Lentil, Zucchini, Tomato & Mixed Vegetable Soup
Now, don't go getting too excited- or even a little upset about the title of this post- it is not referring to any startling new standard in culinary excellence or to the next great food craze... but it is simply referring to the fact that the cold weather is here already. This is my first soup in quite a while now- but it most definitely will not be the last! Especially and at least for the next 5-6 months it won't!
The best thing about the weather turning bad is that I do love soup! I love soups and casseroles and Winter dishes in general- although the challenge is of course always: time. After a long work-day, you obviously may neither have the time, nor the energy to start preparing stews and slow-cooking dishes of that kind. So a nice, comforting, hot bowl of soup, freshly made from scratch and finished in just 30 minutes is not a bad thing, right?
And no- I may used pre-made pasta, pizza dough or pastry- but you will never catch me eating soup from a can! Those other things are just flour and water, with maybe a little egg, butter or yeast in them. Nice if you make them yourself- but at the end of the day- just flour and water. But for an actual meal... come on! The main ingredients, the produce- should be fresh!
This would have been finished even more quickly if it hadn't been for the fact that the dry lentils take 30 mins until they are ready, if you haven't soaked them in advance. And I hadn't. So it took longer... doh! No matter- it was still easy to improvise and this is how I put it together.
I started off with a "sofritto" of carrot, onion and celery in a relatively fine dice. For my generous single portion, all I needed was a half of a carrot, 1 tender stick of celery and a shallot. I fried these in a little olive oil, with a hint of crushed garlic, rosemary and oregano, for 2-3 minutes. I then added a good handful of lentils, a tablespoon of tomato paste and seasoned with salt and pepper. I also happened to have one lone, yellow pepper- one of those mini bell peppers- and I quickly diced that up and added it too. That's the way it is with minestrone soups... you use what you have!
Once everything was nicely mixed together, I added a couple of bay leaves and then deglazed the pan with enough boiling water to cover everything. I used a large, deep pan as the larger surface area helped to cook the soup down more quickly.
Whilst it bubbled away, I diced,up a small zucchini and sliced a good handful of cherry tomatoes- 5-6 were plenty for this. I also finely sliced a Spring onion and after 15 minutes of cooking, these all went into the pan with the other ingredients and I topped up the water and seasoning as necessary- a little more tomato paste, a little more oregano and a couple of finely chopped celery leaves. Then on went the lid, and back on to a medium heat it went to simmer away for another 10 minutes.
After that time, all of the vegetables were nicely cooked, the broth was good and tasty and the lentils were done... all it needed was a couple of finishing touches! And they looked like this: a couple of handfuls of arugula, a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of coarsely ground black pepper and a good stir! In that order of course- haha!
Then back went the lid, off went the heat and out came my bowl ready for my supper! After 5 minutes, the arugula had wilted down and the soup was ready to be dished-up! I love the nutty flavor it added and the hint of peppery bitterness, which went wonderfully well with the mild zucchini and the fruity tomatoes. Yes, it was a nice rustic treat on this first "cold" evening of the year and warming through and through!