Lentil soup will warm December nights

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

A hearty soup made from scratch doesn't have to be a long project. Here's a case in point: a savory lentil soup with flavor that comes from vegetables and plenty of garlic, that you can serve up in your soup bowls or mugs in about half an hour.

Lentil Soup with Serrano Ham and Arugula

1 1/2 cups lentils

8 cups very hot tap water

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 medium onions, very finely chopped

3 medium carrots, very thinly sliced

2 celery ribs, thinly sliced

5 garlic cloves, 4 thinly sliced and 1 minced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

Crushed red pepper

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 ounces thinly sliced serrano ham or prosciutto, cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips

1 bunch arugula (1/4 pound), thick stems discarded

In a large saucepan, cover the lentils with the water and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a medium soup pot, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onions, celery and sliced garlic. Cover and cook the vegetables over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until they are softened, 5 to 6 minutes. Carefully add the lentils and the boiling water. Add the tomato paste and 1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper to the soup and season with salt and black pepper. Cook the soup over moderate heat until the lentils are tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil until shimmering. Add the minced garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the ham and a generous pinch of crushed red pepper to the skillet and cook for 30 seconds. Add the arugula and cook just until wilted, 30 seconds longer. Ladle the soup into large bowls, garnish with the ham and arugula, and serve.

Makes 6 servings.

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