A bowl of cheerfulness

Lentil Soup
I spent a wonderful, woolly-jumpered day yesterday planting my tulips (fiery orange Ballerina and deepest purple Queen of Night for the back garden and pretty, stripy Spring Green for the front), lots of pom-pomy purple alliums and a huge basketful of Cheerfulness, that most appropriately named of daffodils.

And, thrillingly – to me, at least – I dug over beds, tugged out tough old roots and bits of rubble to make spaces for my new fruit bushes, Malling Jewel raspberries, Ben Lomond blackcurrants and Versailles Blanche whitecurrants. I could plant them for their names alone. I know, I know, it’s the horticultural equivalent of picking a horse because you like its name or the colours of the jockey’s silks, but I’ve funded many a day at the races that way (much to my form-following friends’ annoyance) so I hope this little experiment will prove just as successful.

It’s been a blustery old weekend so I retreated to the kitchen often, covered in muck and virtue, to warm up a bit and give my soup a stir.

Trolling the aisles of Waitrose the other day, I found an intriguing bag of pulses, Cerreto’s Organic Minestrone with Kamut Soup mixture. I love beans and pulses, not just for their beautiful names – adzuki, borlotti, cannellini, flageolet, haricot (cf plants, horses) – but for the way they look like tiny, brightly-coloured sea-washed pebbles while soaking in their bowl of water; their toothsome texture in soups and salads and the amiable way in which they take on the flavours of their culinary companions. They’re perfect for winter soups like this one…

Winter minestrone

Lentil Soup - Spooned

I hate to throw anything out until I’ve squeezed the last glimmer of possibility out of it. When I’ve grated Parmesan down to the rind, I bag the rind up and pop it in the freezer to add flavour to soups later on. And I’m afraid my thrift doesn’t end there – when I’ve fished it out of the soup, I dry it out and cut it into tiny morsels which become Barney’s favourite treat ever, even better, I’m afraid to say, than Doggy Breath Bones.

You need to start this soup the day before, by soaking the beans and pulses, but after that it’s simplicity itself.

Serves 6.

1 tbsp olive oil
3 slices of unsmoked bacon or pancetta cut into 2cm pieces
2 onions, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
1 stick of celery, finely diced
3 cloves of garlic, halved and finely sliced
1 500g packet of Cerreto Organic Minestrone with Kamut Soup mixture (or your own favourite combination of dried peas, barley, lentils, red lentils, kamut, chickpeas, black beans, green adzuki beans, cannellini beans, haricot beans, red kidney beans) soaked in plenty of cold water for 12 hours
1 bouquet garni – a few stalks of parsley and some sprigs of thyme tied together with a bay leaf
2.25 l good chicken or vegetable stock
Parmesan – a rind for seasoning if possible, some more for grating over the top
A handful of parsley leaves, tough stalks removed and finely chopped
Some fruity extra virgin olive oil for trickling over the top
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Warm the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the bacon or pancetta and fry until they just begin to take on some colour. Remove it from the pan and set aside while you sauté the vegetables in the oil and bacony fat. Lower the temperature a bit and add the onions. Cook them very gently until they’re soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the carrots and celery and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute. Drain the beans and add to the pot with the bacon or pancetta, bouquet garni, stock and Parmesan rind if using. Simmer very gently, partially covered, for 2 hours. Stir the soup from time to time and top up with a little boiling water from the kettle if it looks a bit dry. The beans should be very tender. Remove the Parmesan rind and bouquet garni. Stir in the parsley and season well with salt and lots of black pepper. Ladle into warmed bowls, grate over some Parmesan and trickle on a little good olive oil.

22 thoughts on “A bowl of cheerfulness

  1. Oh well, as I said in my list of ingredients you can always make up your own favourite combination of dried peas, barley, lentils, red lentils, kamut, chickpeas, black beans, green adzuki beans, cannellini beans, haricot beans, red kidney beans. Just use what you have and what you love, like all good cooks.


  2. Hello all, Sorry for being silent for so long. The last few weeks have been so frantic I've barely had time to work on my blog and I have missed it. Handpicked, so sorry to be lacking in Christmas yumminess, I suppose I'll have to concentrate on making every day a treat to make up for it! Hope you and the cubs had a lovely one.
    Mariana – How touched I am by your lovely Christmas wishes. I hope you and yours (and all of your creatures) had a blissful, delicious Christmas and look forward to lots more antipodean tales in 2010.
    Penny – hurray! what did you cook?? Merry Christmas to you too.
    Simply Life – Thank you – I could do with a bowl right now, it's so cold!

    Merry Christmas to all. Dxx


  3. Yum. Makes you want to slurp away next to the fire. Will you be doing some Christmas yumminess soon? Hope so. Just put the tree up, drinking mulled wine (kinda, red wine, but the effect is the same) and looking forward to feeling twinkly.


  4. I love beans too. Your minestrone sounds sooo comforting. We are experiencing severe hot weather at the moment and yet I could still down a bowl of that gorgeous soup. I hope you are getting fit with all that gardening.
    Gosh cold, blustery days; that sounds like heaven to me right now.


  5. Catherine – Of course, I remember you – thank you so much for your lovely comments and for my little 'present'. I am very touched. And do come and hang out whenever you like – you're very welcome.


  6. Oh my! I would love to just hang out with you or even be a fly on the wall when your cooking in the kitchen.

    I had your blog on my favorites over at Quite Simply Me and have since changed over. Not sure if you remember me or not.

    I have a little something for you on my blog – I hope it sends people your way. I know they will love reading your blog as much as I do! 🙂

    xo Cat


  7. Thank you, Karine.

    Woody, I'm delighted you like the soup so much. I know this soup mix is available in our local Waitrose, as I saw it there last night. Perhaps worth asking at your local branch if it's not on the shelves? But you could always just make up your own mixture of dried pulses and grains. I'm sure it would be delicious.


  8. I have totally fallen in love with this soup and for the first time EVER I had an 'Oliver moment' when my family asked for more!! And guess what – none of the supermarkets stock it – is it a production problem.? HELP


  9. OH, well that makes a LOT more sense. I think I like “pulse” better than “legume”, but gosh, don't you wonder about the origins of that duet of words? If George ever needs a pulse pal, I'm here for him.



  10. Sadly, Miss Confused But Game, they're nothing to do with George Clooney. I think y'all call them legumes, and I'm sure ol' George tucks into a bowl or two of them when he's at his house at Lake Garda.



  11. Please hold…what the hell is a PULSE? We Yanks only know that as something that jumps erratically around when George Clooney is nearby!

    Confused but game,
    PS-ADORE soups and this sounds like a winner in every way!


  12. W – Your wish is my command! You should try this – Dad would love it and I promise it's easy.
    Silke – They certainly do make the house smell wonderful.
    Kiss my spatula – Lovely to see you. A bowl of this, some warm bread and a glass of red = heaven.
    Catherine – I've made this twice now and have single portions stored in the freezer for when the soup dragon taps on my shoulder.
    Scarlett – Oh, I'm pleased you think the fruit bushes are a good choice. I'm so excited to see how they do. I don't have a lot of space, so I wanted to grow things which are expensive or difficult to buy. You don't have any tips on gooseberry varieties do you? I'm planning a space for them next.

    In the second batch I made of the soup, I didn't have bacon so I left it out and threw in some dried mushrooms, adding the water used to soak them in to my vegetable stock and it made a very tasty bowl I can tell you. I love your comment about thrift. So true.

    Love to all, Dxx


  13. You've made an excellent choice in your fruit bushes, regardless of your reasons for choosing! I look forward to hearing how they fare, and how they taste, in due course.

    I LOOOOVE soups, and I particularly love lentils. As a veggie I eat a fair amount of pulses, but I'd leave the bacon out.

    I also keep the parmesan rind for flavouring soups and stews. Thrift is a good thing – the thrifty will never go hungry!


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