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Signature Dish: Venetian lentil soup recipe

WHO: Caroline Cerilli Goodrich of Tampa, 50, a health care consultant and wife to Jerry, mother to Tristan, 6.

What: Venetian Lentil Soup

About the recipe: "My mother, Mary Cerilli of Citrus County, got this recipe from her mother-in-law when she was married more than 60 years ago," Caroline says. The mother-in-law was from Northern Italy; Mrs. Cerilli, who just turned 87, is from Venice. The original recipe involved sausage and a heavy tomato base. Caroline has lightened it with diced ham and says "everyone prefers the lighter style."

Tips for others: "Watch out for the saltiness of the ham and don't oversalt the soup. Also, I'm not much of a mincer or precision cutter; I'm a rustic cook, and all the vegetables can be roughly chopped. The amounts are approximate. It's a very friendly recipe and you can't go wrong if you add more or less of this or that."

On the side: Caroline suggests serving this soup with a glass of bold red wine and warm Italian or French bread. Slice the bread on the diagonal, rub with a garlic clove or spread with roasted garlic spread or pesto, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with grated Romano cheese and broil until slightly browned.

Can't cook without: "Garlic and olive oil. I'm not a heavy-handed Italian cook, but those are two essential things in the pantry. Gadgets aren't what makes a good cook."

Advice from the cook: "I think everybody can cook. Get some recipes and try. I showed several friends how to cook really simple things and that got them started when they saw their success. I think people get daunted and intimidated by big cookbooks and they don't even try. There's no such thing as a bad cook."

Judy Stark, special to the Times

Signature Dish is published periodically in Taste. If you have a recipe that you would like featured or would like to nominate other home cooks and their dishes, please e-mail the information to features@sptimes.com and include a name and daytime phone number. Include SIGNATURE DISH in the subject line. Nominations can be mailed to Taste, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

>>easy

Venetian Lentil Soup

1 (6-ounce) package baby spinach (remove the stems if desired)

½ to ¾ cup chopped celery

½ to ¾ cup carrots, roughly diced

1 or 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

1 small to medium onion, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, chopped

1 cup cooked or smoked ham, diced

3 tablespoons tomato paste

Garlic salt to taste

Fresh ground pepper to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon Bragg Liquid Aminos (see note)

2 to 4 cups chicken broth, homemade or store-bought

1 (16-ounce) package dried brown lentils (2 cups)

Grated Locatelli Romano cheese for garnish

Place spinach, celery, carrots, garlic, onion, parsley, ham, tomato paste and seasonings in a 3-quart saucepan or soup kettle. Add olive oil and cook for a few minutes to soften vegetables. Stir in Bragg Liquid Aminos.

Add 2 to 4 cups of chicken broth and enough water to total 5 cups of liquid to the pot. Add the lentils.

Bring to a boil; lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes uncovered. Watch and add more liquid if the lentils seem dry or the soup is too thick; you may need another 1 to 2 cups.

Partly cover the pot and simmer another 20 to 25 minutes.

This can be very thick, almost a stew, or, with the addition of more broth or water, a thinner soup. Serve in bowls topped with grated cheese.

Makes about 10 cups.

Variations: Use sliced sausage instead of diced ham. Caroline uses mild Italian, but you can use whatever you like: hot Italian, turkey or chicken sausage. Brown the sausage before adding it to the soup. Or eliminate the carrots and spinach and substitute one 14.5-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes, chopped, and half of a 6-ounce can of tomato paste.

Note: Bragg Liquid Aminos is an all-purpose vegetable protein seasoning made from soybeans. A 32-ounce bottle is $5.19 at Publix; look for it in the natural foods aisle.

Source: Caroline Cerilli Goodrich, Tampa

Signature Dish: Venetian lentil soup recipe 05/18/10 [Last modified: Monday, May 17, 2010 10:45pm]

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