Lunchbreak: Lentil and Escarole Soup

Jack Bishop of America’s Test Kitchen author of Tasting Italy

Tasting Italy: A Culinary Journey by America's Test Kitchen cookbook

https://shop.americastestkitchen.com/tasting-italy-a-culinary-journey

Recipes:

Lentil and Escarole Soup

Minestra di lenticchie e scarola  Serves 6

Why This Recipe Works: Tiny, deep green, and fragrant, lentils from the high, dry plains of Castelluccio in Umbria are considered some of the world’s best: They’re packed with minerals and are especially tender. However, these superior lentils aren’t abundant—a factor that contributes to their prized status. Often paired with the region’s exceptional sausage, they’re also commonplace in soup, a favorite wintertime primo. Because Umbrian lentils hold their shape particularly well during cooking, the soup remains brothy rather than thick and creamy. Supporting ingredients vary from town to town, but we particularly liked escarole, a common hearty choice. We also included canned diced tomatoes—a classic addition—and a couple bay leaves for warmth. While many lentil and escarole soup recipes call for a long simmering time once the escarole is added, we chose to add it toward the end of cooking so the leaves retained some of their character. Finally, adding a rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano to the simmering soup gave the broth a supersavory backbone. Umbrian lentils are our preferred choice for this recipe, but brown lentils are fine, too (note that cooking time will vary).

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

1 onion, chopped fine

1 carrot, peeled and chopped fine

1 celery rib, chopped fine

Salt and pepper

6 garlic cloves, sliced thin

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

4 cups chicken broth, plus extra as needed

3 cups water

8 ounces (1 1/4 cups) Umbrian lentils, picked over and rinsed

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind (optional), plus grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving

2 bay leaves

1/2 head escarole (8 ounces), trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, carrot, celery, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until softened and lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in garlic and parsley and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in broth, water, lentils, tomatoes and their juice, Parmigiano rind, if using, and bay leaves and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover, leaving lid slightly ajar. Simmer until lentils are tender, 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

2 Discard Parmigiano rind, if using, and bay leaves. Stir in escarole, one handful at a time, and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Adjust consistency with extra hot broth as needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle individual portions with extra oil and serve, passing grated Parmigiano separately.

 

Pasta with Tomato and Almond Pesto; Serves 6 to 8

Why This Recipe Works: While the basil pesto of Genoa gets most of the attention, other regions “pound” together local ingredients to create different pastes. The pesto that originated in the port town of Trapani isn’t all about the herbs; rather, basil plays a mere supporting role to fresh tomatoes, which tint the sauce and lend fruity, vibrant sweetness. Ground almonds, which replace pine nuts, thicken the sauce and offer richness. The sauce is often made by the families of fishermen, tossed with pasta, and served under leftover pieces of the fishermen’s tiny, unwanted catches to stretch the small amount of fish. For a sauce we could make year-round, we turned to cherry or grape tomatoes rather than seasonal farmers’ market varieties. One-half cup of basil allowed just enough of its flavor to work in tandem with the tomatoes. Sometimes this pesto features a bit of heat, which we liked, so we added just a scant ½ teaspoon of minced jarred peperoncini and an optional pinch of red pepper flakes, which gave the pesto a welcome zing

12 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted

1 tablespoon stemmed, patted dry, and minced jarred peperoncini

1 garlic clove, minced

Salt and pepper

Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound linguine or spaghetti

1 ounce Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (1/2 cup), plus extra for serving

1 Process tomatoes, basil, almonds, peperoncini, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper flakes, if using, in food processor until smooth, about 1 minute, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. With processor running, slowly add oil until incorporated. (Pesto can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. To prevent browning, press plastic wrap flush to surface or top with thin layer of olive oil. Bring to room temperature before using.)

2 Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to pot. Add pesto and Pecorino and toss to combine. Adjust consistency with reserved cooking water as needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, passing extra Pecorino separately.