The last time I tasted this soup I was but just a kid. I was transported immediately back to childhood on tasting it again a few days ago. I didn’t grow up in the rolling hills of Tuscany, plucking olives, lemons and basil for lunch; I don’t have a romantic back story about watching nonna baking bread everyday and turning the freshly squeezed goat’s milk in to cheese. Food was sustenance and fairly basic overall when growing up. But there were times that I was subjected to homemade cooking that made me smile and feel secure, in particular during harsh Yorkshire winters. I recently asked my ma for the recipe of this fabulous soup from my childhood. The recipe was actually passed down from my paternal grandma; a simple cook who just cooked wonderfully; still to this day I try and replicate her aerated, soft and silky scrambled eggs, and I haven’t quite got there, yet.
This soup is a celebration of earthy root vegetables, salty smoked ham hock, ripened tomatoes and red lentils. It’s warming, comforting, filling and you just wish you had slippers made of it so you could slip into them on a cold winter’s night. It’s as comforting as the smells and sounds of a crackling fire. I made this soup a little thicker, by adding more lentils, than that of the one I remember from my younger days but every flavour took me back to the original.
More so, the flavours and texture made it a great companion of soured cream, swirled or dolloped with loose abandon. An umami rich, acidic and bitey cheese also made for an ingenious foil to the creaminess of the soup. Here I broke with tradition from my childhood memories and made Reggiano and fennel seed crisps. Three or four at most suffices due to their intensity; if you go ahead and make them with this soup you would agree that nature surely intended them to be lovers.
I used the wonders of the pressure cooker for this recipe which both hastened the cooking process and provided a more intense flavour. However, the traditional method of slow stove cooking is equally as rewarding, with the benefit of the homely smells permeating throughout the household and indeed the nearby streets.
Lentil, Hock and Roots - A Comforting Homemade SoupPrint
- For the Soup:
- ■ 1 brown onion | Peeled and kept whole.
- ■ 4 medium tomatoes | Ripe tomatoes are best.
- ■ 500g red lentils | Most are actually orange or golden in colour.
- ■ 1-1.5kg smoked ham hock |
- ■ 4.5 litres cold water |
- Root Vegetables:
- ■ 2 brown onions | Grated.
- ■ 3 large carrots | Grated. I used a very tasty heirloom variety.
- ■ 1 medium turnip | Grated.
- Or use any other grated non-starchy (e.g. not potato) root vegetable such as parsnip and swede.
- ■ Seasoning of sea salt and black pepper, as required.
Place the red lentils, ham hock, whole tomatoes, the whole onion and the 4.5 litres of cold water in a pressure cooker or large stock pot. Bring to the boil. Skim any foamy impurities from the surface.
If using a pressure cooker, cover, bring up to pressure and cook for 30 minutes and then release the pressure. If using a stock pot, cover and turn the heat to low. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Carefully remove the ham hock and put it on a board to cool. Remove the whole onion. Now carefully pick out the tomato skins with a pair of tongs. The tomatoes themselves will naturally disintegrate in to the soup once agitated.
Now carefully remove the meat from the hock (once it has cooled enough to handle) and discard any fatty and gristly pieces, and any skin. Cut the meat into small pieces and add back to the soup. Discard the bones. Now taste the soup to see if it needs seasoning – add sea salt and cracked black pepper according to your taste. Add the grated onions, carrots and turnip, or other roots vegetables that you are using, to the soup. Add herbs if you so desire. To be honest, I don’t add any and feel the soup is better for it.
Bring the soup back to the boil.
If using a pressure cooker, cover, bring up to pressure and cook for 1 hour and 30 minutes and then release the pressure. If using a stock pot, cover and turn the heat to low. Cook for 3 hours.
Once the soup is cooked check the taste and add further seasoning if required. Serve hot.
You can leave the soup to cool and refrigerate overnight. Warm it up again and it will have most certainly intensified in flavour. Regardless, serve it with a good quality sour cream and something cheesy like cheesy toasted soldiers or Reggiano-Parmigiano crisps.