Nigel Slater for later

Lentil and spinach cottage pie

Serves 6
onions 2 medium to large
carrots 2 medium
celery a small stick
dark, open mushrooms 350g
olive or rapeseed oil
garlic 3 cloves
bay leaves 2
thyme 3 or 4 short sprigs
lentils a 500g jar
vegetable stock 500ml
spinach 500g
balsamic vinegar 2 tsp

For the potato crust:
large, floury potatoes 1kg
butter 75g, or olive oil 3 tbsp
spinach 100g

Finely dice the onion, carrot and celery, then cook in a deep casserole over a moderate flame for 10 minutes or so till the onion is almost tender. Finely chop the mushrooms and add to the mixture. Peel and finely slice the garlic and stir in after the mixture has been cooking for 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves and thyme, then the lentils with their bottling liquid, and stir briefly, pouring in the stock. Bring the stock to the boil then turn the heat down and leave to simmer for a good 20 minutes. Season with salt, black pepper and the balsamic vinegar to taste.
Peel the potatoes, cut them into pieces and boil in salted water for 20 minutes or so till tender. Mash with the butter or oil. Beat with a wooden spoon till light and fluffy.
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Wash the spinach and, if the leaves are large, tear them into pieces then, while they are still wet, pile 450g of them into a pan with a lid and steam, with the occasional stir, for a few minutes till they start to collapse. Cool them under the cold tap, wring them out thoroughly then stir them into the lentils. (Don't add the spinach raw to the lentils: the leaves will produce a lot of water and you'll be left with lentil soup.) Fold the remaining uncooked spinach into the mashed potato.
Tip the lentil mixture into a baking dish and pile on the potato. It may sink slightly into the lentils. Bake for 50 minutes to an hour till the edges are bubbling.

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