FARGO — For the first year in many, we won’t be joining the legions of sidewalk trick-or-treaters this Halloween. This is a bittersweet moment in our parenting journey, and I don’t know that I’m ready to let it go just yet. Alas, there’s no stopping the passage of time, no matter how tightly I tie my apron strings.

For the past several years, I’ve made a big pot of soup on Halloween to keep us warm and energized for the two-hour trek around our neighborhood. I’m continuing the tradition this year with a Savory Lentil Soup with Italian Sausage and dedicating this recipe to all the grown-ups who find themselves in need of a little comfort this Halloween, whether you’re out with the kiddos or staying home to greet them.

A member of the legume family, lentils are rich in protein and fiber to fill your belly and give you the energy you need to make it through Halloween night. Lentils also contain a bounty of nutrients that promote good heart health, like folate and manganese.

I use Italian sausage links for this recipe, which I cook first before starting the soup so that the pan is seasoned with the drippings; however, you can skip this step for a vegetarian version. You can use either mild or hot Italian sausage, or a mix of each (my preference). Once the sausages are cooked through, they are removed from the pot and transferred to a plate to cool, then cut into quarter-inch slices.

The base of this soup is a standard mirepoix of onion, carrots and celery, and to that I add a bit of minced garlic and dried Italian herb seasoning. I cook the vegetables in the same pot as the sausage, so they can absorb the drippings and brown bits left by the sausage. To give this soup even more flavor, I add some finely chopped leeks and fennel (you can skip this step if desired).

Next, I stir in the dried lentils just until incorporated, and I use brown lentils for this soup as they are available in most grocery stores. I fill the pot with chicken or vegetable stock and let it simmer gently until the lentils are tender, which takes only about 20 minutes.

While the soup simmers, I place the cooked sausage slices in a separate pan and cook them over medium heat until they are browned on both sides. This step gives the sausage good texture and helps the slices retain their shape. The sausage is then added to the soup, which simmers for another 10 minutes so that the flavors can meld together.

For a final burst of color and nutrition, I add a generous amount of roughly chopped baby kale or spinach leaves to the soup just before serving.

This hearty soup is excellent on its own, and even better when served with Cheesy Rye Toast. This simple side is made with black rye bread, basil pesto (Sam’s Club is our go-to jarred pesto) and grated Havarti cheese.

To all the parents who have gone before me, and to those still in the game, I wish you all a safe, happy and delicious Halloween.

Savory Lentil Soup with Italian Sausage

Makes: 3 to 3 ½ quarts

Ingredients

2 tablespoons canola or olive oil

4 to 5 links Italian sausage (I use a blend of mild and spicy links)

1 onion, medium-diced 2 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)

3 large carrots, medium-diced

3 celery stalks, chopped

½ cup leeks, finely chopped (optional)

½ fennel bulb, finely chopped (optional)

2 teaspoons dried Italian herbs seasoning

1 pound dried brown lentils

3½ quarts chicken or vegetable stock or broth, more as needed

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

1 5-ounce package of baby kale leaves, roughly chopped (spinach also works)

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped

Directions

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until hot. Add the sausage links, reduce heat to medium and cook until browned and cooked through, turning every minute or so, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to plate to cool. Once cool, cut links into round slices about ¼-inch thick.

In the same pot, add the onions, garlic, carrots, celery and Italian herb seasoning. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the vegetables start to soften and the onion is translucent, about 6 to 8 minutes. After 3 minutes, add the chopped leeks and fennel and use a wooden spoon to scrape the savory sausage bits from the bottom of the pan and work them into the mixture.

Stir in the dried lentils until evenly incorporated. Add 3 quarts of the chicken stock and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. If the soup becomes too thick, add more chicken stock or water, ¼ cup at a time, until desired consistency is achieved.

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add the sliced sausage rounds and cook until browned, turning often, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove pan from burner and set aside.

After the soup has simmered for 20 minutes, add the cooked sausage slices and continue to simmer over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Stir in the salt and pepper; taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Just before serving, add the chopped kale and cook for 2 minutes just until the leaves begin to wilt. Ladle the soup into serving bowls and garnish with fresh parsley.

Cheesy Rye Toast

Ingredients

Slices of black rye bread

Basil pesto

Havarti cheese, grated (large grate)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and position rack 4 to 6 inches below the top of the oven.

Place slices of rye on a baking sheet and bake for 4 minutes, flipping bread over after 2 minutes. Remove from oven and set broiler to 500 degrees.

Spread a layer of pesto on one side of each slice of bread, then top with a generous heaping of grated Havarti. Broil until the cheese is fully melted, bubbling and turning golden brown in places. Ovens vary, so you may need to turn the sheet after 1 minute to ensure even baking.

When ready, remove toast from oven and cool for 1 minute before serving.

Recipe Time Capsule

This week in...

2018: Cinnamon Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

2017: Beef with Barley Soup

2016: HoDo Stuffed Acorn Squash

2015: Almond Pear Salad

2014: Drunken Spaghetti

“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.

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