Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Lentil Soup in a Nor'easter

The combination of the remnants of Hurricane Wilma, Tropical Storm Alpha (the name of my next dog!) and some other atmospheric conditions led to horrific weather here in Boston this week. Driving rain, incredible wind gusts and dark skies just cried out for soup! I love lentil soup and have tried many a combination of lentils, meats and vegetables. I've settled (for now) on a nice combination of some standard lentil soup ingredients (onions, carrots, garlic, tomatoes) with some extras like pancetta, thyme, balsamic vinegar and fresh spinach. Plus it's pretty easy and doesn't take too much prep.

Chop up some pancetta, crisp it up in a Dutch oven and remove it. Drain most of the rendered fat, then add some chopped onions and carrots to the remaining fat and cooked until softened. I usually like to put the lid on at this point to get the vegetables nice and soft. Add some pressed garlic, bay leaf, tomatoes and thyme and let it cook for a few minutes until it starts to smell really good. Add the lentils and salt and pepper, lower the heat and let them sweat in the covered pot for ten minutes. Pour in some wine and let it simmer, then add lots of good chicken stock or broth. If you've got some parmesan cheese rinds in the freezer, throw them in. Bring it to a boil then let it simmer for an hour.

At this point, I like to stick my new handheld blender into the pot and puree some of the soup to create that really nice soupy smoothness. I'm a bit of a klutz so I have to be careful putting a super-fast rotating blade into a big pot of very hot liquid, but it's easier than ladling some of it into a blender then back into the pot!

Just before serving, add a splash of good balsamic vinegar. In the bottom of each soup bowl, layer some fresh spinach leaves. Ladle the hot soup over the leaves and let it sit a few minutes before serving so the leaves wilt. You can add the spinach directly to the pot, but that makes for slimy leftovers. Grate some fresh parmesan on top, sprinkle on the pancetta and serve, then thumb your nose at the bad weather outside.

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