Stone Soup...

For better or worse, we live in a world that is saturated with advertising. As a result, whenever I think about winter, and winter foods specifically, I cannot help but think about that iconic Campbell's soup ad from 1998, when a snowman comes out of the cold, sits down to a steaming hot bowl of Campbell's, and melts to reveal a young boy trapped inside. It encapsulates everything about why we eat soup during cold weather.

Still, we've been eating rather less soup than usual this year, probably because the warmer-than-usual temps this winter have pushed thoughts of comfort food to the back of my mind this season. However, I found myself in need of a way to dispose of some leftover parsnips that have been kicking around my crisper drawer ever since I made an ill-fated (and non-blog-worthy) attempt at making a Hungarian-style chicken and dumpling soup sometime last year. (Root vegetables stay good a long time, y'all!) Even though I don't really care much for parsnips, I hated the idea of tossing them after only using a couple, so I went hunting around in search of another recipe that could help  me use them up.

As it turned out, I didn't have to go far; I already had a recipe in my "maximum freezer content utilitzation plan" for lentil soup that happened to call for parsnips. The soup recipe had made it on my list because it also called for Italian sausage, and we discovered several random links tucked into different corners of the freezer that were leftovers from various recipes that only called for four links of sausage, rather than a whole package. As if those two features weren't enough to recommend it, the recipe also called for spinach, which we needed to buy anyway for one of Justin's favorite curry dishes that he was planning on making to take for lunch this week. All the pieces were falling into place nicely.

Besides, I had been looking for a new lentil soup recipe for a while now. I only started eating lentils after college, and I've added a few recipes employing the healthy, protein-rich pulses to my repertoire, but I wasn't really satisfied with the lentil soup recipe I had inherited from my mom, who had originally found it in an old issue of Early American Life magazine. It was good, but it called for red wine, of which I am not a huge fan. How many other people can say that they don't know what to do with the wine that is leftover from cooking? I never wanted to drink the rest on its own, so I had beeb looking for a recipe that could stand on its own without the addition of booze for years.

I think I have finally found my go-to lentil soup recipe at long last. I liked the spicy kick from the sausage, the sweetness of the vegetables (though the parsnips were a little strong, to be honest), and the extra feeling of doing something good for myself with the spinach. I know, I know, if I left out the sausage, it would be even healthier, but I really enjoyed the meaty texture and flavor with all the other ingredients. I'm just not ready to go vegetarian yet!

Plus, this recipe yielded a ton of soup; in fact, it just barely fit in the large pot we were using. We will be set for lunches for the rest of the week, so if you are ready for a hearty, warming and delicious bowl of soup and you want to minimize the amount of time you'll spend in the kitchen this week, I definitely recommend you give this lentil soup a try.

Lentil Soup with Spicy Italian Sausage
adapted from Bon App├ętit

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb. spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
1 large onion, chopped
2 large carrots
2 large parsnips
2 large celery stalks
2 1/2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
1 lb. brown lentils
3 quarts chicken stock
1 5 oz. package of baby spinach leaves

Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add sausage and cook until browned, stirring occasionally. Using slotted spoon, transfer sausage to bowl. Add onion, carrots, parsnips, celery, and Italian seasoning blend to drippings in pot; cook until onion is translucent and vegetables begin to soften, stirring often, 7 to 8 minutes. Add lentils; stir to coat. Add 3 quarts broth. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium and simmer until lentils are tender, stirring occasionally and adding more broth by 1/4 cupfuls if soup is too thick, 20 minutes.

Add sausage to soup and simmer until vegetables are tender and flavors blend, 10 to 12 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in spinach. Cook until spinach is wilted, about 3 minutes.

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