would be good substitutions. The latter tend to have more structure and less grapey character, so you might want to tone down some of the spice when choosing a sausage.
In the first trial, I used the sun-dried tomato sausage and knew immediately I was on the right track. The wine felt more three-dimensional alongside the food, with the acidity playing well alongside the earthy character of the lentils and the salty sausage. If you don't like a lot of spice, you could definitely stop here and have a great match.
But I was a bigger fan of the pairing with the Cajun-style sausage. The fat and spice from the andouille helped tone down some of the wine’s more overtly grapey characteristics, letting a more complex weave of plum and red fruit flavors shine through. The dish seemed more alive and well-rounded too, with the spice adding an additional textural layer.
In the final trial, I added bacon in two ways: crisping up slices for a textural contrast, and then sautéing the vegetables in the bacon fat. Yes, it’s a culinary trope—bacon makes everything taste better—but here, it really does. The dish gained an extra boost of richness (much appreciated on mid-February nights), and the bacon amped up the multi-dimensional qualities that the wine had gained from pairing with the sausage.
Pair with a Beaujolais red, such as Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2013 (84 points, $11)
Total time: 40 minutes
Approximate food cost:$22
1. In a medium-sized stockpot, heat the diced bacon over medium-high heat and cook until brown and crisp. With a slotted spoon, remove the cooked bacon from the pot and reserve. Add the sliced onions to the pot and cook until slightly softened, around 1 minute, then add the carrots and celery and continue to cook for an additional 5 to 7 minutes, or until beginning to brown, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and the green lentils to the pot and continue to cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Add 1/2 cup of wine to the pot and cook until the wine has been reduced by half. Add water to the pot until it covers the lentil mixture by 1 inch, then bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and continue to cook until the lentils are soft, around 15 to 20 minutes.
3. In a heavy bottomed sauté pan, heat two tablespoons of cooking oil and add the sausages. Cook the sausages, turning on all sides, until browned, around 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the sausages from the heat, cool slightly, then slice into rounds and add to the lentil mixture. Continue to cook for another 10 to 15 minutes to let the flavors come together, then ladle into bowls. Crumble the bacon, top the bowls with the pieces and serve.Serves 4.