Variation on a Theme.

Any journalism-school veteran would be happy to tell you that there are two types of stories: those with evergreen subject matter, and those of a more timely, newsy nature. We don’t do much in the way of breaking ground here at Itinerant Foodies, so that leaves us with the basics. And now that we’ve been around for while, I’m coming up against a problem that bothers magazine editors and grocery-store marketers alike: How do you put a fresh spin on standard content? For example: Autumn signals a shift from lighter, less-handled food to more substantial, slow-simmered pots of belly-warming fare. All well and good, but you’ve heard it before, no?

So, what to say about yet another version of lentil soup?

To be fair, this dish was not a soup at its inception. Originally designed as sliced sausage on a bed of lentils, it called for two pots and one frying pan, meticulous timing, and several ingredients that I didn’t have on hand. I cut out a few steps, swapped the fennel bulb for a few stalks of celery, used scallions instead of parsley, and tossed in a handful or two of kale for good measure. The result was highly edible, my first foray into seasonally appropriate cooking for the year. Still, though. It was a solid representation of the species but, in the end, just a bowl of lentil soup.

Tell us: Do you struggle to find new ways to use the same old ingredients? What’s your favorite twist on a classic preparation? Tips, please!

Sausage and Lentils with Fennel
Adapted from Gourmet | January 2007

1 cup dried lentils (preferably French green lentils; 7 ounces)
4 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 celery stalks, chopped
1/2 heaping teaspoon ground fennel
Cayenne pepper, a dash or two
2 sweet Italian sausage links
1 bunch kale or Swiss chard, chopped into ribbons
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar, or to taste
2 scallions, chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

1. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then stir in onion, carrot, celery, ground fennel, cayenne, and salt. Cover pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, about 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, lightly prick sausages in a couple of places with tip of a sharp knife, then cook sausages in remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat, turning occasionally, until golden brown and cooked through, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board.

3. When vegetables are tender, add lentils, broth, and kale. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until lentils are just tender but not falling apart, 12 to 25 minutes.

4. Stir in pepper and 1 tablespoon vinegar. Season with vinegar and salt.

5. Cut sausages diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices (or cut into bite-size pieces, if preferred). Serve lentils topped with sausage and sprinkled with scallions. Drizzle all over with extra-virgin olive oil.

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One thought on “Variation on a Theme.

  1. Jill says:

    “What’s your favorite twist on a classic preparation? Tips, please!” – Add cheese or add ginger, depending on what that classic preparation is…

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