Soup for a Sickie

Lentil Soup

Jeremy hasn’t been feeling quite 100% for the past few weeks: we thought for a while that he might be developing allergies, but as far as I am aware, allergenic sniffling and sneezing isn’t usually accompanied by a cough. As a result of his cold, such as it is, he’s been requesting some “sickie” food from time to time (read: cereal and plain poached eggs on toast). This weekend, he caught me completely off-guard by asking for chicken noodle soup.

I’d be more than happy to make my sniffling husband some homemade chicken noodle soup, but I didn’t have all the right ingredients on hand, and he didn’t feel like grocery shopping. I was not about to let a soup request pass by unfulfilled, though. I love soup, but Jeremy is usually not the biggest fan, so I limit my soupmaking instinct to a cream of tomato here or a potato with fried almonds there, whenever occasion arises. This weekend, I turned to Marcella for guidance, thinking perhaps of a homemade tortellini soup. Instead, I ended up making a delicious and rather simple lentil soup with pasta and bacon.

Lentil Soup with Pasta, Bacon, and Garlic

I’ve transcribed the recipe as it appeared in the cookbook, but I did make a few adjustments out of necessity. My bacon was from a packet of ends that I picked up at the local farmer’s market, thinking I was getting actual slices; it worked perfectly diced up in this soup. Rather than using fresh tomatoes, which aren’t in season here yet, I used a 14-oz can of diced tomatoes and their juices. My pasta of choice was a protein-enriched macaroni.

I also took advantage of Marcella’s suggestion that after cooking the lentils, the soup could keep for a while before adding the pasta. Freyja was dying for a walk and Jeremy didn’t feel up to it, so I set him to watching the liquid levels in the soup-pot as the lentils cooked, and took the pup out for her afternoon jaunt. When the timer went off, he covered the pot and took it off the heat for me, and when I came back, everything was still warm and just needed a revived simmer for the macaroni.

Although pasta has that habit of soaking up most of the soup’s liquid during an overnight sit, we thoroughly enjoyed the (rather denser) leftovers reheated for lunch the next day.

Extra virgin olive oil, 2 T for cooking, plus more for stirring into the soup
1/4 lb bacon chopped very fine
1/2 C chopped onion
2 tsp chopped garlic
1/3 C chopped celery
2 T chopped parsley
1/3 C fresh, ripe, firm tomatoes, skinned raw with a peeler, all seeds removed and chopped; or canned Italian plum tomatoes, cut up with their juice
1 C dried lentils
Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
1 1/2 C short tubular pasta
1/4 C freshly grated romano cheese

Choose a saucepan that can later contain the lentils and pasta with sufficient water to cook them. Put in 2 T olive oil, the chopped bacon, onion, garlic, celery, and parsley, and turn on the heat to medium. Cook, stirring and turning the ingredients over often, until the vegetables become deeply colored, about 15 minutes. Add the chopped tomato, stir to coat it well, and cook for a few minutes until the fat floats free of the tomato.

Add the lentils, turning them over 3 or 4 times to coat them well, then add enough water to cover by 1 inch. Adjust heat so that the liquid simmers gently, and cook until the lentils are tender, about 25 to 30 minutes. Whenever the water level falls below the 1 inch above the lentils you started with, replenish with as much water as needed.

You can make the soup up to this point several hours or even a day or two in advance. Reheat thoroughly, adding water if necessary, before proceeding with the next step.

Add salt and several grindings of pepper, put in the pasta, and turn up the heat to cook at a brisk boil. Add more water if necessary to cook the pasta. When the pasta is done—it should be tender, but firm to the bite—the consistency of the soup should be more on the dense than on the thin side.

Taste and correct for salt and pepper. Add the grated cheese and about 1 T of olive oil, stir thoroughly, then take off heat and serve at once.

Source: Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan

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