A complete meal in a bowl, how nice is that? A steaming bowl of Lentil Soup for me is about the most reassuring food that says “all is right with the world”, basically it’s a big hug from someone that loves you. The humble lentil is one of nature’s powerhouses ( i hate the term superfood because it conjures up fads in food and I don’t buy into that) in terms of nutrition. Not going to bore you with that type of post but seriously if your body needs a great punch of nutrients this bowl is just the thing. Lentils are not an Italian exclusive, they are eaten in every part of the world where they are grown because they are plentiful, cheap and so good for you. All that aside let’s talk their taste, it’s unique and it’s delicious and LOVES to soak up the flavors of whatever other ingredients you are cooking with. No shocker here but I’m going to give you my recipe for an Italian bowl of LENTILS. This version is made with a base of vegetables, aromatics and PANCETTA. Pancetta is an UNSMOKED cured Italian BACON. Highlighting UNSMOKED. Can you make a lentil soup with smoked bacon? Of course, in fact Lentils seem to really pop when you cook them with any pork, whether it be Chorizo, Italian Sausage, Salumi, Guanciale, American or other types of Smoked Bacon, ham, so do not read my comments as saying the other meats are wrong..but for that gorgeous pot of lentils I made in the picture above I used PANCETTA. For those wishing for this with no meat at all increase your aromatics, herbs, onions, etc. for extra flavor. Unseasoned lentils for me just not worth my time but seasoning with meats or vegetables and herbs makes them shine. Back to this post though, find the pancetta and maybe this could be your first time using it…how awesome is that when you open yourself up to something new!!
In this very active and vivid memory bank of mine I equate the aroma of lentils cooking with coming home from school in Staten Island NYC to my Mom making a nice big pot..while outside the day is dark, grey, rainy, cold, raw the mere whiff of the lentils was like two big arms wrapping themselves around me, warming me from the inside out and knowing that I’m ok. Amazing was the taste and smell of certain foods will do, and no, I’m not going to quote the French guy with the little dessert cake here, that quote is as overdone as a dry roast chicken breast.
SERVES: 6 TIME: 1 hour
2 tablespoons EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
1/2 lb PANCETTA, finely diced
1 large ONION , diced
2 stalks CELERY with leaves attached, diced
1 large CARROT peeled, chopped in to small cuts
1/2 tsp crumbled dried OREGANO
1 cup canned ITALIAN TOMATOES (in this dish the choice of regular Italian plums or San Marzano is up to you), crushed with your hands
1 cup baby SPINACH LEAVES
2 cups brown LENTILS, rinsed in a colander under cold water
4 cups WATER
1 Tbs. KOSHER SALT
pinch of PEPERONCINO
2 rinds of PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO
In a dutch oven or wide pot, heat the olive oil adding the pancetta. Cook for about 4 minutes as it takes on some color then add the oregano, the onions, the peperoncino, the celery, and the carrots. Add a pinch of salt and let this cook for a good 10 minutes until all the vegetables have softened up to an al dente state. Critical when making dishes like this to test the vegetables or they will remain sort of raw or too crisp in the final dish. Just sayin. Now add the tomato and let this come to a boil. Then add the water and the lentils, cheese rinds and salt.Bring it all to a boil then down to a medium simmer. Let this cook until it’s thickened, stirring frequently. It should take about 45 minutes. When the soup is done check for seasoning and adjust accordingly. I prefer a “drier” Lentil soup which is the consistency you see in the picture. At this time add the spinach. Let those tender baby leaves just melt into the pot.
When serving, remove the cheese rinds, and in each bowl garnish it with grated Parmigiano or Pecorino and a drizzle of EVOO and a pinch of peperoncino.
What prompted me to blog this dish of mine was a lentil soup with pancetta I had a few nights ago at a Pop up Dinner held by Gabriele Corcos of the TV show EXTRA VIRGIN on Cooking Channel. I’ll be blogging about that dinner in the future but here is his bowl of lentil soup with Pancetta that we enjoyed:
It was delicious! You can’t go wrong with this soup. Have fun making it and sharing the love.