Saturday, April 30, 2011

Italian Sausage and Lentil Soup

And this is how it began.  Clockwise from top left:  brown lentils from the Palouse; my homemade "passata"; my quickly defrosting chard from my garden; my homemade mild Italian sausage out of the casing; my sausage in the casing; my friend, Marsha's, beautiful garlic and onions; kosher salt; and sour cream.  All together they make soup.

I once had a soup similar to this at La Cucina, Cucina in Spokane, WA.  I loved it and this is the duplicate I came up with at home.  The sausage is so flavorful that I don't add any other herbs to the soup.  The heat from the sausage is just enough.  It is a soup in which every ingredient has its separate place on the tongue so that each individual flavor can be found but the overall flavor is rich and mellow with just enough hot spiciness and deliciousness that it's hard to stop eating before that feeling of being sated sets in.

To make the soup, I saute one large or several small onions, garlic (at least five or more cloves, crushed), and sausage (I take it out of the casing).  Then I add the chard, followed by the passata and enough water to allow the lentils to expand with a bit more for a soupier texture.  After it cooks for a while, I check for seasoning.  If it needs more salt, which it usually does, I salt to taste.  Actually, I bring it to the saltier side because after adding the sour cream some of the saltiness is absorbed by the cream.

I usually make a large batch of soup because I like to put the excess into one pint glass canning jars, screw on any old lid, and stick it into our chest freezer to have at some future date.  The one pint jars are just enough for one person because, of course, I have to leave at least an inch of head room so that the frozen soup doesn't break the glass.  For this batch I used one pound of lentils, three medium onions, eight cloves of garlic, about three cups of frozen chard, two heaping tablespoons of passata, twelve cups of water, and about a half to three quarters cup of sour cream.

Italian Sausage and Lentil Soup

Spinach or any other flavorful green can be substituted for the chard.  The sour cream is added at the end to help blend the flavors and mellow the contrasts in flavors.  I call my canned, roasted, pureed tomatoes a passata.  In my mind it's a true passata but I've seen other definitions.  At the end of summer, just before the big frost should hit, I strip my tomato plants of all tomatoes no matter what color they are.  The under ripe greens are separated from the rest of the tomatoes and allowed to ripen in my sun room.  I can usually make some last into the very first days of December.

The passata is the perfect dish to make in the evening and finish the next morning.  The ripe tomatoes are rinsed, dried, and ready to cut.  I cut out the stem end and any flaws.  Into a large casserole or baking dish, I drizzle some olive oil.  Then I add the tomatoes, and whatever else moves me that evening.  Sometimes I also add some garlic or onions or even balsamic vinegar.  I cook it all at 325 F until about half the juice of the tomatoes is gone.  The tops are always dark and well carmelized.  Then I leave it to cool in the oven until the next morning.

Whenever I get around to it the next morning, I throw the whole mess into my Cuisinart so that I don't have to worry about skins and seeds.  I pack it into sterilized, wet canning jars with some lemon juice (depending on the size of the jar).  The lemon juice insures that the tomatoes have enough acidity so that they don't spoil.  I always check my Ball or Kerr canning book to remind myself of how much lemon juice.  Yes, I have reached a point in my life when so much is in the very gray brain cells that it's always easier to just re-check my memory because I certainly don't want to kill myself eating my own canned goods!  Finally, I finish off the canning in a boiling water bath.  The tops seal and they go into my root cellar (a cool, dark place).  I use the "passata" in soups, stews, sauces, and even as a topping for crostini.

I have to have bread with my soup.  I make my own bread.  The one pictured happens to be Jim Lahey's (Sullivan Bakery, NYC) No Knead Bread.  I make it with sourdough starter, water, beer, and whatever flour I'm in the mood for.  The one pictured has unbleached white, kamut, and flax seed meal.  It loved the soup and I loved it all!  Yummy!


Anonymous said...

Hi Linda,

I read about your passata both on your site and Mrs. Wheelbarrow's. I am new to canning but would like to try this and have several questions. My understanding is that when canning tomatoes in a water bath that there should be no oil added is it still ok to oil the dish? Also, do I need to reheat the roasted tomatoes the next day before putting them in the jars and processing? Finally, do you roast the tomatoes in a single layer in the casserole or can they be several layers thick?
Thanks so much,

Linda/IdahoRocks said...

Hi Lisa,

I only put a thin film of oil in the pyrex dish or casserole dish (depending on how many tomatoes I have), so the tomatoes don't stick. I don't know what a professional would say about this but to compensate I add a generous 1/2 - 1 tsp. of lemon juice to the jars, and stir it in. The stirring also helps break up any air pockets. Before cooking, I do salt them generously. Sometimes I cook a few onions or some garlic with the tomatoes, as well as some balsamic vinegar, but remember that those affect the flavor. I cook them at 325F, until the tops are blackened and half the liquid is gone. The dish becomes filled with liquid as the tomatoes cook, but eventually this liquid begins to evaporate. Because I use a pyrex or other low-sided casserole dish, I just fill it to the top with tomatoes. As long as the tomatoes are at room temperature or warmer, and the jars are still warm from sterilizing, you don't need to re-heat them. The problem with cool/cold food in a boiling water bath is that the jar will break or explode because of the temperature difference. Adding the lemon juice at the end is very, very important, and be sure to adjust for altitude for the boiling water bath. Good luck!