Serves 10 to 12
Soups are always a great choice as a first course when serving a sit-down dinner. You can make them, for the most part, ahead of time, and simply ladle them hot into bowls when you are ready to sit down to eat. This hearty soup can be made a day or two in advance, though you may need to add a little water when reheating if it thickens too much. Serve with crusty bread and a salad of bitter greens for a casual lunch. Round the meal out with a platter of cheese and salumi, or turn the soup into a meal in itself by adding links of sausages in the last 40 minutes of cooking. When ready to serve, either cut the sausages into slices and serve in the soup, or transfer the sausages whole to a platter and serve with some salad as a second course. This soup will warm not only the stomach but the heart for a romantic winter dinner- and it’s ready to eat without cooking on the spot, leaving you more time to spend with your loved one.
- 4 ounces slab bacon, cut into chunks
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1 medium onion, cut into chunks
- 1 large carrot, cut into chunks
- 2 stalks celery, cut into chunks
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 pound dried cannelini beans, soaked overnight and drained
- 4 fresh bay leaves
- 1/4 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 medium green cabbage, shredded (about 2 pounds)
- 1 pound brown lentils, rinsed
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- Grated Grana Padano, for serving
In a food processor, combine the bacon and garlic and process to make a smooth paste, or pestata. In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the pestata, and cook until the bacon renders its fat, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in the same food processor, process the onion, carrot, and celery together to make a second pestata. Scrape this pestata into the pot with the bacon, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it dries out, about 6 minutes.
Clear a space in the pan and add the tomato paste. Cook and stir the tomato paste in that spot until it is toasted and darkens a bit, about 1 minute. Stir the tomato paste into the vegetables, and add 7 cups cold water. Bring the soup to a simmer, and add the drained cannellini, bay leaves, and crushed red pepper. Simmer, uncovered, until the cannellini are almost tender and the soup has reduced an inch or two in volume, about 1 hour.
Add the cabbage, and simmer until it is tender, about 20 minutes more. Add the lentils, and continue to simmer until the lentils and cannellini are very tender and the soup is thick, about 30 minutes more. Add salt and stir. Serve in soup bowls, with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of grated cheese.