When the cold winds blow, nights draw in and a nip of frost chills the air there is nothing better than a pot of soup waiting for you to return home and just needing to be heated up to make a restoring meal that warms you right through.
The great thing about soups is that they are easy to make in double or triple quantities, so that on the weekend you can cook up a big pot of soup and have some for lunch, before refrigerating or freezing the rest for mid-week suppers. A good winter soup will even improve in flavour with the keeping and my favorite Italian lentil soup is one of these. Two or even three days after making, its flavour has developed into a robust but mellow richness that is perfectly comforting and needs nothing more than some crusty bread to make a satisfying and nutritious meal.
There is nothing fancy about this soup, its origins are the home kitchens of rural Italy where you use good ingredients and don’t need to mess with them. If you are a dedicated foodie and can get your hands on some Castelluccio lentils from the high Piano Grande in the Apennine mountains of Italy, then these are just the best, but any variety of small brown lentil works well here.
Lentil Soup Recipe
1 medium onion
2 sticks celery
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ tin tomatoes chopped with their juice
1 ½ cups brown lentils rinsed and checked for bits
1 l stock or water
salt and pepper
Chop the onion, carrots and celery quite finely. Warm the olive oil in a heavy based pan and sauté the vegetables gently till softened. Add the tomatoes and cook over a medium heat with the lid off until all the liquid has evaporated and you have a thick sauce consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the lentils and cook for a minute stirring, before adding the stock or water. This soup is tasty enough just to use water here, but if you happen to have some ham stock in the freezer left over from the Christmas gammon it will add a whole new dimension to the soup. Simmer for about 40 minutes until the lentils are tender. The cooking time depends on the variety of lentils, so you can check after 30 minutes. Add more water if the soup gets too thick as the lentils can absorb a lot of water. Serve with crusty bread and butter and perhaps a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan on top.
This makes enough for four to six good servings, but you can easily double the amounts and freeze half for another day. Or if you are having the soup two days running and want to vary it a little, on the second day add some more water to it and once it is heated throw in a couple of handfuls of a small pasta shape to cook in the soup. The pasta will take on the flavour of the soup and make a wonderfully hearty complete meal. You never know, even kids who profess not to like anything as healthy as a lentil could be tempted by the pasta and discover that lentils actually are quite tasty after all!
Copyright Kit Heathcock 2008