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My Italian Grandmother’s Lentil Soup

Jodi Moreno / Jodi Moreno

My Italian Grandmother’s Lentil Soup

As part of Legacy.com's ongoing Recipe Vault series, food bloggers and network stars share how recipes connect us to those we’ve lost.

Jodi Moreno, a natural foods chef, cookbook author and creator of the popular blog What’s Cooking Good Looking, is the first to admit that lentil soup isn’t a typical “kid food.” But thinking back to her childhood, she clearly remembers requesting her grandmother’s hearty, comforting lentil stew and relishing each bite. Today, that recipe continues to connect her with her grandmother, who recently passed away at age 92 after a long, full life. Moreno was kind enough to talk with Legacy about how food connects us with those we’ve lost (and can help define the legacies we leave behind).

Photo: Jodi MorenoHow did you first get interested in cooking?

I grew up in an Italian household, and we cooked a lot. My grandmother was a voracious cook. She would wake up at five in the morning and start preparing meals. My mom worked full time and somehow managed to have a home-cooked meal every single night of the week. So I think that real love for food and cooking probably started at a young age.

Tell us about a recipe that reminds you of somebody you've lost.

The recipe is for lentil soup. I know it's probably not super exciting or elaborate, but especially at this time of year [winter] I think about it so much and I crave it. It started with my grandmother, who always made lentil soup. She passed away not too long ago – she was 92. She started it and then my mom adapted it, and I adapted it, and now it's kind of a winter staple.

As a kid, I loved it for some reason. It's not, like, a normal kid food, but I would request it. My mom used to make it with hot dogs, which might not sound so appetizing depending on how you feel about hot dogs. But as a kid, I loved it… Now it's funny, we laugh about it, because we don't really eat hot dogs in our house anymore. But we would have it for dinners, even as a meal with a big loaf of bread. This time of year, I just have it on my mind.

Do you feel a connection with your grandmother when you're cooking it?

Of course! And there are a handful of other things [that connect us], like tomato sauce and any homemade pasta… lasagnas. Every time I make it, I think of my grandmother and my mother. I don't know if anyone else has lentil soup as a powerful connecting food! But especially in the wintertime, you look for those foods that are comforting. 

Could you tell me a little more about your grandmother?

Her name was Josephine Morizzo. She was born in the southern part of Italy and they came to New York at some point. We were very close – we would spend a lot of weekends there with them. My memory of my grandmother is [her] cooking constantly. I think in some ways I got my love of food from her. I didn't realize it when I was younger, but I did as I got older. She loved to feed me when I was a kid. I had this appetite that was never-ending… for an Italian grandmother that was a dream. I just remember every morning we would stay there, I would wake up and she'd already be making something. Every time we ate dinner, even if it was on a random Tuesday, the entire table would be filled with dishes. There wouldn't be an inch of the table that didn't have food on it. There's definitely a piece of me from her. 

If you were to be remembered by one recipe, what would it be?

I have a few up my sleeve – I'm such a pasta lover. I've been doing a lot of things with broccoli stems. I feel like they're such a neglected piece of the vegetable. I do a broccoli stem spaghetti. I mix in about 50/50 of pasta with broccoli stems, and pesto. I'm kind of obsessed with it. I feel like that dish says a lot about me and my style of cooking. I love lots of vegetables, a little bit of indulgence with the pasta, and then anything with garlic is my favorite. So that would be a recipe I'd be proud to be remembered by.

Kale and Lentil Soup

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

4 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

4.5 ounce can organic diced tomatoes

Salt and  pepper

1 1/2 cups green lentils, rinsed and picked through

8 cups stock (homemade or organic, low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock)

1 large bunch kale (about 3  cups chopped)

1 bay leaf

Optional spices: pinch of red pepper flakes, pinch of finely chopped caraway seeds

Servings: 6-8

DIRECTIONS

In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil and add in onions, carrots and garlic. Cook for about 8-10 minutes, until the vegetables become soft.

Add in the tomatoes along with their juices and season generously with salt and pepper. Cook tomatoes down about 5 minutes to reduce juices.

Add the lentils and stir to coat.

Add stock. Bring to a boil.

When the stock is boiling, add in the chopped kale and then immediately bring heat down to a simmer. Add in bay leaf, cover the pot and cook for 35-40 minutes.

After 30-35 minutes, taste the soup and adjust seasoning as desired. You should add the recommended red pepper flakes and caraways seeds at this point. You can also add more salt if you like, and any other spices you prefer.

Serve warm.

Jodi Moreno is a trained natural foods chef, food photographer, cookbook author, and creator of the blog what's cooking good looking (www.whatscookinggoodlooking.com), which features healthy, whole foods and clean, seasonal recipes. She is passionate about showing people how vegetables can play a main role on the plate. Her recipes and blog have been recognized by Saveur magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, The Huffington Post, People Magazine, Country Living Magazine, Food52 and many more. She spends her time between New York City and Amagansett, New York. When she is not in the kitchen, she can be found taking a yoga class or wandering the streets of New York with her sweet dog Bayley, searching for inspiration for new recipes. 

You can find also find her on:

Instagram: @jodiwhatscookin
Twitter: @jodiwhatscookin 

Facebook: What's Cooking Good Looking