Fall has arrived! Chilly, sweater snuggling weather is finally here after a very hot, dry summer here in the East. Although I dread the days of winter, those first few crisp days of fall are unbeatable….everything feels and smells crisp and alive – the tingle of the chilly wind on your skin, the smell of the crisp night air, the aromas of the season wafting from the kitchen. After a busy, bustling Saturday toodling around NYC, a lazy bike ride along the canal was in order for a beautiful fall Sunday here in Bucks County. As the day cooled, a cozy fall supper in front of the firepit was in order. My mother frequently had steaming bowls of lentil soup waiting for us when we arrived home from school and to this day, lentil soup is one of my staples as the weather cools. This version is incredibly simple to make. I stirred in some ham and a few extras – the last of the tomatoes from the garden, some fresh spinach – to boost the heartiness factor but you can easily omit if you do not have the ingredients on hand. Add a bottle of robust Chianti, some olive-oil drizzled crostini, a bit of Bocelli or Sinatra on the iPod and let the coziness begin. Happy Fall.
Lentil Spinach Soup
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
Freshly ground pepper
1 thick slice of smoked ham or turkey (typically found in the meat section of your market), diced
1 pound of lentils, picked over to remove any stones (about 1- 1/4 cups of lentils)
About 8 cups of low-sodium beef or chicken broth (I used half beef; half chicken), divided
4 plum tomatoes, diced
1 cup baby spinach
Drizzle of balsamic vinegar
Shredded parmesan cheese
1. Heat the oil in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and carrots. Saute until soft and the vegetable start to brown – about 10 minutes.
2. Add the chopped garlic and the freshly ground pepper to taste.( I wait to salt until later in case the ham or the broth adds enough salt.) Saute for another few minutes.
3. Add the diced ham and saute for 5 minutes to coat.
4. Add in the lentils and stir to coat.
5. Stir in about 6 cups of the broth and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until the lentils are tender – about 30-40 minutes. Check level of broth frequently and add more as needed to keep lentils covered. I like my lentil soup chunky so do not puree but if you would like a smoother finish, transfer about 2 cups of lentils to a blender (or use a stick blender) and puree. Return to pot. Thin soup with more broth if too thick. Adjust salt and pepper.
6. Stir in the diced tomatoes and spinach and stir to combine. Simmer for just a few minutes to soften the spinach.
7. Ladle soup in to bowls and drizzle with a splash of balsamic vinegar. Serve with plenty of shredded parmesan cheese. Enjoy!