It is hot up here in Trumbull, CT, but it is frigid as can be in my house because the air conditioning is going strong. I decided I wanted lentil soup and cornbread tonight, which is usually a fall or winter dish, but since it feels like fall in all this air conditioning, I am making lentil soup.
If it seems too hot to you to even think of soup, save this recipe until the weather changes to a lovely fall day. I am pretending it already has.
This lentil soup recipe is an amalgammation because I never have all the ingredients on hand that my Mom’s recipe includes. (You can find her recipe in our family cookbook, Jeannette’s Kitchen, that you can order from Amazon for cheap!!) For example, I didn’t have bacon, so I used diced up slices of Italian prosciutto. I also added diced up carrots because I love the way they taste and look in a soup.
The one thing I do not change is the essential Italian seasoning of this soup. I don’t add cumin, even though it is a spice I love; I don’t ever add oregano because oregano is not used in Northern Italian cooking and I also intensely dislike it. An exception is fresh oregano which tastes entirely different from dried and tastes lovely in a mayonnaise or even a stew. But I digress.
The seasonings for my lentil soup are olive oil, salt, pepper, perhaps some chopped fresh basil if you have it, garlic, and finely diced onions. Before serving it, I sprinkle it with freshly grated parmesan reggiano cheese and add a small swirl of olive oil. Serve it with buttermilk cornbread or a crusty Italian bread hot from the oven. So good. Also, lentil soup often tastes better the next day and freezes really well.
1 pkg or 2 cups of dry lentils
2 – 3 slices bacon, chopped fine ( or prosciutto or pancetta)
8 cups of water
2 carrots scraped and diced finely
1 medium tomato, diced or a can of diced tomatoes
1 medium onion, 1/2 chopped fine and the other half cut in quarters
3 slender hearts of celery stalks with leaves, diced fine
3 peeled cloves of garlic, cut up or sliced
2 tbsp of olive oil plus enough to swirl into a soup serving
grated parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil (optional)
Remove the lentils from the package or measuring cup and pour into a sieve. As you pour, examine the lentils for small stones or sticks that might have been missed by the packager. Run cold water over them and rinse them well. Set the lentils aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium -high heat until it is hot and shimmering. Throw in the cut up garlic and stir it around with a wooden spoon until it turns lightly golden. Do not let it burn. Remove the garlic and throw in the bacon and onion. Sauté bacon and onion until bacon renders its fat and the onions wilt and turn translucent. Turn down the heat a bit if the bacon seems to be burning or frying too fast.
Stir in the diced up carrots and celery. Add a bit more oil if you need it. Stir and sauté until the vegetables wilt and soften a bit, about 5 minutes. Stir in the diced tomatoes or can of diced tomatoes, stir in the previously sautéed garlic and stir the vegetables together for two minutes. You can lower the heat a bit, if the mixture is cooking too quickly.
Add the lentils, the quartered half an onion and the 8 cups of water. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer, cover the pot and simmer for from 30 minutes to an hour or until the lentils are soft but still keep their shape. You don’t want them to be just mush, but you also don’t want the bite to be too hard.
Test to get it just right. By the way, once you turn down your soup to a simmer, you can put it in your crock pot and set the timer for 4 to 6 hours on simmer or low. Test at 4 hours to see if the lentils are soft enough.