Reader, meet Big Bob. He is my giant, shiny, totally lust-worthy Le Creuset casserole pot and I have a love for him that is bordering on the obscene (so look away now if you’re of a prudish disposition). But this zealous passion is ameliorated somewhat by the fact that he was given to me by my very own lust-worthy J; my love for them is intermingled and ardent.
A present from J for my birthday last summer (presented to me Godfather style – tucked down at the foot of our bed, the sheets serving as wrapping paper), the Le Creuset known as Big Bob is now the head of my Kitchen Pantheon. The Zeus of Kitchen Gadgetry. The Odin of Cast Iron Cookware. And I am not ashamed to admit that there was bouncing and squealing involved when I saw the tell-tale box. Some ladies may squeel and bounce for a jewellery box – me, I go for Le Creuset every time. It’s sexy stuff, I assure you.
I pondered how best to inaugurate and celebrate Big Bob’s advent into my life and the recipe I settled on, purely because I had both a hankering for it and the requisite ingredients, is one of my favourite soups, heretofor known as: Epic Soul-Soothing Tomato and Lentil Soup.
This is a recipe adapted from the inestimable Elizabeth Bard, from her delicious tome, Lunch in Paris. If you haven’t read it, correct that lapse immediately. She envisions it as “Lentilles au Vin Blanc”, or Lentils with white wine, herbs and tomatoes – a light, but full of flavour lentil dish, served with creme fraiche, fresh lime juice and chopped coriander. A delicious prospect, indeed. But myself, I like it as a soup. It’s magical. It’s one of those dishes I like to make when I’m home alone, pottering about the kitchen – either while watching TV out of the corner of my eye or jiggling around to Mumford & Sons or The Who – and then reverently devouring with a green salad tossed in a lemony vinaigrette and a enviably large glass of white wine.
2 cans chopped or plum tomatoes
3-4 carrots (chopped into a chunky dice)
1 red onion, or 3-4 shallots (diced)
1-2 cloves of garlic (finely diced)
1-2 cups of red split lentils**
Chicken stock (approx. 4 tomato cans worth)
Generous slosh of white wine (approx. a small glass)
Big handful of flat-leaf parsley
Extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper
*This soup is very forgiving – I very rarely follow a fixed recipe, rather I chuck in as many lentils/carrots/onions as I have/want to consume. Don’t worry too much if you only have one can of tomatoes, for example – just proceed apace, and maybe add a bit of tomato puree – or if you only have one carrot. As with everything I cook, it’s a fairly devil-may-care process so throw caution to the wind, turn up the tunes and get cookin’! My best advice? Taste as you go and adjust accordingly.
** The original recipe calls for puy lentils and, while this is also delicious, I have a particular fondness for the red split kind in this dish. But it depends on my mood, to be honest, and what is currently in the larder cupboard. You could also omit the lentils all together and add pasta stars in the final 10 minutes of cooking (this is particularly popular with small humans).
Warm the oil in your own Big Bob – be that a Le Creuset casserole pot or a normal soup pot (it’ll need to be fairly large) – and add the diced carrots and onions with a pinch of salt. The salt will help the onions soften and release a bit of water – I always enjoy this step because it hastens the process along. Then chuck in the diced garlic.
Allow the onions, garlic and carrots to soften slightly (but not brown), stirring frequently for about 5-10 minutes before adding the lentils. You’re not trying to cook the lentils, just coat them in the oil.
Add the wine (and then pour yourself a glass – it’s the chef’s treat, after all), followed by the tomatoes, stock, a bit of freshly ground pepper, and a generous handful of chopped parsley (be sure to leave a bit of the parsley for sprinkling over at the end).
Bring this to the boil, then turn the heat down, allowing it to simmer for about the next hour – stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, you can kick back with some TV and enjoy your wine.
After an hour, it should be cooked (just test the lentils and carrots) so serve it up in your favourite soup bowl with a sprinkling of extra parsley, pour yourself a(nother) glass of wine and toss some soft, dark green salad leaves in a splash of extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Et voila!
This soup keeps well and, as I said, it’s very forgiving when it comes to proportions so if you want to make more, just add a little more of everything and follow the above. Top tip: make this on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and enjoy it for lunch during the week; it’s the perfect lunchtime pick-me-up on dark and rainy November days, full of flavour and colour.