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Yield: 8 1-cup servings
Time: 1 1/2 hours, including cooking time
This soup makes a hearty, satisfying winter meal that fits easily into any healthful diet. Nearly everyone has their own version of lentil soup, most of which follow a basic pattern. This recipe, though, adds complexity to tried-and-true lentil soup. The addition of prosciutto or pancetta (cured, Italian ham and bacon, respectively), roasted tomatoes and a splash of Balsamic vinegar give this recipe a bit more depth. For a vegetarian soup, omit the pancetta or prosciutto.
4 to 5 large, ripe tomatoes, halved crosswise; stemmed and seeded
1/4 cup olive oil
3 ounces pancetta or prosciutto (optional)
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 1/2 cups finely diced carrots
1 1/2 cups finely diced celery
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly minced garlic
1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
8 cups chicken or rich vegetable broth
2 cups French green lentils*
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven broiler. Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet and arrange the tomatoes in a single layer, cut-side-down. Lightly brush each tomato with some of the olive oil and place 4 inches beneath a very hot broiler. Cook until the tomatoes darken, soften and begin to blister, about 4 to 6 minutes. Cover lightly with a towel to cool.
When cool, gently peel with a sharp paring knife (it’s not necessary to remove all the skin). Dice into 1/2-inch pieces; you should have about 2 cups.
Chop pancetta or proscuitto and cook in a sauté pan over medium-high heat until crisp and browned. Drain grease and cool on a paper towel.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the remaining olive oil in a large pot and sauté the onion, carrots, celery and garlic until soft, aromatic and richly browned, about 7 to 8 minutes (take care, though, to not scorch them).
Deglaze the pan with Balsamic vinegar, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in herbs and pancetta or prosciutto; cook another minute. Add 7 cups of broth with diced tomatoes and lentils and bring to a light boil.
Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until lentils are tender, 30 to 45 minutes. If necessary, thin soup with remaining stock. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
*French green lentils are small in size than brown lentils. They have a sweet, nutty flavor that is less earthy than that of brown lentils and they hold their shape, making them ideal for this type of soup.