Why is lentil soup so good? I sit here on the couch with the door open to a blue-skied, breezy spring day. Sipping spoonfuls of soft lentils, rich sausage, and flavorful broth, I wonder how a few simple ingredients can be so generously transformed.
Maybe it is the soffritto, the finely minced carrot, onion, and celery, sauteed in olive oil until golden. Finely minced vegetables quickly soften and dissolve, adding conspicuous earthiness to their surroundings.
It might be the cup of dry white wine, a concentration of wood, fruit, and mineral, that offers a pleasing acidity, a special essence that only wine can do. It is a great way to use up an extra bottle or an even better excuse to open up a new one.
Or perhaps it is the garlicky bites of sausage. My genius friend Jenny taught me that if you place your browned sausage into a food processor for a few pulses the meat will break up into pieces roughly the size of lentils. Symmetry of ingredients are appealing to both eyes and tastebuds.
Finally there are the fresh herbs, a bright handful of bold color to enliven the flavor of the simmering soup. Anything that has been on the stovetop for over an hour deserves something lively and bright to restore it back to life.
We cooks are modern day food alchemists, transforming separate ingredients from inedible to divine. What an enlightened way to welcome worthwhile magic into our daily lives.
2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound good quality sausage, removed from casing (I used turkey garlic sausage)
2 cups yellow onion, diced
1 cup carrot, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup dry white wine
1 pound brown lentils, rinsed and drained
2 quarts good quality chicken stock (I use Kitchen Basics, it’s the bomb)
1/8 to 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, (optional and to taste)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add ground sausage, gently browning and breaking up meat until it is no longer pink. If you would like small pieces of sausage place in a food processor and pulse for 4 1 second pulses. If not, set meat aside. Place remaining tablespoon olive oil in empty pot and add carrot, onion, and celery. Sweat for 7-8 minutes, until vegetables are golden. Add wine and simmer briskly until reduced by at least half.
Add lentils, reserved sausage, 6 cups chicken stock, cayenne, salt, thyme, and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer. Add more liquid as needed to cover lentils. Cover pot and reduce heat to a low simmer. Allow lentils to cook, stirring occasionally, for at least an hour, and up to two. Add additional chicken stock as necessary to retain a soupy texture. Adjust seasoning and add chopped parsley. Serve hot with a drizzle of olive oil and grated parmigiano cheese.