Hearty-Har-Har Soup

Old man winter has made a stop in San Antonio. In fact, he's had quite an extended stay. All last week it was freezing, literally, and it even snowed on Thursday night.

Truthfully, it was just a "dusting," though the kids enjoyed a "snow day" from school and the city basically shut down. By noon on Friday, however, the snow had melted and it warmed up to the mid-50's. And on Sunday it was near 70 degrees. The sunny day was a welcome reprieve, as I got a little combo sunburn/windburn at my Sunday farmers market.

But in Texas, if you wait a minute, the weather will change.

This week, the local meteorologists and David's Weather Underground guys are threatening more wet and freezing temperatures on Wednesday, so I've decided it's time for a big pot of soup. But a soup that's hearty enough to serve as a meal. Last week, I had made some cauliflower soup and it was all I wanted (though it wasn't quite substantial enough for David's tastes) during our three consecutive days of freezing temperatures. Burrrr...

Soup is a one-pot wonder that nurtures my soul. And this soup received rave reviews from my favorite critic. Plus, it only gets better with time, so what was a fabulous dinner last night is an even better lunch or dinner today. And the next day. And so on...

Buen provecho!
Lentil Soup with Spicy Italian Sausage
The Cowgirl Gourmet (www.thecowgirlgourmet.blogspot.com) adapted this recipe from Bon Appetit's January 2010 issue

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This is really hearty and fabulous soup. Definitely one that you could make on a cold night for a group of friends or your family, serve with a salad, crusty bread and red wine and everyone would be in heaven.

Serves 8

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds hot Italian sausage links
1 large onion, chopped
3 large carrots, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and chopped
4 large parsnips, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and chopped
3 large celery stalks with leaves, chopped
1 red or green pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 Tablespoon dried Italian seasoning blend
1 pound brown lentils, rinsed
1 1/2 quarts low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 1/2 quarts water (6 cups)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, if needed
Freshly ground black pepper
5-ounces fresh spinach or baby spinach leaves

In your favorite soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Place the whole Italian sausage links and cook about 10 minutes, turning them when they are browned on each side. Once they are browned all over, remove them from the pot and let cool for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat.

While the sausage is cooking, begin chopping the vegetables: onion, carrots, parsnips, celery, bell pepper, garlic. Reserve the garlic and place to the side.

Once the sausage has cooled, slice it into 1/2-inch pieces and then cut each piece in half. (I didn't do this and wished I would have.)

Turn the heat under the pot to medium-high and place the sausage in the pot. Stirring occasionally, cook the sausage pieces until they are nice and browned on both sides. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a bowl and set aside. (The hard part is to try and refrain from snacking on these beautiful little sausage bites, though you should test one or two just to make sure they taste good...)

Add the chopped onions, carrots, parsnips, celery, bell pepper and Italian seasoning blend to sausage drippings and stir to coat. Cook until the onion is translucent and the vegetables begin to soften, stirring often, about 7-8 minutes. Toss in the diced garlic after 5 minutes, so it cooks about 2-3 minutes.

Rinse the lentils in a colander and allow to drain thoroughly. Add the lentils to the pot and stir to coat.

Add 1 1/2 quarts of broth and 1 1/2 quarts of water (6 cups). Bring soup to a boil. Once it's boiling, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes, stirring every 3 minutes or so. If the soup thickens too much, add 1/4 cupfuls of water.

Add the sliced sausage, stir well and simmer until vegetables are tender and flavors meld, about 10-12 minutes. Taste the broth and, if needed, add the 1/2 teaspoon of salt now and as much freshly ground black pepper as you desire. Stir thoroughly to combine.

Now you can turn the heat off and let the soup meld an hour or two, or you can stir in the fresh spinach and cook until it is wilted, about 3-5 minutes.

Just before serving, turn the heat up and let the soup get nice and hot.

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