Le Lazy Weekend

There’s something about Paris.

I suppose you could say that about many European cities.  Hey, I’d say it about London too, my (most of the time) home.  But Paris is different to the others.

There is an elegant, but flamboyant charm that permeates this city like no other.  Whether you’re walking through the cobbles streets of upmarket Saint-Germain-des-Prés, eating your way through Les Halles, perusing the boutiques of Avenue des Champs-Élysées or having a magical sensory experience while walking through one of the many bustling food markets Paris has to offer, you will no doubt be in awe of something.

I have been many times before, seen the many sights, visited the galleries and museums, but on this visit there was nothing planned.  Nothing but to relax, drink and eat well.

Things I have learnt:

  • The French value the time and effort it takes to produce something of quality.  And they will pay for it.
  • Saying “A bit less done than medium/rare” almost always gets you medium/well done. *Must practice my French*
  • This trip has reiterated what cooking with love, passion and skill and flair really tastes like.
  • Wine should be served everywhere like it is served in France.  Sometimes I want a pichet or a pot for myself! Wine is so much more delicious there.
  • I have a strong desire to spend large amounts of time in France.
  • Nothing is a rush.  People are not in a hurry.  Dining alone is not lonely. The French truly know how to savour- everything.
  • How can I forget the pastry??…… I am but a humble self taught pastry chef (work in progress!) , but there are some French Master pastry chefs and chocolatiers whose palates reside in the upper echelons of this universe.  The way they marry flavours, textures, aromas and sights can blow your mind.  Food=Love=Art. <3  They inspire me.

Of course, I have lots to write about; places to recommend, pastries you must try, streets you must visit etc, but today is a lazy day. Rest assured I will soon.

Today is a day for curling up by the fire, watching  The Truth About Cats and Dogs and eating a bowl of the  French inspired Lentil, Chestnut mushroom and Lardon soup I just made.

My French inspired Lentil Soup

Soup is one of the most perfect meals you can make.  Like a hearty, warm, nutritious hug in a bowl.  I am never particular or exact when it comes to quantities and ingredients for soups. You can add or exchange other vegetables if you like. (Celery, tomatoes, potatoes, leek, squash, other beans or lentils would work here too.  Think about the flavours you like)  It’s the best way to use up odd amounts of delicious vegetables and no-one will ever know :)  Depending on the kind of lentils you use, precooked or dried, this soup can take from between 15-30 mins to make. An excellent choice for a midweek one pot dinner.

Serves 4 good sized bowls

Ingredients

  • Use either 1 cup of dried OR about 500g of precooked vacuum packed Puy Lentils (that’s about 2 packs by Merchant Gourmet.  They also do them in tins..so about 2 tins if those are available.)
  • About 12-16 chestnut mushrooms chopped into cubes
  • 1 tennis ball sized white onion chopped into cubes
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic sliced (adjust to taste)
  • 2-3 medium carrots chopped into cubes
  • 2 good quality organic if possible, chicken stock cubes- or fresh if you have it.
  • 100-150g of good quality smoked lardons or pancetta
  • a knob of butter
  • Sea salt/pepper and some herbs of choice…Thyme or sage would be good.
  • some water

Method

  1. If you’re using dried lentils, wash them and keep them on the side.  Because Puy Lentils cook so quickly (about 20 mins)  and they don’t become mush if you over cook them, I think they are a great choice and very versatile for soups.  Apart from their distinct peppery flavours that marries so well with the pork lardons, they can be blended or left whole depending on the kind of texture you are going for.
  2. Heat a good sized soup pot on a medium heat.  In the meantime, prepare all the veg- cube the onions, mushrooms and carrots all to a similar size.  Slice the garlic.
  3. Add the lardons or pancetta into the hot pan and stir well so that they do not stick to the pan too much.  You are looking to render the fat to cook the rest of the vegetables in.
  4. Once golden add the knob of butter, about half the size of a domino and add the onions.  Stir well and cook until transparent.
  5. Add the garlic and stir well- not allowing it to stick to the pan as garlic has a habit of burning quickly and imparting a bitter flavour that you don’t want! You want to cook the garlic to get rid of some rawness for about 1 minute.
  6. Add the mushrooms and stir well.  The mushrooms will soak up all of the remaining fat.  Don’t worry if the pan looks dry.  They will soon start to sweat and cook down and you won’t have them sticking to the pan! Cook and stir for about 1-2 mins.
  7. Finally add the carrots and the lentils and stir.  You can leave this on the heat for a minute or so while you prepare the stock.
  8. Add either 2 stock cubes to enough water so that the water level in the pan is about 5cm (2 inches) above the veg or add the same amount of fresh stock. Add the herbs (fresh or dried) and pepper- I salt at the end so that the lentil cook properly if I’m using dried lentils.
  9. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20-25 mins or until the lentils are done.  If you are using precooked lentil you only need about 10 mins of cooking time if you are in a rush, although leaving it longer will not harm it either.
  10. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly.  If you like a chunky soup, serve it as it is, if you prefer a smooth soup, whizz it with a hand held blender.  The great thing about Puy Lentils- they work both ways.

To serve: Take some slices of sourdough or your favourite bread and rub with a cut clove of garlic, sprinkle with some flaky salt, drizzle with some olive oil and lightly toast on both sides.

Your perfect winter warmer!

Bon Appetit!

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