Shouldn’t Prairie Home Companion have a folksy sponsor like the American Soup Council to tout this most comforting of all dishes? Imagine the catchphrases: “Soup – we’ve got your back,” or “Soup – a mom in every bowl,” or even, “Soup – at least the barn didn’t burn down.” That’s how I feel about this week’s spicy makeover – Lentil, Pepper and Escarole Soup. I just had a bowl. It was all the things soup should be – tasty and warm and reassuring. It certainly dispelled some of the gloom attendant on my losing this week’s photographs.
That’s right, I lost them.
If you pick up a camera I guarantee you will eventually have a story to tell about botching a shoot. I recently read a professional photographer’s account of taking outside group shots at the wedding of friends, only to discover the next day that wide black bands marred all of the photos (she had forgotten to change her camera settings after coming from a previous job). This woman is famous for photographing celebrities in high-stress circumstances, say, two minutes between takes on a movie set. My stomach clenched just imagining the telephone call to those newlyweds. “Uh, can we talk?” That kind of experience would scar me too badly to ever pick up a camera again. She went on to recount two more disasters.
We had a lot going on this weekend that needed photographing–including a managers’ brunch for 20 at our house–and I allowed myself–just this once–to break a cardinal rule: take the pictures and immediately upload them to a computer. That way, if something happens to the CF card. . . You know the next plot point, right? One of the two cards with blog photos disappeared, the one with the exciting stovetop action and the finished dish. Fortunately the remaining card contained some shots of ingredients and some photos of my lunch after the shoot. Oh, and thank God, none of the superfluous arty takes on carrots were lost.
My negligence didn’t cost anyone their wedding pics–that’s a relief. Jody’s been sympathetic–we’ve never had a disaster (not unless you count some of the photos that did make it into our early blog posts). As for the missing photos, the soup is easy, you’ll figure it out. Learn from me–upload your photos right now! Then reward yourself with a bowl of Lentil, Pepper and Escarole Soup. There now, don’t you feel better? Enjoy.
LENTIL, PEPPER AND ESCAROLE SOUP
Makes 8 cups
- 2 ancho peppers
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 leek, washed well and cut into ¼-inch dice
- 1 stalk celery, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
- 1 carrot, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup small dark lentils, preferably Umbrian, picked over for dirt and stones and rinsed
- 1-2 bay leaves
- 1 sprig thyme
- 6-8 cups stock or water
- 1 large head escarole, leaves washed well and cut crosswise into ½-inch strips
- 2 red peppers, roasted, peeled and cut into ¼-inch julienne
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar (optional)
- Freshly grated parmesan cheese (optional)
- Soak the ancho peppers in 1 cup hot water for 30 minutes. They should be soft and pliable. Remove the seeds and stem and chop into ¼-inch pieces,
- Heat ¼ cup of olive oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leek, celery and carrot, season with salt and pepper and cook 5 minutes. Add the garlic and lentils and cook 3 minutes. Add the bay leaves, thyme sprig, the strained pepper water and 6 cups of water or stock. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 25 minutes or until the lentils are just done.
- Meanwhile, heat the remaining ¼ cup of oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the escarole, season with salt and pepper and cook, tossing often, until wilted and seared. Add the peppers and paprika reduce the heat to low. Add several ladles of the broth, poured through a strainer and lentils put back in the soup pot. Cover and cook 5 minutes.
- Add the escarole mixture to the lentils and simmer 5 minutes. Add the oregano, and additional broth if needed/desired. I added 2 more cups for a total of 8. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with optional sherry vinegar and grated cheese.
The resemblance of lentils to coins, at least in Italian eyes, makes them a symbol of good fortune, a natural choice for a traditional New Year’s Eve dish, when they’re served with cotechino, a yummy pork sausage. I’m all for good fortune, but mindful of new beginnings, I kept our first soup of 2014 on the lean side. Instead of depending on pork sausage to add depth, I infused the soup with the flavor of peppers, specifically ancho and paprika. But If your new beginning requires pork sausage, feel free.
Long before Lacinato kale became the culinary silver bullet for all things evil I was in love with greens. The spinach in the spinach and mozzarella pies from Federal Hill, in Providence, was an early attachment. When someone introduced me to escarole its sharp flavor put the hook in me deep. One of my first inspirations as a newly-minted chef was to pair slow-roasted duck with braised escarole. More than twenty years later I still serve duck that way. Lentil soup, which often needs a bit of perking up, seemed like another good partner for the bitter green. You might think from looking at the ingredients photo that the soup was going to be all about escarole, but it cooks down into a tender and silky co-star. Lentils are still the leading actor.
You can eat the soup as is, but Roxanne and I wanted a touch more acid, so we each added a splash of sherry vinegar to our bowls. Ken thought a bit of grated cheese might be a nice option as well.