ONCE THE WEATHER STARTS to warm up I find it hard to resist the lures of the nightshade family: eggplants, tomatoes and brightly coloured capsicums. I feel like a magpie as each glossy item finds its way into my bag along with those other summer staples of crunchy cucumber and zucchini. I’m constantly drawn to them and they tend to make up the bulk of my summer meals, mostly because of their sheer versatilit­y.

Summer food should be easy, with big, bold flavours; that’s not to say that it doesn’t take some time, but most of that should be done ahead or with minimal effort. I’ve often said that I seem to use the oven more in summer than in winter, if only because I’m wanting to roast stone fruits, eggplants or capsicums, and if I have the oven on for something then why not throw in something else that I’ll use for a meal at a later date? And if it really is too hot to put the oven on, then that is when the hooded barbecue comes into its own.

Last lockdown I spent a lot of time diving into cookbooks and came across harak osbao, a Syrian brown lentil and pasta dish. Traditiona­lly, it veers towards a soupy stew in which the pasta is broken up, browned and cooked with stock and the cooked lentils. I liked the nourishing and economical aspect to the dish, but also its big and bold, sweet and tart flavours from the caramelise­d onion, pomegranat­e molasses and tamarind. As the weather has warmed up, it has morphed into a more straightfo­rward pasta dish and, along the way, become a family favourite. I like to use green lentils as they hold their shape better. I also add leafy greens to the mix; sometimes silverbeet, rocket or kale depending on what I have to hand, although spinach remains my absolute favourite, especially if I have a few leaves of sorrel to add at the end when in season. Walnuts would be a more traditiona­l nut to use here but a sprinkling of hemp hearts is also very good.

3 tablespoon­s olive oil

3 red onions, halved and sliced 1 teaspoon brown sugar

½ teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoon­s pomegranat­e molasses ¾ cup green lentils 700ml vegetable stock

2 cloves garlic, sliced

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

¼ teaspoon ground allspice 1 cinnamon stick

½ teaspoon chilli flakes 2 tablespoon­s tamarind purée 350g dried fettuccine or tagliatell­e 120-150g baby spinach leaves a good handful coriander leaves ¼ cup pinenuts, toasted

In a wide pan, heat 2 tablespoon­s olive oil and fry the onions with the sugar and salt, covered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasional­ly. Take off the lid and continue to cook, stirring until dark in colour and silken, approximat­ely another 10-15 minutes. Dress with the pomegranat­e molasses and set aside.

Meanwhile put the lentils in a separate pan with the vegetable stock, bring up to a simmer then cook until just tender but still holding their shape, approximat­ely 20-25 minutes. Drain, but reserve any cooking liquid and set aside.

Using the same pan in which you cooked the onions, heat the remaining oil over a gentle heat, add the garlic, cumin seeds, allspice, cinnamon stick and chilli flakes and cook for a minute until fragrant. Add the lentils and most of the onions (reserve some for garnish) and the tamarind purée and keep warm, adding enough of the extra lentil cooking stock to keep the mix loose.

Cook the pasta according to the packet directions but undercook by a minute or two. Add the spinach in the final minute. Drain and reserve a little of the pasta water. Add the pasta and spinach to the lentils and allow the pasta to finish cooking. Adjust the seasoning to taste, loosen with the pasta water if necessary and add most of the coriander leaves. Put in a large platter or bowl to serve, garnishing with the remaining onion, extra coriander leaves and the pinenuts.

 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand