There are two star ingredients in this soup — and if you asked me which one I liked best, I’d be hard-pressed to choose. These two ingredients, although entirely different, are on the same pedestal, at least for me.
Lentilles du Puy are little French green lentils that have been cultivated in the region of Le-Puy-en-Velay, in the Haute Loire, for more than 2,000 years. They are so prized that they have their own A.O.P. (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) seal. These are the diamonds of lentils, blessed with a nutty, earthy flavor and a delicate texture that no other lentil can rival.
And what of saffron? This regal spice fetches a king’s ransom for sure, but it also delivers considerable flavor. The spice lives inside the three tiny stigmas of the female saffron crocus flower (crocus sativus), each of which must be hand harvested. (No wonder saffron is by weight the world’s most expensive spice!)
Two star ingredients, one mighty delicious soup — and it only takes minutes to prepare. One instance where less truly is more.
*Note: Lentilles du Puy can be purchased in gourmet food stores or online.
- 3 extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 2 large shallots, quartered and sliced finely
- 1/2 dry white wine
- 4 large cloves garlic, chopped finely
- 1 loosely packed saffron threads, pounded gently in a mortar to a fine powder
- One 15-ounce can peeled plum tomatoes, puréed in the food processor
- 1/2 lentilles du Puy (French green lentils) or black beluga lentils*
- 3 vegetable stock
- 2 water
- ¼ -½ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
- 6 baby spinach
- 1 aged sherry vinegar, preferably 50 years old
- Manchego, freshly grated, for garnish
Heat a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and shallots and sauté for 2 minutes until softened. Add the wine, garlic, and saffron and simmer until the wine has evaporated and looks syrupy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the puréed tomatoes, lentils, stock, water, salt, and pepper. Stir well and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the lentils are tender. Uncover the pot, increase heat to medium, and add the spinach leaves. Simmer uncovered for 1-2 minutes, until the spinach is wilted. Remove from heat, add the vinegar, and stir well. Adjust the seasoning, if needed.
Ladle the soup into bowls. Sprinkle with the grated cheese, drizzle with the extra-virgin olive oil, and serve immediately.