This is an absolutely classic French bistro dish. I still remember eating it in a little café in Violès after an arduous morning’s grape-picking.
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 rashers streaky bacon, diced
1 small onion, peeled and stuck with clove
1 bay leaf
8 oz Puy lentils
salt & pepper
15 fl oz water or (pref) chicken stock
For the dressing:
1 dessertspoon Dijon mustard
3 fl oz olive oil
1 dessertspoon red wine vinegar
3 fl oz peanut or other light oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
salt & pepper
For the anchovy paste:
1 2 oz tin anchovies
1 tbsp olive oil
3 oz butter
juice 1/2 lemon
1 tsp Tabasco
Heat the olive oil in a stainless steel or enamelled pan, and fry the bacon till well coloured (if you’re vegetarian you can miss the bacon out, but it does add a certain je ne sais quoi. You might instead wish to chop and gently fry the onion before adding the lentils). Add the lentils and stir well to coat with fat. Pour in the water or stock. Add the onion, bay leaf, and plenty of black pepper. Gently simmer, uncovered, for 30 mins or so, until they are just cooked – do not overcook! Remove the onion and bay leaf, leave to cool, and add salt if you think they need it.
For the dressing, whisk mustard, vinegar, salt, pepper and garlic together until well blended. Then pour in the oils in a thin stream, whisking all the time, so that the dressing is homogenised and thick. It is best to add the dressing to the lentils while they are warm. You can reheat them if you want in order to do this, and serve either warm or at room temperature (not chilled).
If you are feeling swish, you can serve with anchovy toast: mash all the anchovy paste ingredients above in a mortar and pestle till smooth. Put in the fridge to firm up. Brush some thin slices of baguette lightly with olive oil and bake in the oven until crisp. Spread the anchovy paste on them.