Ingredients

3 sweet pork sausage links, casings removed and meat crumbled
6 cups chicken broth
1 cup dried lentils, sorted and washed (1 cup dried lentils yields 3 to 4 cups cooked)
1/2 cup ditalini
2 cups diced tomatoes
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

1. Cook the sausage in a nonstick skillet over medium heat until it is no longer pink. Set aside.
2. Pour the chicken broth into a soup pot, add the lentils, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook 30 to 35 minutes. (Do not overcook them or they will turn to mush; they should still have a bit of a firm core at this point.)
3. Stir in the ditalini, and 1 teaspoon of salt and continue cooking until the pasta is almost al dente, about 5 minutes depending on the brand. Stir in the sausage and tomatoes. Cover and simmer the soup for 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

A salad is the only accompaniment needed as the soup is quite hearty.

Recipe courtesy of Mary Ann Esposito, Ciao Italia Five-Ingredient Favorites, 2010.

Mary Ann Esposito is often asked what is Italian food, and this soup is a good example of what her answer is – simple, in-season ingredients and easy preparation. From her personal kitchen, she shows you how to make this delicious and hearty winter soup, Zuppa di Lenticchie Ditalani e Salsiccia, from her Ciao Italia 5-Ingredient Cookbook. The five main ingredients are chicken stock (homemade or store bought low sodium), ditalini pasta (a small tube shaped pasta typically used in Italian soups), dried lentils (dear to the hearts of Italians and a symbol of good luck), chopped up fresh tomatoes, (but you can use San Marzano in the can as a substitute), and a good Italian sausage (she uses one flavored with fennel).

As described in Mary Ann’s book, lentils are a powerhouse of protein. These tiny dried disk-shaped legumes have been used for centuries throughout the Mediterranean, and are at the heart of many Italian dishes, especially salads, soups, and casseroles. There are many varieties ranging in color from brown, to black, green, reddish-brown, and yellow. It is not necessary to soak lentils before cooking, but they should be sorted and washed to remove any bits of stone or other debris.
As the creator and host of the nationally televised PBS series, Ciao Italia with Mary Ann Esposito™, Mary Ann has brought those values to millions of Americans. This year, the series celebrates its milestone 21st season, making it the longest running cooking series in television history. You can view Mary Ann's shows, get recipes and buy her books at her web site - www.ciaoitalia.com.

Here's a question that I get asked very often. What is Italian food? And my answer is, Italian food is using simple, in-season ingredients, and keeping the preparation very simple.

And today, I'm going to show you how you can make some really great Italian recipes using very few ingredients-- five, in fact. And we're going to start out with making a soup, a ditalini, lentil, and sausage soup. And so here are our five ingredients.

We have chicken stock. The best is if you make it yourself. But you could also use a low-sodium, good commercial brand. We have ditalini. This is a soup noodle, often used in different kinds of soups, like pasta fazool and other types.

And we have some lentils. Lentils are very dear to the hearts of Italians. They're used in a lot of recipes, especially at holiday time, when lentils are a symbol of good luck.

And then, we have some chopped-up, fresh tomatoes. It's best to use tomatoes in season. If they're not in season, then get good, canned San Marzano variety.

That's four ingredients. And the last one is Italian sausage. You can make your own, by going to Ciao Ciao Italia website and looking for that recipe. Or you can get a good commercially-prepared one in your grocery store or from your butcher.

So how do we get started? Well, the first thing we want to do is get the sausage cooked. So the sausage comes like this in a casing. And this is flavored sausage.

So we already have fennel in here. We have garlic. We have salt. We have pepper.

So we want to take the pork out of the casing. And you just want to slit it open like that and take the meat out. And you put it in a frying pan.

Now, I said, this is five ingredients. So I'm not adding any extra olive oil or fat because we already have our five ingredients. And if you use a non-stick pan, that eliminates you having to use any type of olive oil.

So here we have our pork. And we just want to take it right out of that casing into a non-stick pan. Sometimes, it's just best to use your hands-- tutto a mano, they say.

So I'm just going to take that all out with my fingers. And put it into the pan. And we're going to brown this. We're just going to get this browned while we cook the lentils in the chicken stock.

And This recipe comes from a book that I just recently wrote called Ciao Italia Five Ingredient Favorites which talks about all types of classic recipes that you can make, using just five ingredients. So get it all in your pan.

And you can see how beautiful that sausage meat is. So you want to make sure that you get to know your butcher. Or you know what you're buying when you're in the grocery store, or even better, make this yourself at home-- very easy to do, if you have a thumb and a funnel.

All right. So there is our pork. And now, we're going to put this on the flame and brown it.

All right, now that we have the mean browned, we want to start making the broth. And remember, I said you could use homemade or a good commercial brand. So I'm going to put my broth-- you want about four to six cups of broth-- in your super pot.

And this is a good trick for stopping splatters. I always put a spoon in a pot, whenever I'm dealing with liquids. And that kind of breaks the splatters going all over you. So there is the broth.

And now-- and we want to bring this up to a boil. We're going to add the lentils Remember, I told you the lentils. This is a wonderful legume. It's packed with-- loaded with protein Italians love these. It's a good food for you.

So we're going to put the lentils. And you do not need to presoak sold the lentils. You don't want to overcook them either. So there is a point of no return with this because you don't want them to be mushy.

So you stir that around. And then we want to give this some salt and pepper. Remember salt and pepper don't count in the five ingredients because you already have that at your house.

So in goes some salt-- and I prefer to use sea salt-- some salt goes in. And a good grinding of black pepper goes in.

We're going to bring that to a boil and allow these lentils to cook for about 15 or 20 minutes. When you can pick one out and it still holds together but it doesn't collapse and isn't all mushy, then it's done. So there's the soup. 20 minutes later, we're going to add the rest of the ingredients.

All right. So we have our lentils cooked. And now we can add the rest of the ingredients to this. Remember we have tomatoes-- chopped up tomatoes-- about 1 and 1/2 cups of chopped tomatoes either fresh or, as I say, if they're out of season, you want to use a good San Marzano variety.

Here's that ditalini, that soup noodle that I was telling you about. Half a cup goes in. You want to stir that around. This makes a really hardy soup because I put the pasta in dry. And as this soup cooks, the pasta will cook. It will absorb some of the liquid. It'll be a much thicker soup.

And now we have the meat. Here is that beautiful pork that we browned. It's already cooked. We're going to add up all of that to our soup and bring this soup back to a boil.

This is really just a meal in itself because you have all the components of good cooking here. You've got your lentils for protein. You've got your meat for protein. You have got your tomatoes for vegetables. You've got some carbohydrates there, in the pasta. So this is literally a meal in a pot.

So stir that all around. Put the cover back on. You need probably about another 20 minutes or so, until that pasta is cooked, until the ditalini is cooked. And then, the last thing we have to do is season it with a little salt and pepper.

And we're done, sausage, lentil, and ditalini soup, another five ingredient favorite. Who knew you could make something so delicious with just five ingredients? But you can.

And this is a very, very hardy soup. It's already now. And you just scoop yourself a nice hardy bowlful-- get some of that broth.

Now, if you wanted to cheat again, you could put a little bit of cheese over the top. But doesn't that look delicious? It has our lentils, which stayed and held their shape beautifully. The ditalini are perfectly cooked, the sausage, the tomatoes, and the fennel. The fennel in the sausage gives that really great flavor.

You're stressed. You want to make something simple. You want to make something fast and good. You've got to make this lentil, sausage, and ditalini soup. It's a winner.

Lentil and Sausage Soup
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