I got involved in the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club Decorator Show House this spring — House Beautiful partnered with KitchenAid and designer Christopher Peacock to create an über glam kitchen in a grand Manhattan townhouse. Helping pull the kitchen together, working with the above and as well as friends at Caesarstone, Grothouse Lumber and Frontgate, was a lot of fun and the project was a huge success.
For many (including myself) the biggest highlight was our “In the Kitchen With…” culinary programming. We kicked off with the warm and charming Julia della Croce, one of America’s foremost authorities on Italian cuisine. Listing her accomplishments would take some doing so I’ll just share the words of another Julia: “Julia della Croce is my favorite Italian cookbook author,” said Julia Child.
As she prepared her recipe for lentil soup with crumbled sausage and seasonal greens Julia shared the kind of tips that stick with you, stuff that’s really useful. Here are a few of my favorites:
Lentil wisdom: not only do cooking times vary between different varieties of lentils, cooking times also change depending on the age of the lentil. Newly dried lentils cook much more quickly than ancient ones, so get them from a source with a good turnover and test during the cooking time to make sure you don’t turn them into mush.
Always use whole canned tomatoes in their own juices, not in tomato puree. I’ve always been a “more is more” kind of guy, opting for puree over juice, and said as much. Julia gave me a kind, pitying smile. So why choose tomatoes in juice? It’s all about the taste baby!
Olive oil tastes better when new. The finest oils will state the date of the pressings on the labels; the better ones have expiration dates on the bottles, so check. I did and found that bottles by the same brand were marked with different expiration dates the 2013 (older) and 2014 (newer). Good to know.
Adding sausage to lentil soup might not qualify as a “tip” per se, but I’d never made lentil soup this way and it is transformative.
Julia also whipped up a mean Pissaladière, an egg-enriched flat bread with silky onions and anchovy. For that recipe you can pick up her newest book Italian Home Cooking: 125 Recipes to Comfort Your Soul. You’ll be glad you did.
JULIA DELLA CROCE’s
LENTIL SOUP WITH SAUSAGE AND SEASONAL GREENS
Recipe from Italian Home Cooking: 125 Recipes to Comfort Your Soul, by Julia della Croce (Kyle Books, 2010)
Serves 4 to 6
½ pound (1½ cups) brown lentils
10 cups tasty chicken broth or water
1 bay leaf
5 links sweet, fennel-flavored Italian pork sausages
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 large cloves garlic, smashed
1 onion, chopped
1 large stalk celery, including leaves, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 tablespoons tomato paste
half a 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped, liquid reserved
1 cup fresh young greens such as kale, spinach, or Swiss chard leaves, roughly
½ cup tiny soup pastina, such as ditalini (“little thimble”) pasta (optional)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Pick over and wash the lentils in cold water. Transfer them to an ample pot, cover
with the broth or water, and add the bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then immediately
reduce to a simmer. Cook over medium-low heat until half-cooked, 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, slip the casings off the sausages. In an ample skillet, warm the olive
oil. Brown the sausage meat over medium heat until lightly colored all over, about 7
minutes. Transfer to a side dish and drain any excess fat from the pan, leaving 3
tablespoons. Add the garlic, onion, celery, and thyme to the pan and sauté until the
garlic is golden and the vegetables are softened and aromatic, about 5 minutes.
Return the sausage to the pan. Dissolve the tomato paste in a little of the lentil
broth and add it to the pan. Follow with the chopped tomatoes and their liquid.
Simmer all together for 5 minutes.
3. Bring the lentils to a boil once again if they have cooled down. Transfer the skillet
contents, the greens, and the pasta (if using), to the pot with the boiling lentils.
Simmer to marry flavors, about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off
the heat, cover the pot, and allow the soup to rest until the pasta is fully cooked,
about 4 more minutes. Serve hot.
Follow Julia’s Blog Forktales