Saturday, February 11, 2012

For Cupid: Radicchio Cups with Roasted Mushrooms, Lentils, & Carrots

Radicchio Cup with Pea Tendrils & Roasted Mushrooms, Lentils, Carrots

With Valentine's Day just a few days away, I am thoroughly excited - giddy even.  While the day often highlights boxed chocolates and long-stem roses as acceptable (and even obligatory) tokens of love and romance, I've always been a believer that one of the most convincing ways to show someone that you care is through a beautiful and thoughtfully prepared meal. 

Today's recipe found its inspiration in a recent visit to the farmers' market.  The highlights for me were radicchio, pea shoots, baby portabellas, and red carrots -  all things that I adore. So when an opportunity to cook without haste fell into my lap and thoughts turned to a dish that might be appropriate for a day that celebrates love and relationships, I thought it would be a fun and interesting challenge to take those ingredients that I love, but had always had separately, and find a way to create a harmonious relationship between them.

And beyond fun and interesting, it also turned out to be delicious.  

Roasted Lentils, Mushrooms, & Carrots with Sauteed Pea Tendrils
Gluten-Free & Vegan

1/4 c fresh orange juice
1/4 c balsamic vinegar

2 c par cooked brown lentils
6 baby portabella mushrooms, sliced
1-2 tablespoons minced garlic
3-4 tablespoons minced shallot
2/3 carrot, cut into batons
2 teaspoons thyme leaves
3-4 tablespoons canola oil

radicchio leaves

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon sliced shallot (to garnish)
1/4 lb pea tendrils

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2.  In a small saucepan, combine orange juice and balsamic vinegar.  Bring to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally.  When it has reduced by half, remove from heat and allow to cool. 
3.  Combine the lentils, mushrooms, garlic, shallots, carrot, and thyme leaves in a large bowl and toss with canola oil to coat.  Transfer to a lined roasting pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.  
4.  Once they are in the oven, prep your radicchio.  To avoid ripping the leaves and getting the best "cups," I found it easiest to make a small slice at the bottom of the stem of each leaf and gently remove it from there.  Rinse and pat dry.
5.  When the vegetables are almost done roasting, prepare the garnish.  Warm one tablespoon canola oil in a medium skillet pan over medium heat.  When the oil becomes hot, add a few shallot slices at a time to fry and crisp them.   This will require your attention with tongs at the ready, as there is a very fine line between golden crisp and burnt.  When the shallot slices just start to turn golden, remove from oil to drain on a paper towel.  Repeat until you have crisped all the shallot slices.
6.  In the same pan, add pea tendrils a handful at a time. They will cook quickly, so be prepared to remove them from the pan once they begin to wilt to avoid mushy greens.  A valuable tip with pea tendrils is to cut them to smaller, more bite-sized lengths before cooking them.  It's an optional step, but skipping it, while funny, may not be very romantic.  And if pea tendrils are not available, feel free to substitute spinach or another similar green of choice.
7.  When vegetables are done roasting and have cooled for 5-10 minutes, begin assembling the radicchio cups.  Within each radicchio leaf, begin with a bed of pea tendrils add the roasted mushrooms, lentils, and carrots, garnish with crisped shallot, and then drizzle with the balsamic reduction.
8.  Makes 8-10 servings.

Beautiful flavors.

Gently removing the radicchio leaves.

Like teeeny tiny onion rings.

Pea tendrils: One of my favorite things.

Reminiscent of a lettuce wrap, I love the way that the different ingredients, flavors, and textures  can remain distinct yet still complement and elevate each other with every bite.  The earthy butteriness of the mushroom, the sweet zing of the balsamic reduction, the grassiness of the tendrils, and the bitter crispness of the radicchio.  Depending on the size of the radicchio, these could function as both a main course if using the outer leaves, or as an appetizer when using the smaller, oyster-sized inner leaves.  And warm or cool, it tastes great either way, so tailor it to your occasion.  

One big bite or two little ones?

May I have some more, please?

While the dish is delicious, the act of sharing it and eating with others makes it taste even better.  Just last night, I made this for some friends and while I thought that two each would be plenty, I ended up making at least one more for everyone.  It was a gift seeing others enjoy food I had made, making eye contact as they savored each bite, and enjoying the lovely silence of us eating.

May the same gift be yours in both making and sharing this recipe.  Because when you can taste, smell, see, and feel the love behind the food you're eating, it's nearly impossible not to reciprocate.  

I'm sure Cupid would agree.

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