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Lentil and Barley Soup

Serves 4

Nothing is better than a bowl of hot soup, and this recipe is no exception. The combination of the lentils and barley is outstanding. The pancetta, which is Italian cured bacon, adds an extra layer of flavor that I love, and a little goes a long way. If you cannot find it, substitute regular bacon. The flavor will be slightly different, since pancetta is not smoked. Alternately, if you prefer a vegetarian soup, omit the bacon, substitute vegetable broth, and add just a little more of the seasonings. This is an easy, healthy and absolutely delicious soup, needing just some crusty bread on the side for a complete meal.

Ingredients

Heat a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, pancetta, carrots, celery and onions. Sauté until pancetta is lightly browned and vegetables are slightly tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté another minute. Add the tomato paste and stir until well-combined. Stir in the broth and water. Add the thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Add lentils and barley. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until barley and lentils are tender, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. (If soup is too thick, add a little water and adjust seasoning as needed.) Serve immediately, passing the cheese separately.

Notes: This soup is great leftover. Just add a little more water if it is too thick. Sometimes, I drizzle the individual servings with a little extra-virgin olive oil or red wine vinegar, but it is not necessary.