CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Lentil Soup With Sausage, Chard And Garlic

“Wouldn’t today be a great day for soup?” That isn’t what you’d expect to hear most cooks asking in the middle of July in the Upper Midwest.

But those were my exact words to myself Wednesday, and I bet that’s exactly what a lot of other people have been querying the past couple of days with the cool, wet weather we’ve been experiencing.

The following soup recipe was my solution to the aforementioned out-of-place question. It’s is a meal in itself with plenty of veggies, a little meat and some lentils.

And it wouldn’t be out of place on a cold, brittle winter day when a hearty soup would be just what you’d need to take off the chill.

Lentil Soup with Sausage, Chard, Kale and Garlic
½ cup olive oil, divided
2 large links of sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 medium onion, diced
2 celery stalks, sliced or diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into half-moons or diced
4 cloves garlic, sliced (reserve half for later in recipe; this is optional; see note)
Kosher salt
A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 cup brown lentils, sorted and rinsed and cooked for 1 hour
2 bay leaves
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
6 cups water (or broth if you prefer a richer taste)
Freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 cups shredded Swiss chard leaves and kale
Grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
Place the lentils in a pot of water and cook for 1 hour. Set aside.
Heat ¼ cup olive oil (enough to coat bottom of pot) in a large pot on medium heat. When hot, add the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until it starts to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, celery, carrots, first two garlic cloves, a pinch of salt and if you like your soup spicy, a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook with the sausage until the vegetables soften a bit, another 5 minutes.
Add the lentils, bay leaves, tomatoes, water, more salt and black pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook about 30 to 40 minutes. (Add more water if the soup gets too thick.)
Add the chard and kale and cook until the leaves are tender, just a few minutes more. Discard the bay leaves.
To finish, divide soup among bowls. Top with fresh Parmesan or Romano cheese, offering more at the table. Leftovers will keep for several days in the fridge.
Note: To kick the recipe up a notch, add the remaining ¼ cup olive oil and 2 garlic cloves to a small skillet and heat over medium until the garlic softens and hisses. Drizzle this over soup bowls, and then top with cheese.
Yield: Serves 6.

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