Ever since I married an Australian, one of those rare moments of perspicacity, I have developed a fondness for all things antipodean. For many months, I’ve been wanting to join in the “Hay Hay it’s Donna Day” event, needing no other motivation than the fact that it is from down under. This month’s event focused on pesto, and is hosted by two blogs I have long enjoyed: 80 Breakfasts and Bron Marshall.
For HHDD, I decided to make an arugula pesto, and put it to work similar to an aioli in a soup. In this case, I made a rich lentil soup with ham and a healthy dose of tarragon that complemented the pesto marvelously.
1 cup arugula, finely chopped (1 cup after being chopped)
3 small/medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 tbsp lightly toasted pine nuts, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely grated pecorino romano cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
a small pinch of salt
The Donna Hay recipe that 80 Breakfasts put forth used a rough chop method. I decided to loosely follow in those footsteps and leave the food processor in the cupboard, but I still ended up chopping everything pretty finely.
To lightly toast the pine nuts, heat up a non-stick saute pan and then toast the pine nuts for a minute or so, shaking the pan to move and roll the nuts around.
I should note that when I normally make pesto to eat with pasta or with bread, I go much lighter on the garlic, but this pesto was purpose-made for the following soup. I had the strong garlic aioli of Provence in mind as a rough inspiration.
Lentil and Ham Soup
1/2 lb dried lentils, washed
3 carrots, 2 roughly chopped, 1 whole
3 celery stalks, 2 finely chopped, 1 whole
5 small/medium garlic cloves, minced
2 medium/large onions (1 white, 1 spanish)
1 cup of smoked ham, chopped in a 1/3 inch dice
4 slices of bacon, cut into 1/3 inch pieces
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp salt + more to taste
3 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp tarragon, finely chopped
1/8 tsp ground pepper (to taste)
In a large soup pot, heat up a tbsp or so of olive oil and saute, over medium heat, the garlic and onions until onions are translucent. Remove onions to a bowl and place the bacon into the pot. Cook the bacon until it is 2 or 3 minutes away from being crispy, then add in the ham and cook, stirring occasionally, for another couple of minutes. Remove the bacon and ham to the bowl with the onions and drain any excess bacon fat.
Heat up the pot again with medium-high heat and deglaze the bottom of the pan with the white wine. Add back in the onions, bacon and ham, and stir in the lentils, chopped carrots, chopped celery, tomato paste, salt, parsley, and tarragon. Pour in enough water to about 2 inches above the tops of the vegetables. Add in the whole carrot and celery stalk (for added flavor), and the bay leaf.
Bring to a boil and then immediately lower down to a gentle simmer. Skim any foam or excess oil off of the surface as it cooks, and simmer for 3 hours (if you can wait that long). Taste for salt and pepper, and if the soup is looking too thick for your liking, add some boiling water as needed. Before serving, discard the whole carrot, whole celery stalk and bay leaves.
Serve in a bowl with a large dollup of pesto in the middle. As with most soups, this only gets better the next day.
Additional notes: I do not usually make lentil soup with tarragon, but found that it added an interesting element (and I like the herb – if you are less sure, halve the amount). In particular, I found that the tarragon complemented the pesto extraordinarily well, and the two together elevated a hearty, peasant-like lentil soup to another level of sophistication.
If you choose not to go with the tarragon and pesto flavoring as shown here, serve the soup with a nice handful of roughly chopped flat leaf parsley.