Lentil and chestnut stew

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2 cups of lentils, picked through and rinsed
1 big carrot, or 2 smallish carrots, peeled
2 stalks of celery
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
5 med size links of fresh pork sausage (optional)
4 cups of stock,or broth, (leftover duck and porcini consomme, vegetable broth if you want to keep this vegetarian, chicken stock will be a lighter flavor, meat stock will be richer)
1/2 cup of red wine  (if you only have white in the house, use the white)
4-6 whole, raw chestnuts
Dry rosemary, thyme, marjoram, a good healthy pinch of each

Preheat the oven to 375F.
With the chestnut laying on a cutting board, cut an "X" into the skin of the chestnut. Don’t do this while holding the chestnut in your hand, this is experience talking.  Lay the chestnuts on a small roasting pan and place in the oven. Every 5 minutes or so, roll them around on the tray. After about 15 minutes, the chestnuts will have opened like a flower at the X mark.  Remove from the oven and let them cool.
Reduce the oven heat to 300.
While the chestnuts are roasting:
Chop up the carrot, celery and onion. I like to chop these up to be the same size as the lentils, but you are the chef, chop them up to please you. But, keep them kind of small so they blend in and  you are not just going to be having one big bite of carrot, ok?
Lightly brown the carrots, celery and onion (or battuto as its called in Italian) in some olive oil.  Use a pot big enough to hold all the ingredients.  I like to use an earthenware, clay or ceramic pot. You can  use these on the stove top….just be careful when you are first heating them up. Heat the clay pot up gradually and never introduce a very cold ingredient all at once. Otherwise, they work like a charm.
OK, as the battuto is getting all soft and warm and brown, slit open the sausages and
crumble the meat onto the battuto, letting everything mingle nicely.
Add the chopped garlic, broth and wine.
Sprinkle some rosemary, thyme, marjoram on top of the lentil stew and let simmer at a low temp while you peel the chestnuts.   
Peel the chestnuts, remove the brown skin and roughly cut into slices.  Add to the stew.

This should all take about 20-25 minutes maximum.  Now, throw the stew into the oven and leave it there for about 3 hours. Don’t touch. Don’t peek.  Go do some work.
3 hours later, the house smells great and dinner is ready. Make a salad, serve with crusty bread and a light red wine. 

Winter variation: dried porcini would be an excellent addition to this stew, particularly if you want to keep it vegetarian.  Take 1/4 cup of porcini and soak in 3/4 cup of warm water. Add the porcini and the water to the stew in place of the sausage.

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