Thursday, 14 April 2011

Sausage, Lentil and Cherry Tomato Bake

When I was at university, I distinctly remember a Lady Grantham-esque feeling at the weekend when the streets were jampacked with shoppers and the banks were closed. As a student with only intermittent lectures and permanent studyloads, the days of the weekend and the week merged into a single entity and it felt very strange to be reminded that Saturday and Sunday were different from the rest of the week, annoyingly busy and with erratic opening hours. They were also much worse nights for going out as all the pubs and clubs were full and prices were higher, so we used to stay in on Saturdays and the big party nights were Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. It seems completely inconceivable to me now. 

Then I rejoined the real world, started work and oh yeah, let's welcome back that concept of living for Friday night at 5.30pm. The return of a normal attitude to evenings and weekends is part of my permanent feeling of "why the hell didn't I appreciate student life more now that I have to commute and work for a living and can't just arse around doing a bit of desultory reading and watching Neighbours, Doctors and Diagnosis Murder". All of a sudden, I too am rushing to go to Boots and pay in a cheque and take back a top all in my lunch hour, and weekday evenings are overshadowed by work, washing and the need to get up early tomorrow. 

But! An effort to salvage some fun from a school night is still worthwhile, and a casual dinner with friends and a daring bottle of wine is one of the best ways to go. One of the easiest options is another Jamie Oliver-inspired recipe (I wasn't kidding when I said how much I love him), without a doubt my favourite way to eat sausages as long as you can wait an hour for your dinner. If I'm having people round for a casual dinner on a work night, this is what I make. It's easy to prepare when you get in, leaves you free to tidy up manically while it's in the oven, goes perfectly with some no-hassle sides like salad and crusty bread, smells fantastic while it's cooking and stands up well to even the ropiest red wine. As a bonus for the cook, any leftovers make the most amazing lunch the next day when chopped up and stirred through pasta. 

We've made this so often that we've hacked the recipe a bit. As well as the cherry tomatoes he suggests (and in extremis, you can buy tins of cherry tomatoes which will work fine), I also add sliced onion at the beginning and some red pepper if I have it. Some of those vacuum-packed chestnuts are deliciously sweet and candied against the deeply savoury, juicy sausages, while adding a drained tin of lentils or butter beans about ten minutes before the end bulks it up and makes it more of a cassoulet. The dish also depends on the taste of the sausages, whether you go for herby, garlicky Toulouse-style ones or, as here, spicy Chorizo-style ones. 

No matter what you add, this minimises cooking stress and maximises flavour. Now make the most of being a grown-up, buy some proper wine that you can afford now you have a salary, and remember how good it feels not to have an essay crisis hanging over your head. 

Sausage, Lentil and Cherry Tomato Bake
Serves 3

- 1 pack of six sausages (the good quality, high-meat content ones that are always on offer in Sainsburys and Waitrose are perfect)
- 500g cherry tomatoes
- a few sprigs each of rosemary, thyme and a couple of bay leaves (fresh or dried herbs depending on what you've got)
- 1 tablespoon of dried oregano
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 2 onions, sliced
- salt, pepper, olive oil
- good splash of balsamic vinegar (a couple of tablespoons)
- tin of lentils or butter beans

Preheat the oven to 190 and get out a big ovenproof roasting dish. Add everything except the lentils/beans to the dish and mix with your hands until everything is coated and glossy. Arrange the sausages on top of the vegetables, then put the whole lot in the oven.

After half an hour, stir it around and turn the sausages so that their underside gets roasted and golden as well. After another twenty minutes, add your drained lentils/beans, stir them in and give everything 10 more minutes or until the sausages look sticky, the onions are slightly caramelised around the edges, and the sauce is bubbling. If the sauce is too runny, you can boil it down on the hob, but I tend to serve it as it is and use mashed potato or warmed crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Delicious with salad or green veg, a bottle of red and some kind of absorbent carb - bread, mash, pasta, rice, polenta if you're feeling fancy. 

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