My formative years were spent not only cooking alongside my Italian mother and aunts, immersed in beautiful food, but also, studying art. I love design especially–interior, graphic and fashion design, architecture… all of it. And so I feel excited to be teaming up with celebrated designer, Christopher Peacock, to kick off this year’s Kips Bay Decorator Show House, a quintessentially New York spectacle.
Every year, the most acclaimed interior designers transform a grand Manhattan home into an exhibition of state-of-the- art interiors for the show. The idea was hatched in 1973 when several dedicated advocates of the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club launched the Kips Bay Decorator Show House to raise money to fund after-school programs for New York City children.
Over the course of four decades, it has become the annual interiors showcase for design lovers and professionals that draws some 20,000 people; and an exhibit that sparks interior design trends throughout the world. The best part is that the Show House has raised over $17,000,000 since its inception and helps over 12,000 children in underserved neighborhoods throughout the Bronx.
We’ll be serving my Lentil Soup with Crumbled Sausage and Spring Greens, and Pissaladella, (the Italian version of pissaladière) two recipes from my latest book, in Christopher Peacock’s kitchen at the Show House. For information, or for tickets, click here. You’re invited, but if you don’t make it, I leave you with my heirloom soup recipe to make in your own kitchen.
Lentil Soup with Crumbled Sausage and Spring Greens
Serves 4 to 6
Copyright Italian Home Cooking: 125 Recipes to Comfort Your Soul, by Julia della Croce (Kyle Books, 2010)
I have never eaten a lentil soup better than this one I grew up on. My mother varied it depending on the season. In the Spring, it might have included kale or spinach; in the summer or fall, Swiss chard instead. You can include the pasta or not. If making ahead-of-time, leave out the greens, and pasta, if using, until you are ready to re-heat the soup.
½ pound (1½ cups) brown lentils
10 cups tasty chicken broth or water
1 bay leaf
5 links sweet, fennel-flavored Italian pork sausages
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 large cloves garlic, smashed
1 onion, chopped
1 large stalk celery, including leaves, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 tablespoons tomato paste
half a 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped, liquid reserved
1 cup fresh young greens such as kale, spinach, or chard leaves, roughly chopped
½ cup tiny soup pastina, such as ditalini (“little thimble”) pasta (optional)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Pick over and wash the lentils in cold water. Transfer them to an ample pot, cover with the broth or water, and add the bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer. Cook over medium-low heat until half-cooked, 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, slip the casings off the sausages. In an ample skillet, warm the olive oil. Brown the sausage meat over medium heat until lightly colored all over, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a side dish and drain any excess fat from the pan, leaving 3 tablespoons. Add the garlic, onion, celery, and thyme to the pan and sauté until the garlic is golden and the vegetables are softened and aromatic, about 5 minutes. Return the sausage to the pan. Dissolve the tomato paste in a little of the lentil broth and add it to the pan. Follow with the chopped tomatoes and their liquid. Simmer all together for 5 minutes.
3. Bring the lentils to a boil once again if they have cooled down. Transfer the skillet contents, the greens, and the pasta (if using), to the pot with the boiling lentils. Simmer to marry flavors, about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and allow the soup to rest until the pasta is fully cooked, about 4 more minutes. Serve hot.