Apparently I've gained a reputation as the soup guy in our family. As we were preparing to decamp from Easter dinner and as parting gifts were being distributed, brother-in-law Barry produced the bone from the buffet ham. With a certain glint in his eye, Barry looked in my direction. Would I consider accepting this prize?
Have I ever said no to a ham bone?
Normally the cured remains of the pork joint would sit a while in our refrigerator while I considered my options. But I had recently been digging through our pantry and discovered a huge bag of French lentils. It came tumbling out of a basket of spices I keep in there (one of my many failings is my lack of organiztion in the spice department--they've outgrown their shelf in the spice cabinet).
I decided to make this an all-lentil soup. To accompany the Puy lentils I opened a bag of Indian dal, or yellow lentils. I knew that if these particular legumes remained true to form, the yellow dal would dissolve into the soup and become background for the French lentils, which always seem to retain their shape and some texture no matter how long you cook them.
Into the pot went a large yellow onion, diced small, with about 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and 1 teaspoon coarse salt. Next add three medium carrots, peeled and diced small. Cook the vegetables until the onions begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Nestle the ham bone down in the vegetables and add 1 cup each of the Puy and yellow lentils. (In fact, I did not measure, but I believe these are the correct quantities.) Toss in 3 or 4 sprigs fresh thyme and 2 bay leaves, then pour in enough water to cover the ham bone, about 8 cups.
Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 4 hours, or until the meat is falling off the ham bone. We ate a bowl for dinner last night and the soup was just thin enough to please my wife. She prefers her legume soups on the thin side, as opposed to library paste. You can jazz this soup up a bit, if you like, by garnishing it with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
This soup also makes an excellent breakfast. But something happens to these sorts of soups when you leave them out overnight. They become thicker. Even after reheating, the soup had more of a stew-like consistency than the night before. I don't know if there is somehting about the starches in the legumes that thickens it in the night. But if it becomes too thick for your taste, just add a little water.
I know this soup will sound very familiar to some readers who may remember me making a pantry soup not long ago with lentils, split peas and a ham bone. To that I can only say that Gertrude Stein had it about right: things improve with repetition. Make this soup and I am betting you will feel as I do that it is far and away better than the one you made the last time.