Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Spicy Sausage & Lentil Soup

I used to be a server at Carrabba's where I had the pleasure of sampling everything on the menu as part of my training so that I could describe the dishes accurately to patrons. I remember it fondly. Back then and still now one of my favorite menu items is their Sausage and Lentil Soup. Since it's only an occasional menu item, I sometimes have to make my own when I have a hankering.
For a deeper pancetta (bacon) flavor, don't drain off the fat from the pancetta. Instead, use it in lieu of some of the olive oil to cook the vegetables.
When creating my own recipe, I started by using this one from, which acts as a strong base. After some tinkering, I have gotten it to the point where it's so good that my husband and I can eat a double batch all on our own over the course of 4 or 5 days without wasting a lick and without having to freeze any.

On Monday when I introduced the Rainy April Menu, I told you that you'd be making food that will make you feel like a fancy pants chef even though you won't need crazy skills. All you'll need is to have your ingredients prepped and ready to go.

Spicy Lentil & Sausage Soup
by Janna Patterson, Eats and Beats

Serves 6-8
Active Prep and Cook Time: approx. 35 minutes
Inactive Cook Time: 1 hour

1 lb hot Italian sausage
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
4 ounces diced pancetta (not sliced)
2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 stalk of celery, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 small zucchini, diced
6 cups quality chicken broth
 2 141/2 oz cans petite diced tomatoes, plus half the juice
2 cups dry green lentils (Red won't work.)
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Parmesiano Regiano cheese, freshly grated for serving (optional)

1.With the tip of a very sharp knife or a pair of kitchen scissors, cut an incision lengthwise down the entire length of each sausage casing (the intestinal casings, not the packaging the sausages came in,) and remove the meat of the sausage into a medium bowl. Get rid of those icky casings forever.
2. Preheat a large pot on the stove over medium-medium high heat. (Medium is plenty on my stove, but I know some of you have stoves that are a little bashful.)
3. Using a mortar and pestle or the end of a rolling pin and a clean hard surface, grind the fennel seeds. They don't have to be completely pulverized; leaving some of the fennel seeds whole is just fine. With clean hands, gently massage the ground fennel seeds into the sausage meat until fairly evenly distributed. (Don't you feel fancy already?)
4. Plop the uncooked sausage meat into the preheated pot and allow it to brown as you break up the meat with a spatula, the way you would with ground beef. Drain off the fat and remove the sausage to another dish for now.
5. In the same pot, cook the pancetta. Turn down the heat a bit if needed so it won't burn. Drain off the fat and add the pancetta to the sausage for now.
6. With the pot on medium-medium/low heat, add the olive oil and the next five ingredients and cook until the onions are translucent.
7. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil over medium-medium/high heat. Stir in tomatoes, lentils, sausage and pancetta. Cover the pot, turn down to low, and allow to simmer for 1 hour.
8. Serve with Parmesiano Regiano cheese, if desired, and the rest of the Rainy April Menu.