This soup is hearty and intense and the absolutely best remedy for a brittle, cold winter day — a meal in a bowl that also leaves your home smelling amazing. (I kinda wanted to eat the air.) A few other things I liked about it: it didn’t require you to have broth or stock on hand; you only need to use water because the other ingredients are so aromatic and deeply flavored, it’s not necessary. You could easily make it vegetarian by skipping the sausage. And you could veganize it by skipping the sausage and romano cheese. What you are absolutely not allowed to skip is the sizzling garlic oil as a finish. Drizzled onto the bowls at the last minute (especially with the salty romano cheese on top), it raises the bar, unforgettably.
One P.S. I have a weird aversion to overcooked greens in soups, so only added what I needed right before serving, into the portion we were going to eat. It kept them vibrant, and I kept the leftover greens for today’s eagerly anticipated leftovers.
- 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
- 4 large links of sweet Italian sausage, casings removed (I used half of this, preferring the sausage to not dominate the soup’s flavor)
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 celery stalks, sliced or diced
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into half-moons or diced
- 4 cloves garlic, sliced (reserve half for later in recipe)
- Kosher salt
- A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 cup brown lentils, sorted and rinsed
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 6 cups water
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 to 4 cups shredded or thinly ribboned Swiss chard leaves or kale
- Grated Pecorino Romano cheese to finish
Heat 1/4 cup olive oil (enough to coat bottom of pot) in a large pot on medium heat. When hot, add the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until it starts to brown, about five minutes. Add the onion, celery, carrots, first two garlic cloves, a pinch fo salt, and if you like your soup spicy, a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook with the sausage until the vegetables soften a bit, another 5 minutes. Add the lentils, bay leaves, tomatoes, water, more salt and black pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook until the lentils are tender, about 40 minutes. (It might be necessary to add more water if the soup gets too thick, though we preferred ours on the thick side.)
When the lentils are cooked, add the chard and cook until the leaves are tender, just a few minutes more. Discard the bay leaves.
To finish, divide soup among bowls, then add the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and 2 garlic cloves to a small skillet and heat over medium until the garlic softens and hisses. Drizzle this over soup bowls, and top with fresh Romano, passing more at the table. Leftovers will keep for several days in the fridge.