Well, it's happened - autumn is upon us with a vengeance, the garden furniture has gone into winter storage , and the days when we do have clear skies and bright sunshine are spent clearing the terrace and the paths of yet more leaf-drifts. On the pomegranate tree the leaves have turned an intense yellow, and those on the persimmon are just beginning to be tinged with orange - there's always one moment in November when they both display full autumn plumage, and the effect, looking at both across the garden, is spectacular.
And so, the days of lanquid summer lunches are over - for the moment anyway - and it's time for plates of Sergio's melt-in-the-mouth parma ham, or Caprese Salad, or Bresaola heaped on mounds of arugula and diced tomato to give way to more substantial fare. Hence, this soup. The smell as it simmers on the stove is quintessentially home-and-hearth, and the flavour of the finished product presses every button you could hope for. It also improves over time, and there's a clear argument for making enough to eat over several days - perfect after a morning's invigorating work in a cold garden!
Ingredients: 1 Carrot; 1 stick of Celery; 1 medium Onion; 1 oz of Butter; 4 tablespoons of Olive Oil; 1 400g can of Tomatoes; 250g dried Lentils; 1 litre of Chicken Stock; 1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan (or, if I have one, the last inch or so of a piece of Parmesan, which I chuck into the soup to melt, rind and all); Salt & Pepper.
1. Melt the Butter with the Oil in a large saucepan, over medium heat.
2. Peel the Carrot, then finely dice it, along with the Celery and Onion, and put everything into the pan, to cook down for ten minutes or so. Stir from time to time. The vegetables should quite definitely have collapsed by the end of this process.
3. Add the Tomatoes, stir briefly, and leave to cook over a low heat for 25 minutes, partially covered.
4. Add the Lentils. Stir to mix them in, and cook over the heat for a minute or two, then add the Chicken Stock, and leave to simmer over medium heat for fifty minutes. If using the end of a block of Parmesan, add this half way through, to allow it to melt into the soup; if using grated cheese, simply add it at the end and stir it in.
5. Check seasoning and adjust as necessary.
Better on day two, and even better on day three......if you can make it last that long!