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      RECIPE TITLE "Lentil Minestrone"
    recipe excerpted from Best Vegetarian Recipes : From Greens to Grains, from Soups to Salads: 200 Bold-Flavored Recipes
    by Martha Rose Shulman

    yieldsMakes 4 to 6 Generous Servingstime-- difficultyeasy

    From France to Italy to Lebanon to India to Mexico, lentils are appreciated for their distinctive earthy flavor. Any lentil soup can be a main dish. This one, with pasta or rice added at the end and Parmesan sprinkled over each serving, is another Italian minestrone, or "big soup." The pasta and rice absorb much of the liquid, so the soup is thick (you can add more water if you want a brothier soup). Use just enough cayenne to add a little bite.

      RECIPE INGREDIENTS

    1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
    1 small onion, chopped
    1 small carrot, minced (about 1/2 cup)
    1/2 cup minced celery
    4 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
    One 14-ounce can tomatoes with juice, seeded and chopped
    1 1/2 cups lentils, picked over and rinsed
    1 Parmesan rind (optional)
    Few sprigs parsley
    Few sprigs thyme
    1 bay leaf
    Few pinches of cayenne pepper, or to taste
    Salt to taste
    1/2 cup small pasta, such as elbow macaroni, small shells, or ditalini, or Arborio rice
    Freshly ground black pepper to taste
    1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
    1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

      RECIPE METHOD

    1. Heat the oil over medium-low heat in a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven. Add the onion, carrot, and celery. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in half the garlic. Cook, stirring, just until the garlic smells fragrant and is beginning to color, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes. Turn the heat to medium and bring the tomatoes to a simmer. Cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have cooked down somewhat and smell fragrant. Stir in the lentils and 8 cups water and bring to a boil.
    2. Meanwhile, tie the Parmesan rind, parsley, thyme, and the bay leaf together with kitchen twine, or tie in a piece of cheesecloth. Add to the soup. Add the cayenne, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.
    3. Add salt, about 2 teaspoons to begin with (you will probably add more) and the remaining garlic. Simmer for another 15 to 30 minutes, until the lentils are tender and the broth is fragrant.
    4. Add pepper, and stir in the pasta or rice. Continue to simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the pasta or rice is cooked through.
    5. Taste. Is there enough salt? Garlic? Adjust the seasonings, and remove the Parmesan rind bundle. Stir in the chopped parsley. Serve, topping each bowl with a generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

    Advance preparation: The soup is even better if it's made a day ahead of time; but don't add the pasta or rice or parsley until you reheat. Then proceed with step 4. It will keep for 5 days in the refrigerator and for 3 to 4 months in the freezer.


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