5-Lentil Soup

I got chatting with a lovely woman in the therapy pool at physical therapy today, and wound up talking nonstop about food and recipes.  I talked about this soup, and only realized when I got home that I’ve never posted the recipe for my absolute favorite soup!

So here it is, in its current iteration:

5-Lentil Soup

List of Ingredients:  Brown, French, Beluga, White & Orange Lentils, Smoked Pork Necks, Ham Chunks, Diced Tomatoes (canned or fresh), Turnip, Parsnip, Celery, Carrots, Onion, Garlic, Bay Leaves, Zucchini, Chopped Spinach (fresh or frozen), Herbs & Spices.

Start by filling a soup kettle (I use a 12-quart one) halfway with cold water.  Add a package of smoked pork necks (I used about 4 pounds) and some chunks of ham, a large peeled onion, 3-4 cloves of peeled garlic, 4-5 ribs of celery with leaves if you have that, 2-3 carrots, and 2-5 bay leaves. Add a parsnip and turnip if available. This should pretty much fill the soup pot.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat, stirring occasionally.  Simmer this for a minimum of 3 hours. You want the veggies to be mush, and the meat bits falling off the bone.  Longer is better.

Let the stock cool enough to allow safe handling, and strain into another container (I usually use my 8-qt pot for this).  Remove the bones and bits of meat and save.  For a lower fat soup, chill overnight so the fat can be removed easily.  Reheat the stock to a boil and add the first round of lentils, and lower the heat to a gentle simmer.

I start with about a cup each of the five kinds of lentil. While they start simmering, chop 4-5 carrots, 2 inner stalks of celery, and 2 zucchini.  Adjust the amounts to your preferences and the size of your soup pot. When the lentils are tender, start adding additional lentils, so you’ll have them cooked to varying degrees of tenderness.  When these are back up to a simmer, add the carrots first, as they take longest to become tender. Let them simmer about 15 minutes and add the celery and zucchini. At this point, add a can of diced tomatoes (I use DelMonte Petite Diced with no added salt), and the chopped spinach (usually a block of frozen store brand). While all these ingredients are getting tender, clean the reserved meat off the bones, break up the ham chunks to bite size and add these to the soup.

At this point the soup broth will have started thicken a bit, so be sure to stir often so it doesn’t stick or scorch.  Next season the soup:  I add about a teaspoon of cumin, thyme, Italian seasoning, paprika about 3 Tablespoons of dried parsley or about half a bunch chopped of fresh. Add whatever other herbs and spices suit your tastes. Occasionally I’ll add a little smoked paprika or a shake of cayenne pepper.

I like to serve the lentil soup over any small-sized pasta (I use Barilla gluten-free elbow macaroni), and add a goodly amount of grated cheese at the table.  It’s also gorgeous with a good french bread for dipping.

This soup freezes very well too.  It will get thicker on sitting, so sometimes adding a bit of extra broth (any type) is needed for the leftovers.

Mangiamo!

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Artichokes? Really?

LOTS of artichokes

My lasting contribution to blogging seems to be artichokes. No. Really.

As many of my fellow-bloggers do, I track the number of visits to my site, and the search terms most frequently used to find my entries.

Hands down, the winner is some variant of “artichoke” — pictures of, photos of, recipes about, артишоки, globe, heart, artyčoky, Italian….

So on the theory that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em…. I herewith give a short version of the history of my favorite vegetable (if you don’t count olives as vegetables).

Wild Artichokes are still found in north Africa, where they are said to have originated. According to Wikipedia, the “Arabic term Ardi-Shoki (ارضي شوكي)…means ‘ground thorny.'” While lot of other cultures ate them, naturally, it was the Italians who perfected their use [from the history of the universe, according to ME].

Globe artichokes are like the gorgeous guy pictured at right. They are a real pain to prepare, but are worth every pricked finger. Select heavy, compact heads, without a lot of discoloration. 

Wiki also points out that “When harvesting, [artichokes] are cut from the plant so as to leave an inch or two of stem. Artichokes possess good keeping qualities, frequently remaining quite fresh for two weeks or longer under average retail conditions.” 

Artichokes have been on the expensive side for the last few years, and thus fresh ones are something of a luxury around here. Maybe more home gardeners will begin to grow them — it would be lovely to pick them up at the local farmers’ market this summer!

Two real beauties

“Apart from food use, the Globe Artichoke is also an attractive plant for its bright floral display, sometimes grown in herbaceous borders for its bold foliage and large purple flowerheads (Wiki).”

And, as you can see, they are also attractive with cats.

One of Nonna’s ways of making artichoke frozen hearts (when fresh were out of season) was to batter and fry them.

I never made these, but I remember them well from my childhood. 

these look like Nonna's

Cook a package of frozen artichoke heart according to directions.

Pat them dry, then dip in an egg batter (I believe this was nothing more than an egg beaten with a little flour, grated cheese & breadcrumbs).

Fry in medium-hot olive oil, drain, and serve with lemon.

Happy eating!

Playing Around with Artichokes

Even though I’m in pre-surgery mental mode, food still can grab my creative attention.

I’ve been playing around in my head with artichokes — not the gorgeous and expensive whole globe guys, but the more mundane and accessible canned artichoke hearts. I’ve written up two simple recipes that I really enjoy.

The first needs a food processor to make satisfactorily, but it is so delicious on bread, or as a quick pasta sauce:

Artichoke-Olive Tapenade a la Laurie

1 can artichoke hearts
1 cup green stuffed olives
1/2 cup black pitted olives (can be kalamatas for a stronger flavor)
1 clove garlic (or more to taste)
a handful of basil leaves (fresh is best, but I have some frozen in vacuum bags that works)
1/2 can diced tomatoes or 1 medium fresh tomato
enough extra-virgin olive oil to mix
salt & pepper to taste
 
Start with the olives and pulse a little in the food processor. Add the remaining ingredients, pulsing briefly to achieve a semi-smooth texture. Use just enough oil to help bind the ingredients.  Keeps in the fridge for a few days,  but it never lasts long at my house.
 
You can vary this with other ingredients, like grated cheese, capers, or red peppers. 
 

You can tell I have a thing for both olives and artichokes.  Here’s number two. Equally quick to make.

Olive-Artichoke Macaroni Salad

4 cups freshly cooked elbow macaroni (still hot)
1 can artichoke hearts, quartered
3/4 cup green stuffed olives, halved  (quartered if large)
1 cup diced celery
1/2 cup chopped marinated red peppers
1 tablespoon capers
1 glove minced garlic
Italian seasoning mix to taste
olive oil and lemon juice to taste for dressing
 
Mix all the ingredients into a large bowl, then stir in hot pasta and add any additional oil and lemon juice needed to make moist enough.  Serve warm or chilled.  Serves 4.
 
To make this a main dish salad, add a can of “tonno” which is italian-style light tuna packed in olive oil. 
 
To quote my Nonna, “mange, mange, tutti fa benne!” (Excuse the mangled Italian. It means, roughly, “eat, eat, everything’s good!”)