The PTA at A's elementary school does this wonderful thing where parents provide a staff lunch every month. A gesture of gratitude for all that they do for our precious ones. I think this is way better than bringing in baked goods on an occasional basis to the staff lunch rooms. This is a complete luncheon, and although A's only been at the school for 2 months, I can already tell the staff really likes this treat. Of course, if you know me, you know I love to cook and feed people, so I'm more than happy to contribute. Tomorrow's theme (in keeping with the frosty weather) is soup and chili. My contribution is one of my favorite cold-weather soups, french lentils with sausage. I hope the staff likes it!
First thing - lentils. Must I use the french kind, you ask? You don't have to, but I am quite partial to these beauties. They are absolutely adorable and I love their petite size. I think it is well worth a trip to a good store to stock up on these. But, you can easily use the standard grocery store brown lentil too. Just make sure you use a skin-on lentil for this soup. We want to preserve the structural integrity of the legume, lest we end up with an unappetizing, brown slop.
Now, let's talk about the sausage. Sure, you could use chorizo or andouille. Heck! I'd eat practically anything featuring those. But, there is another great poultry-alternative that I absolutely love. It is Bruce Aidell's habanero green chile sausage. 12 g fat per link -- not too shabby. But this is no ordinary, tasteless, dry, desperate poultry knock-off. The texture and flavor of these guys is unbelievable. You can purchase them in your grocery store or online here. In any case, please use a robust sausage in this soup. Wimpy ones need not apply.
Next flavor component - ham. I realize many of you won't have a leftover ham bone (from a smoked ham) lying around in your freezer, but if you do, go ahead and get it out. If not, you could use a smoked ham hock, bacon, pancetta, smoked cubed ham, or, if you must, you can leave all the porcine flavor out altogether. If you must! It really does add that extra something (a really big something) to the soup though.
I hope you'll try this and let me know what you think.
French Lentil and Sausage Soup
Serves 6 - 8
4 sausage links (I used Aidell's Habanero-Green Chile), cut into1/4 inch slices
1 leftover smoked ham bone
2 cups french lentils (lentils du puy)
8 cups (2 quarts) water (or chicken broth)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 ribs celery, chopped fine
4 carrots, chopped into 1/4 inch cubes
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp red chili flakes
1 tsp pepper
1 can (15 oz) organic diced tomatoes (I used Muir Glen)
1 large rosemary sprig
Salt to taste
Parsley (to garnish)
1. Preheat oven to 350F *. Heat oil in a large dutch oven. Add the sausage and brown. Remove the sausage and set aside. Add ham hock, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, rosemary, and chili flakes. Saute 5 to 10 minutes till vegetables are slightly browned and fragrant.
* I like to cook the soup in the oven, but you could easily cook the whole thing on the cooktop. Cooking time should be about the same.
2. Add washed lentils, water or broth, tomatoes, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover and transfer to oven for about 1 hour or until lentils are almost done.
3. Remove pan from oven. Take the ham bone out. Pick off any meat and discard the bone. Add sausage back to the soup. Heat for 10 - 15 minutes longer. Check salt and add some if needed. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve hot. I like mine with some good crusty bread.