Monday, November 16, 2015

Birds and Soup

Although it has taken its time this year, Autumn is finally really here in Arkansas. (Do I say that every year? It is possible - I grew up in the north, and fall is supposed to come around the middle or end of September, so my reference points are always a little off for living in the south.) I finished raking the backyard last week, and just about the same time I did the last several years (at least according to my Facebook posts for those days). The front still needs it, but now it is raining, so I get a reprieve. Cooler weather seems to be sticking around, and it is raining regularly after months of drought.

Other signs of autumn:
* The state tournament for my combo tennis team was this weekend (we won!!), so now starts the inevitable lull, with only a stray singles match or lesson from time to time, until the regular season starts up again in the spring. I suppose it is good for me, but it can make me antsy, not playing several times a week.
* Project FeederWatch began over the weekend, so Malcolm and I are once again watching our bird feeders with heightened interest, as we count our avian visitors. I am excited this year, because Malcolm can really, truly participate now. Last season, he watched with me, and could pick out birds, but this season, he knows what he is doing, and he is excited too. We started our count today, and I had forgotten the thrill of spotting a new bird for our weekly list, even if it is just a white throated sparrow or chickadee.
* Soup. Maybe it has been soup season for a while now where you live, but here, we are just getting to the point where I feel a need to make a pot of soup at least once a week. I have a lot of soup recipes, and I try to make different ones, but of course we have favorites. Last night we made Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard, Sausage, and Tubettini. It is an Italian recipe that my dad passed along years ago, and I am not sure which cookbook he got it out of, and even though there are many similar recipes out there on the internet, I think it is worth passing along. Just in case you too need soup.

Minestra di Lenticchie con Salsiccie e Tubettini
Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard, Sausage, and Tubettini

1/2 lb (250g) brown lentils, rinsed
10 cups (2.5 liters) light meat broth (I use 8 cups beef broth and two cups water)
1 celery rib with leaves
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped or pressed
1 onion, finely chopped
10 oz (300 g) sweet Italian sausages with fennel seeds, casings removed, crumbled (The sausage at our grocery store didn't have fennel, so I just added a teaspoon of fennel seeds to the sausage while it was cooking)
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp dried marjoram (oregano is an acceptable substitute)
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup (125 g) tubettini or other small pasta
1/2 lb (250g) Swiss chard leaves, chopped (I include the stems too, if they aren't too tough)

1) Place the lentils in a large pan or soup pot with the broth and water, celery, bay leaf, and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the lentils are nearly tender, about 20 minutes.

2) Meanwhile, in a skillet, combine the olive oil, garlic and onion. Saute over medium-low heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage (and fennel) and saute for 10 minutes until golden.

3) Dissolve the tomato paste in a little of the lentil broth. Add to the sausage and onions and stir well. Add marjoram and tomatoes and stir.

4) Stir the sausage and onion mixture, the tubettini and Swiss chard into the lentils. Simmer until the chard is tender and the pasta is al dente, about 7 minutes (or a bit longer, depending on the pasta you pick. Go by the package). Discard the celery and bay leaf, and serve.

This is really good with a fresh loaf of crusty bread and a green salad.

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