I was in a pub in County Cork on New Year’s Eve 10 years ago when the euro was introduced in 2002. We were staying with some friends whose parents had a holiday home in Schull, and I remember there was a German woman sitting in the corner of the pub smoking a pipe. After midnight, when we paid for our pints with Irish pounds, our change was handed back in euros, the notes starch-crisp and the coins shiny, fresh from the mint. It was the middle of the Celtic Tiger and everything was still possible. A decade later, with a wallet full of coins circulated from all over the European Union, no one seems to know what will happen now. Will the euro still be around by New Year’s Eve 2012? Will I be lugging around those old heavy Irish punts instead?
I’m just like everyone else I know these days – worried about money, a little scared about the future and nervous at what the coming year might bring. I’ve stopped reading the papers (again), put off by all the doom and gloom and financial crises I don’t understand. Instead, I retreat to my kitchen and make soup. This time of year calls for a big pot of lentil vegetable soup, in the spirit of the Italian tradition of eating lentils in the new year, when their coin-like shape becomes symbolic of wealth and luck. Who couldn’t use a little of that these days? I’ll take it wherever I can get it and eating some lentils is as good a place as any to start. That, and a lotto ticket.
Wishing all our readers a happy, healthy and (hopefully!) prosperous new year!
The Barefoot Contessa’s Lentil Vegetable Soup
adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten
Serves 8 to 10
This makes a lot of soup, but I make a full batch anyway and freeze half of it for another time. Otherwise, just halve the recipe if you don’t want to make quite so much. If you’ve got a Parmesan rind hanging around (I always save them for soups and pasta sauces), add it to the soup along with the stock for an extra umami hit.
1 lb (450 g) French green lentils
3 large yellow onions, chopped
2 leeks, white part only, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon ground cumin
8 celery stalked, chopped
4 to 6 carrots, chopped
3 quarts (3 liters) vegetable stock (or use chicken stock if you’re not worried about keeping it vegetarian)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons red wine or red wine vinegar
freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to serve
In a large bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Drain.
In a large stockpot on medium heat, saute the onions, leeks, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, and cumin for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are translucent and tender. Add the celery and carrots and saute for 10 more minutes. Add the stock, tomato paste, and lentils. If you have a Parmesan rind hanging around, add that in too. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 1 hour, until the lentils are cooked through. Check the seasonings. Add the red wine and serve hot, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with grated Parmesan.