Lentils have been part of the human diets for thousands of years, being one of the first crops in the Near East. According to Wikipedia, archeological evidence shows they were eaten 9,500 to 13,000 years ago. My brain can’t even imagine how long ago that was, but that may be from partying last night….
So many cultures have embraced this bean and cook it in a variety of ways. In Italy eating lentils on New Year’s represents the hope for a prosperous new year, from the popular belief that their round shape symbolizes a coin-like form. I’ve read that a Jewish tradition during mourning is serving lentils and boiled eggs for mourners, because their round shape symbolizes the life cycle from birth to death.
Interesting fact, lentils have the second-highest ratio of protein per calorie of any legume, after soybeans.
Looking for the perfect recipe to share, I was torn between recipes from Rachael Ray, Marcella Hazan, and The Food of Italy cookbook (one of my very favorite – has wine and jumper berries in the recipe). Then there’s a great recipe from I Love Italian Food.
Marcella Hazan’s recipe won for today’s post although I still put my spin on it.
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil (I use olive oil for almost everything I sauté)
- 1/4 cup onion, chopped very fine
- 1/3 cup shredded prosciutto or unsmoked ham (I use 1-2 Italian sausage)
- 1/4 cup carrot, chopped fine
- 1/4 cup celery, chopped fine
- 1 14 ounce canned Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice (I use frozen tomatoes from summer garden in winter)
- 1/2 pound dried lentils (and a bit more if soup needs it)
- 2-4 cups beef broth (I use homemade beef broth)
- 1/2 cup wine (add water if soup is too thick)
- 2-3 whole garlic cloves skins removed
- Salt & pepper
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
- Put butter and oil in a soup pot.
- Add the chopped onion and prosciutto (or sausage) and turn on the heat to medium high.
- Do not cover the pot.
- Cook the onion, stirring it, until it caramelizes and turns golden.
- Add the chopped carrot and celery. Cook at a lively heat for 2 or 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the tomatoes with their juice, and adjust the heat so that they bubble gently.
- Cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Wash the lentils in cold water and drain. Add the lentils to the pot, stirring throughly to coat them well, then add the broth, wine and a pinch of salt and pepper. Add whole garlic cloves.
- Cover the pot, adjust the heat so that the soup cooks at a steady, gentle simmer, and stir from time to time for about 45 minutes to one hour or until the lentils become tender. Some lentils will absorb more liquid than others. If necessary, add more broth while cooking or, if you prefer, add water.
- When the lentils are done, remove whole garlic if you want, and add grated Parmesan. Taste and correct with salt and pepper.
- Serve with additional grated Parmesan for the table.
- Can be made in advance (flavors are enhanced the second day), and freezes well.
- 1 1/2 cup lentils
- 1/2 cup minced dried onion
- 2 tablespoons dried parsley
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 4 cups chicken or beef broth
- 1/2 cup wine or water to thin soup as needed
- 1 14 1/2 oz can diced stewed tomatoes undrained
- 4 cups pre-washed baby spinach
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves - optional
- Combine broth with dry soup mix. Bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 35-40 minutes until lentils are tender.
- Add tomatoes.
- Stir in spinach and basil if desired.
- Garnish with slivered green onion.