Gourmandistan

Lentil soup, Le Puy and a lesson in geology

Lentil soup

Millennia ago, when volcanoes were spewing up pretty much all of modern France, part of the magma that eventually became the Auvergne was composed of pure basalt, one of the hardest minerals on Earth. (Steve once did advertising for a basalt-slurry-based corn-chute lining company, where he learned vital facts about the igneous rock.)  One of these ancient basalt pillars pokes up over Le Puy-en-Velay and hosts an 11th century chapel accessible only by climbing 268 steps—something the acrophobic Michelle can attest to, having climbed it once several years ago.

Le Puy is also home to the world’s best lentils. Red and yellow, black and white, virtually all lentils are precious in Gourmandistan’s sight—but we particularly like the green lentils of Le Puy, which stay chewy and nutty instead of turning to mush like so many of their other-colored brethren. While we enjoy them in many dishes, we  recommend this Auvergnais lentil soup, where the little legumes are emboldened by a generous dollop of smoky bacon.

LENTIL SOUP WITH BACON AND GARLIC

(adapted from Lois Anne Rothert’s The Soups of France)

  • ¼ lb. smoked bacon, finely diced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 c. dried Le Puy (or other green) lentils, well-rinsed and picked over
  • 9 c. chicken or turkey stock
  • 1 bouquet garni (4 fresh parsley stems and leaves, 2 fresh thyme sprigs or some dried thyme, 2 bay leaves and a celery stalk, placed in a cheesecloth bag)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 medium-sized waxy potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 2 carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
  • Salt and Pepper
  • ¼ c. finely minced fresh parsley

Sauté the bacon in a soup pot over medium heat, stirring often, until crisp, about 8-10 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Reserve.

Discard all but a couple of tablespoons of the bacon fat from the pot. Add the onion and sauté over low heat, stirring often, until lightly colored. Add the lentils and minced garlic and stir around in the bacon fat until the lentils are well-coated. Add the stock and bouquet garni, then bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, boil the carrots and potatoes in separate pots until they are almost tender. Drain in a colander and set aside.

Remove and discard the bouquet garni, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir the drained carrots and potatoes into the soup, then stir in the parsley and bacon pieces.  Add more stock if soup seems too thick.  (You can garnish the bowls of soup with some crème fraîche and sprinkle the bacon over that. But it seems a little fancy for such a humble soup.)

Makes 6 servings.

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