Thursday, January 3, 2008

"Northern Italian Cooking" by Biba Caggiano - Lentil Soup

Date I made this recipe: December 31, 2007

Northern Italian Cooking by Biba Caggiano
Published by: HP Books
ISBN: 0-89586-119-4
© 1981
Recipe: Lentil Soup (Zuppa di Lenticchie) – p. 20

Continuing along in my “is this year over yet?” theme, I wanted to end the year on a positive note and that meant making a hearty lentil soup. You see, in Italy, lentils symbolize money and good fortune for the coming year. It’s the Italian equivalent of the south’s Hoppin’ John that is also made for the new year to bring luck. I like the “money” part of the program myself as there has been a great outpouring of it this year that was most certainly not offset by a great incoming. And so there it is.

Now, I have a great Lentil Soup recipe that I’ve made over and over and planned to make that but to my horror, I discovered I merely wrote down the recipe from the cookbook from which it came rather than buying the thing to add to my collection. This WILL be remedied immediately! But until that time, I had to come up with a substitute and so I perused all my Italian and Sicilian cookbooks until I found this one. The recipes were pretty similar so I felt pretty good about making it and indeed, it was almost as good as the other recipe. Bibba suggests sprinkling Parmesan cheese on top and her suggestion is a good one. Growing up, we always added Parmesan cheese to my mom’s chicken soup. To steal a line from the Campbell Soup people – M’m M’m good!

Lentil Soup (Zuppa di Lenticchie) – Makes 8 to 10 servings
2 cups lentils
4 cups meat broth or 3 cups canned beef broth
6 to 8 cups water
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 cup canned crushed Italian-style or whole tomatoes
¼ cup olive oil (Cut this amount way down and just coat the bottom of the pan!)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 garlic cloves, chopped
¼ lb. pancetta, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
8 to 10 thick slices Italian bread (for garnish)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (for garnish)

Place lentils in a large bowl. Add enough cold water to cover and let stand overnight. Discard any lentils that float to the surface. Drain and rinse lentils thoroughly. Place lentils in a large saucepan. Add water, broth, celery and carrots. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Simmer 50 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally. Press tomatoes through a food mill or sieve to remove seeds (Note, the tomatoes I bought didn’t need pressing so I skipped this step).

Heat oil in a small saucepan. Add onion, parsley and garlic. Saute over medium heat 2 to 3 minutes. Add pancetta. Saute 2 to 3 minutes or until the pancetta is lightly browned. Add tomato pulp. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat. Cook uncovered 15 to 20 minutes. With a slotted spoon, place a third of lentil mixture in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth. Return to saucepan. Add tomato mixture. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

Toast bread until golden on both sides. Place 1 slice toasted bread in each soup bowl. Sprinkle generously with Parmesan cheese. Ladle soup into bowls. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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