My birthday: a day of groceries and laundry and nothing particularly special, so I decided to take my youngest out for lunch. Minutes before we left the house, however, her eyes went wide. 'Nappy!' she yelled urgently, 'Now'!'; then proceeded to fill it in spectacular fashion. As I cleaned her up, I asked how she was feeling. 'Not so good,' she said, 'my tummy funny'. Should we go out, I asked. 'Maybe not,' she said, then, one finger raised to the ceiling and a broad smile on her face she said, 'I have an idea: we could have birthday lunch at home!'.
Such a stroke of brilliance from a two year old is rather touching, all things considered; and we stayed in. I read a few more stories and built a marble run, then we sat down to lunch at, as always, the back table. Happily, I had made lentil soup earlier in the week, and we had some good cheese. As I sniffed my soup, I reflected that being home for lunch, while mundane, could still be very pleasant indeed.
When I had made the soup, I was looking for the autumnal feel of lentils without heaviness. Rather than a spicy thick red slurry, I had imagined pretty slate-green lentils, which hold their shape so well, piled into a light broth. I added carrots for their sweetness, and celeriac for its light clean flavour; and after the vegetables had sautéed for a while I threw in a generous slosh of martini bianco and let it reduce.
Martini bianco is a sweet Italian vermouth, herbaceous with a hint of vanilla. Vermouth is a mixer, but as I have no head for strong martinis I mix it into soup, stew and risotto instead! Here, the sweetly herbal flavour cut through any tendency to heaviness. The soup ended up gentle, fragrant, and soothing; everything I could have wanted in a week of nippy mornings, sunny days and exciting nappy events!
Lentil and Celeriac Soup
- 1 brown onion
Chop the onions finely. Warm the olive oil in a soup pot, and add the onions and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat while you chop the celeriac and carrots into small dice. When the onions are translucent, add the celeriac, carrots and bay leaf, and push them around with a wooden spoon until they are glossy. Add a slosh of vermouth (2 to 3 tablespoons), and let it reduce, which it will do almost immediately.
Add the lentils and the water, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, and let cook for half an hour. Taste for salt, remembering that lentils do need a good bit of salt, and cook for another ten to fifteen minutes, or until the lentils are just cooked. Puy lentils hold their shape; you are not looking for sludge.
Serve with a good sprinkling of freshly chopped parsley, and a swirl of olive oil.
This soup is delicious immediately. You can store it for a few days in the fridge, as did I, but the lentils absorb all the moisture and you will need to add more water each time you re-heat it, thus diluting the already light flavour; it was best on the first day.
(Local: onions, celeriac, carrots, lentils, bay leaf, parsley, olive oil. Not local: vermouth, salt, pepper.)