Recipe from Italian Home Cooking by Julia della Croce (Kyle Books, 2010)Nominated for a 2011 IACP Cookbook Award in the Children, Youth and Family category. For a list of all the finalists check out the our IACP Finalists' Guide.
I have never eaten a lentil soup better than this one I grew up on. It was one of my mother's winter supper inventions, which she alternated with versions substituting smoked sausage (like luganega, or if she couldn't get it, Polish- or Ukrainian-style kielbasa) for fresh, sweet pork and fennel sausage.
Serves 4 to 6
1. Pick over and wash the lentils in cold water. Transfer them to an ample pot, cover with the broth or water, and add the bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer. Cook over medium-low heat until half-cooked, 10 minutes.
- 1/2 pound (11/2 cups) brown lentils
- 10 cups Chicken Broth (page 214) or water
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 link s lean, sweet fennel-flavored Italian pork sausages
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 large cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 large celery stalk, including leaves, chopped
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 16-ounce can plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped, liquid reserved
- 1/2 cup ditalini ("little thimble") pasta
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2. Meanwhile, slip the casings off the sausages. In an ample skillet, warm the olive oil. Brown the sausage meat over medium heat until lightly colored all over, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a side dish and drain any excess fat from the pan, leaving 3 tablespoons. Add the garlic, onion, celery, and thyme to the pan and sauté until the garlic is golden and the vegetables are softened and aromatic, about 5 minutes. Return the sausage to the pan. Dissolve the tomato paste in a little of the lentil broth and add it to the pan. Follow with the chopped tomatoes and their liquid. Simmer all together for 5 minutes.
3. Bring the lentils to a boil once again if they have cooled down. Transfer the skillet contents and the pasta to the pot with the boiling lentils. Simmer to marry the flavors, about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and allow the soup to rest until the pasta is fully cooked, about 4 more minutes. Discard the bay leaf, sprinkle with parsley, and serve.