The shoulder bone came out the freezer and went straight into a large, tall pot that I filled to the top with cold water. I dropped in half an onion and a few peppercorns, ignited the burner, and was on my way to creating a rich, intensely porky broth. That's how easy stock is. If I had had some other aromatics in the house, say, a carrot, a bunch of fresh herbs, or a bay leaf, I would have tossed those all in, too. But I didn't, so half an onion and some peppercorns it was--the bone has so much flavor inside that it hardly needs any help at all. I let the pot simmer away for about four hours, while I, braving the cold with both of my winter coats on, ran errands and gathered the rest of the ingredients for the soup.
When deciding what kind of soup to make, I tried to think about what ingredients would be best complemented by the flavor of the pork broth. Also, I wanted those ingredients to be fairly inexpensive. That's when the idea came to me: pork and beans. A classic combination, I figured that any type of dried bean would taste delicious cooked in pork stock. White beans, chickpeas, kidney beans or any combination thereof would have been perfect choices, but I decided I wanted something a little bit lighter and more delicate: lentils. So at the store I picked up a bag of dried lentils, along with some carrots, onions, celery and spinach, as well as a can of diced tomatoes. All the ingredients I would need for my soup (save for some garlic and potatoes that were already at home), together they cost about $7. I ended up with 10 or 12 servings of soup, meaning that each bowl cost me about $0.70. Not bad. Rewarded monetarily, I was also rewarded sensorily, by a big pot of warm, rich-tasting, aromatic comfort food.
Lentil Soup with Spinach and Potatoes
Adapted from epicurious.com
Makes 10-12 servings
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery stalks
1 cup chopped carrots
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
5 cups (or more) pork, chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups lentils, rinsed, drained
1 14 1/2–ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
4 cups spinach, stems removed, chopped
4 - 5 new potatoes, quartered
Heat oil in a large, tall pot over medium–high heat. Add onions, celery, carrots, garlic and thyme; sauté until vegetables begin to brown, about 15 minutes. Add 5 cups broth, lentils, potatoes, and tomatoes with juice and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium–low, cover, and simmer until lentils are tender, about 35 minutes. Uncover and add spinach, stirring until spinach wilts. If soup is too thick, thin with more broth by 1/4 cupfuls. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls, garnishing with a splash each of balsamic vinegar and olive oil.