I first ate this dish as a starter at Le Bistroquet in Troyes, France, a restaurant with a relaxed and generous attitude to food.
When my husband ordered pâté, the waiter brought him the entire terrine, a jar of gherkins and a basket of bread and left him to get on with it.
My Puy lentils came piled high in a bowl and topped with a poached egg and crispy bacon. Suffice to say neither of us had room for the main course when it arrived.
The restaurant’s well worth a visit if you are in Troyes, as is the city’s excellent market.
The Puy lentil, then, takes pride of place in this meal. Green and speckly, it is recognised in France by its own appellation d’origine, like French wine. It cooks quickly, holds its shape and has a nutty, earthy flavour.
Vegetarians can, of course, skip the crispy bacon part but for meat eaters it adds a good deal to the flavour and texture of the dish.
Equally, you can leave the chillies out if you don’t want it to be spicy. It’s very versatile – it makes a good side dish too if you leave out the eggs and bacon.
These quantities serve two as a cheap and tasty main course. Kick off with a salad and end with some fresh fruit and you’ve got a quick and easy weekday supper.
Spicy Puy Lentils With Poached Eggs and Crispy Bacon
6 oz (170 g) Puy lentils
1 carrot, peeled but left whole
1 onion, peeled but left whole
1-2 chillies, deseeded and finely chopped (optional)
Rapeseed or olive oil
A large handful of chopped fresh herbs of your choice (parsley, chervil, oregano etc)
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 rashers of streaky bacon, smoked or unsmoked
Wash the lentils to remove any grit and place in a large saucepan. Fill with cold water, add the carrot, onion and bouquet garni and bring slowly to the boil.
Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes until the lentils are tender but are still al dente, i.e. they still have a bit of bite.
Heat the grill and put a pan of water on to bring to a simmer for your eggs.
Drain the lentils, remove the veg and the bouquet garni and season while still warm with some good quality extra-virgin rapeseed or olive oil, a generous squeeze of lemon juice and plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Set aside to keep warm.
Quickly grill the bacon until crisp. Break the eggs one at a time into a cup and slide them gently into the pan of simmering water. I detest the flavour of vinegar in poached eggs and I don’t think the eggs need it to set so I don’t add it to the water, but if you like it, go for it.
Add the finely chopped chilli and the chopped fresh herbs to the lentils and stir through.
Split the lentils between two bowls, place a poached egg on the top of each pile and top with two criss-crossed rashers of crispy bacon. Eat and enjoy.