Fall is here, and that means it’s time for a steaming bowl of hearty soup. With a pot of soup on the stovetop, a soul satisfying meal is never far away. Soups are the easiest, most forgiving of all winter fare.
You can stick religiously to a recipe or use it as a jumping off point. Keep some onions, carrots and celery in your larder and bay leaves, lentils and pasta in your pantry. Stock your freezer with a couple of quarts of chicken stock or broth, and you are ready to make soup. For extra flavor, keep a rosemary plant in your garden.
I use lentils all year round. In summer they make appearances in salads, but in the cooler months I depend on them to lend body and earthy, rich flavor to soups. Packed with protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, they are available in a variety of sizes and an array of colors. I prefer Italian lentils grown on the fertile Colfiorito plain by La Valletta Farm. These organic lentils are small, and their soft skin is particularly well suited to use in soup. With just thirty minutes of cooking time they are ready to eat. If you want more body to your soup, cook the lentils longer and they will break down, creating a thick, rich base.
Winter squash adds an extra blast of sweet flavor and bright color. With a selection that includes Acorn, Banana, Butternut, Hubbard, Pumpkin, and Turk’s Head, there is no end of variation. Peeled and cut into chunks, it makes a pleasingly sweet mouthful when added to soup, while adding beta carotene and fiber. Pasta too adds extra texture and flavor to soup, and if you are on a budget it stretches the tureen even further. Whether you use tiny stars or ditalini or if your taste runs to something more substantial like elbow macaroni, rotelle or mezzi rigatoni, pasta adds even more interest to soup.
The recipe below is basic, and truly versatile. Good soup is built flavor upon flavor. Start with a fruity olive oil and a long, gentle saute for the onions. As the onions cook, prepare the other ingredients. Add a minced garlic clove, if you like, and celery and carrots. Together these aromatics are the flavor base of the soup. Add the chicken stock and bay leaf, and you have the framework for soup. From there, get creative. Add frozen peas or corn, or a few canned tomatoes, drained and chopped. If you have left over chicken or turkey, this is the place to use it.
This simple soup becomes something very special with the addition of one of my favorites, the classic Abruzzese condimento, adacciata, a tasty mixture of parsley, basil, garlic and prosciutto. A dash of La Quagliera extra virgin olive oil from Abruzzo enriches the soup, its spice and artichoke flavor adding a sumptuous final flourish. With some crusty bread and a green salad, you have a welcome weeknight meal.
Lentil, Mezzi Rigatoni and Butternut Squash Soup
1 medium onion, cut in half and very thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced (optional)
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into ¼ inch dice
1 large celery stalk, cut into ¼ inch dice
4 oz. lentils
4 oz. mezzi rigatoni
2 cups butternut squash, cut into 3/4-inch cubes, about 1 pound
8 cups chicken stock or broth
1 bay leaf
4-inch spring of fresh rosemary, plus more for garnish
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Kosher salt and black pepper
3 sprigs of parsley
10 basil leaves
2 cloves of garlic
1 slice of prosciutto
Make the soup: heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a 6-quart Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the sliced onion and ½ teaspoon kosher salt, tossing to coat. Saute gently until very soft and beginning to caramelize, about 20 minutes. Do not brown. Add the garlic, if using, and saute 1 minute until fragrant. Add the carrots and celery and saute until slightly softened, about 5 to 7 minutes.
Add the stock, lentils, bay leaf and rosemary, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and continue cooking 15 minutes. Add the cubed butternut squash, and simmer 10 minutes. Add mezzi rigatoni and cook about 10 minutes, or until done to your preference. Remove and discard the bay leaf and rosemary sprig. Ladle the soup into serving bowls. Drizzle with a bit of extra virgin olive oil, and top with a generous teaspoon of Adacciata. Sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.
Make the Adacciata: Use a mini-processor, immersion blender or mortar and pestle to crush all ingredients into a paste.
Cook’s Note: Par-cook the lentils separately for a clearer broth with less body. Bring 6 cups of water to a rolling boil, add 1 bay leaf and the lentils, and boil gently for 20 minutes. Drain, and discard the bay leaf. Add the lentils to the soup pot when you add the butternut squash, and proceed with the recipe.
La Quagliera Olive Oil and La Valletta Lentils are online available from Gustiamo.com