Michele and Nina hosted Girls' Night last evening, before all the holiday madness begins. We were invited to bring along a substantial nibble and our good spirits.
Michele has a gorgeous house with a dream kitchen, ideal for entertaining. The dining table was exquisitely adorned with candles, flowers from Wholesale Flowers & Supplies, and uniquely colored pumpkins from Specialty Produce. I especially loved the creative and elegant flower arrangements made with red tulips, eucalyptus, sprigs of white flowers, basil and green onions.
This is a group of women who love to cook and entertain, so our nibbles were amazing. Nina and Michele collaborated on flatbreads with various toppings and cheeses - mushrooms and pine nuts, butternut squash and rosemary, and roasted beets. Nina made a lovely salad with creamy burrata, red and yellow tomatoes, basil, and Italian green olives. There was a wonderful Spanakopita Pie, gooey baked brie in phyllo with raspberry preserves, crudites, muffins, crackers and bread. I made a big pot of lentil and sausage soup. Nina was tending bar as we all arrived. She offered a choice of cocktails depending on our mood - something with sugar, spice and everything nice, or her signature Dark & Stormy. I think most of us were feeling Dark & Stormy. Later, we uncorked the wine and sat around the table telling stories. For dessert, Michele made an outrageously decadent Baked Chocolate Brownie Pudding (with a touch of cayenne added to the batter), served with Talenti Sicilian Pistachio and/or Tahitian Vanilla Bean gelato, and one of her family's special occasion desserts, Mil Hojas, also known as Thousand Layers Cake. Everything, especially the company, was over the top!
I should have brought my camera because my iPhone photos just don't do justice to the gorgeous spread:
I recently purchased a package of heirloom lentils from a quaint little market called Stehly Farm Market, knowing I wanted to make a lentil soup. I started with Ina Garten's recipe for Lentil Sausage Soup from Barefoot in Paris. I consulted some similar recipes, as well as my trusted Flavor Bible. Ina calls for French green lentils, such as du Puy (supposedly the most flavorful), but you can also use Spanish Pardina lentils or a blend like I did. She uses kielbasa sausage; I used Linguica. You can use any type of smoked sausage, Italian sausage, or bacon. If you wish to make homemade chicken stock, or have some on hand, the soup will be even better. I used 2 quarts Kitchen Basics Chicken Stock and 1 quart of water. I like a bit of heat, and added some red pepper flakes. If you are using spicy sausage, you may wish to omit. I reduced the quantities of onion and leeks and added an extra clove of garlic. I added a bay leaf, omitted the cumin, and used balsamic instead of red wine vinegar. In the preparation, I sauteed the sausage to get it a little brown, render some of the fat and flavor the vegetables more. I also reduced the cooking time slightly so the lentils and vegetables wouldn't get too mushy. I didn't this time, but you could toss in a few handfuls of chopped kale, Swiss chard or spinach toward the end of the cooking.
I admire bloggers who have the time and patience to take step by step photos during preparation. I usually give up after the initial ingredient shots. Sorry, no photos of sauteed vegetables or simmering soup today...
|"Chicken Scratch" Lentils|
There's lots of chopping and slicing going on!
Adapted from Barefoot in Paris
1 pound Spanish Pardina lentils, or French de Puy lentils, small stones removed, rinsed (I used a blend of heirloom lentils called "Chicken Scratch")
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
1 pound smoked sausage (kielbasa, linguiça, or andouille), cut in 1/2 lengthwise and sliced 1/3-inch thick
3 cups coarsely chopped yellow onions
2 cups coarsely chopped leeks, white and light green parts only, rinsed well and drained
3 large cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
3 cups thinly sliced celery
3 cups medium diced carrots
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 quarts (8 cups) low-sodium chicken stock (I used Kitchen Basics)
1 quart (4 cups) water
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan, for serving
Put the lentils into a colander and rinse well under cold water. Drain.
In a large stockpot over medium heat, heat the olive oil and saute the sausage until it just starts to brown, about 5-7 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a plate with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the onions, leeks, garlic, salt, red pepper flakes, thyme, and bay leaf to the pan and saute for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are translucent and tender. Add the celery and carrots and saute for another 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and saute for 1 minute. Add the chicken broth and water and bring to a boil. Add drained lentils, reduce the heat, and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked through and tender. Return the sausage to the pot and add the balsamic vinegar. Simmer another 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Ladle the soup into serving bowls. Drizzle olive oil over the top and sprinkle with grated Parmesan. Leftover soup freezes well.