Red wine braised lentils with beetroot and root vegetables

Gluten free Serves 4 - 6

Brown and green lentils are not as easy to work with as you think - their extreme astringency needs tempering to provide a full flavoured and satisfying end result. Enter the root vegetables carrot, parsnip and especially beetroot whose sweetness does the job beautifully. The inherent sweetness in shallots is also bought out by browning in butter, adding further depth of flavour. You could use only olive oil for this dish, but it wouldn't be anywhere near as good - butter really softens the astringent lentil.

Kitchen Notes: If you've found young heirloom carrots of all colours at the Farmers Market, this is a great way to use them. Simply wash them, if they are very young and fresh, they won't need peeling, and use whole. Whilst you can use the larger brown lentils, this is best with the small green or black lentils.

12 very small beetroot, preferably bought in bunches with leaves intact.
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 large, or 8 small parsnips
8 small carrots / 300gm - scrubbed and left whole
2 tablespoon butter or ghee
2 stems fresh rosemary
4 - 5 small bay leaves
3 - 4 stems fresh thyme
10 - 12 shallots, peeled and left whole
5 cloves garlic - peeled (the large garlic is wonderful here)
sea salt
1 cup red wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3/4 cup small green lentils - checked for stones, and rinsed
3 cups vegetable stock
4 juniper berries (optional)
1 tablespoon quince paste, or mirin

Pre Heat oven to 200c or 180c if fan forced.

Add the 1 tablespoon each olive oil and butter or ghee, to a large pot or 24cm French oven, and heat. Add the rosemary, bay leaves, shallots and garlic - it should sizzle a little, then reduce the heat, though it should still be medium high. Continue to cook for approx 10 mins, stir every now and then, but resist stirring too often - the onions need continued contact with the base to develop colour, and to caramelise. Add the wine, tomato paste, pepper, lentils, stock and juniper berries, and stir through.

Continue to simmer without a lid for 45 mins - 1 hour, stirring every now and then, and the liquid is now a sauce. Taste and balance with a bit of quince paste or mirin if required.

Once the sauce is on, trim the leaves from the beetroot, keeping the smaller and healthier ones - put these aside for later - you should have a healthy handful. Wash the beetroot well, but don't peel. Place in a small baking dish or cast iron French oven, and drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil and add 1/2 cup water. If your beetroot is larger, still bake them whole. Cover with a lid or foil and bake until soft when pierced with the tip of knife - approx 30 min- 11/2 hours, this will depend on how big they are.

Peel the parsnips and trim off the skinny tips. Cut the remaining vegetable into 2 - 3 segments of equal length, depending on the size of the parsnip. Quarter the thickest section and remove the woody core. Halve the middle section and keep the last section whole. If the parsnips are very young, fresh and small, simply cut them in half, lengthwise. If your carrots are large, cut as for the parsnips, but don't worry about removing the core. Place the carrots and parsnips on a baking tray and drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil, salt and pepper and mix through so the oil is well distributed. Place in oven and bake until cooked and golden - approx 30mins.

When the beetroots are cooked, let cool a little before peeling off the skin - you might like to do this with gloves, so your hands don't get stained. If the beetroots are large, cut into smaller pieces.

The dish can be held at this point before putting together, though the roast vegetables are best when taken freshly from the oven.

Just before serving, heat a frypan with the remaining butter or ghee and over a high heat, wilt the beetroot leaves.

On a large platter arrange the roast vegetables, top this with half of the wilted leaves, and spoon the lentils over this. Top with the remaining leaves, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Time Saving: Roast extra beetroot for weekday salads and sandwiches