The Thick of Warming Soup Season
The brutal winter weather of the past few weeks has left me with a near constant craving for soups and also long-braised stews. Combine this with the near constant recipe testing for my next cookbook, The French Cook: Soups and Stews (Gibbs Smith, Late summer, 2014) my beloved Dutch ovens are getting daily work-outs and I'm a very well-fed girl.
The soup that follows is layered with the earthy, peppery flavors and chewy density of the Puy lentil. I love these guys so much, I once suffered an hour delay in customs trying to convince the agent they were legal. This soup is remarkably delicious, easy to make and a little dressier than most lentil soups. I think you'll love it. It's adapted from the yet to be published pages of the new cookbook.
Deep in the volcanic rich-soil of Auvergne in South Central France reside the nutrients that help create the special flavor and color of the Puy lentil. It is an extra firm, dark green lentil with sage-hued threads and a peppery flavor. Unlike other lentils, it holds its shape and its firm, toothsome texture even when cooked, rather than breaking down into mushy legume puddles. Referred to as French Green Lentils in the United States, they are increasingly easy to find here at regular grocery stores and markets. They are worth tracking down, as their body and flavor is what makes this simple, yet delicious soup.
Be sure to rinse the lentils and pick over for any small stones. It’s ok to salt them very lightly in the beginning of the cooking process, but save the bulk of the salt until finishing the seasoning after they’re cooked as salt can harden the lentils. This soup can be left in its whole lentil state, but I like to lighten it and puree it with an immersion blender. A dash of cloves and dried sage give it an extra earthy, hard to resist flavor that works magic with the peppery nature of the lentils. Not only do these lentils make delicious soups, they are outstanding cooked in salads or as a seasoned garnish to fish, particularly salmon.
French Green Lentil Soup with Bacon
(From the pre-published pages of The French Cook: Soups and Stews, Gibbs Smith, Late summer, 2014)
(Makes 8 servings)
1 1/2 cups (about 8 slices) bacon cut into a 1/2” dice
Freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 leeks, trimmed to 1” above the white part of the stalk, halved vertically, finely chopped, and well-rinsed
2 medium stalks celery, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed and coarsely chopped
Light salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup good quality full-bodied red wine (suggest Cabernet Sauvignon)
1 1/2 cups French Green Lentils
4 cups vegetable stock
1 cup water
2 bay leaves
Generous pinch ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons ground sage
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the garnish:
1/2 reserved cooked bacon
1/4 cup crème fraiche or sour cream
3 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
Heat a 5 1/2 quart Dutch oven or similarly sized soup pot over medium high. Add the diced bacon and black pepper. Cook to render fat and brown the bacon, stirring every minute or so. Reduce heat to medium low and continue cooking the bacon until it’s cooked through and nicely browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Set aside. Drain off all but 3 tablespoons of the bacon fat in the cooking pot. Add the onion, leeks, celery, carrot, and garlic. Season very lightly with salt and pepper. Stir to coat. Cook until just softened, about 5 minutes. Deglaze with the red wine, stirring to pick up any brown bits from the bacon.
Increase heat to high and reduce the wine by about half. Add the lentils, vegetable stock, water, bay leaves, ground cloves and ground sage. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Bring up to a boil over high heat and reduce to a simmer over medium low heat. Cook uncovered until the lentils have softened to a gentle chew state (al dente), 35 to 40 minutes. Remove the bay leaves. Puree in a blender or with an immersion blender until aerated and chunky-smooth. Return to the pot and bring to a low simmer. If it seems too thick, add enough water to adjust more to your taste, about 1/2 - 1 cup of water should do it. Stir in 1/2 of the reserved bacon. Taste carefully and adjust the salt and pepper as needed.
To serve, ladle the soup into individual bowls, garnishing each with a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche and a drizzle of bacon and fresh parsley. (Note: The soup can be made ahead and refrigerated for 1 or 2 days or frozen up to 2 months and reheated before serving).
(Homepage image from Get Your Yummy Back-does not Depict Holly Herrick's recipe.)