Satisfaction by the Bowl

By Joy Howard | Photography by Dominic Perri

When I’m really longing for a bowl of something satisfying, I often make lentil soup. It might seem like an odd choice for a favorite, but for me, this simple recipe does far more than sate my appetite. It reminds me of when I first fell in love with food and cooking, when I discovered the pleasures that happen when you become more adventurous in what you eat. 

I first tasted this version of lentil soup years ago as teenager waitressing at a Lebanese restaurant. Before working there, I knew little about food from that region of the world, but I was instantly drawn to the ingredients and combinations: salads tossed with fresh herbs and citrus; vegetables lightly simmered in warm spices; grilled meat studded with pine nuts and feta, then tucked into warm pita. Much of the food that I ate at that restaurant has informed and inspired the way that I cook and what I crave most. 

What makes this soup so special? The ingredients are basic—green lentils, lemons, potatoes—but like many of the best dishes, it’s not the individual components that make it, but the singular way in which they meld together. As an experienced cook, I’m still in awe of how this particular combination yields such deep and complex flavor without the boost of broth or hours of simmering on the stovetop. The soup is homey, hearty, flavorful, and each time I sit down to a bowl, it always satisfies. Caramelized onions and fresh cilantro (yes, cilantro) provide richness and depth, while a generous amount of lemon juice gives it an irresistible note of brightness. It took me years to perfect my own version, but after a long series of failed attempts (and some help from a wonderful cookbook called Classic Lebanese Cuisine by Kamal Al-Faqih), I finally got it right.

Hearty Lentil Soup

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Joy Howard

Joy Howard is a freelance food writer, editor, and stylist, and the former food editor of Family Fun magazine. When not working on her own recipes, she helps her two youngest daughters practice their chopping skills and her college-aged daughter brainstorm ideas for transforming ramen noodles into a balanced meal. Find out what her family is eating for dinner and snapshots of her latest projects on Instagram @littlefoodwonders.

Street to Table

By Sandy D’Amato

My favorite Sicilian street food is sausage and peppers, but how I got there is filled with detours.

Even though sweet peppers are used in many different countries and varied cuisines, the first country that comes to my mind is Italy. You could think that I’m biased, being of Italian decent, but I grew up with a distaste for peppers—a distaste that bordered on repulsion.

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It actually had nothing to do with fresh sweet peppers but with the aroma of pickled banana peppers that my cousin, who lived next door, would taunt me with. He would plunge his whole fist in the jar, extract a prime specimen, and proceed to wag it in front of my face, dousing me with the toxic juices. Then he’d pop it in his mouth and chew it to a pulp, swallow, then push me on my back and kneel on my outstretched arm to perform the requisite breath-blowing.

It’s also very clear, to those who know me, that I love hot dogs. As with most young children, to me the basic wiener was king whether eating at home or out at the car-hopped drive-ins of the time. In our backyard summer gatherings, when all the grown-ups were relishing their steaks and hamburgers, all I saw were the dogs tattooed with their golden grill marks.

At the age of eight, my world was about to change. St. Rita’s church, which was two blocks from my Dad’s grocery store, had a yearly outdoor fest during the summer. I could see the festival start to evolve on the street from the front window of the store. My anticipation was overwhelming—from the first sight of the Ferris wheel construction on Wednesday up to the opening on Friday.

By Friday afternoon I was a raging lunatic asking my dad every 1.3 seconds when we could go. He patiently ignored me and as 7pm rolled around and he locked up the grocery store for the night, we finally started walking toward the festival—actually, I was running like a gangly gazelle and my dad was calmly not keeping up.

Once we got there it was great: pitching pennies on plates, throwing rings over Coke bottles, and actually getting to throw dangerous metal darts at balloons to win a hanging provolone. Life was good.

Along with all the games was the food: giant slices of sfinciuni, baked mostacciolli, every imaginable kind of Italian cookies, and the luscious filled-to-order cannoli.

But the centerpieces for me were the open grills blanketed with links. These weren’t the familiar pink hot dogs. They were ruddy, charred sausages surrounded by leaping flames and tended by massive men in sleeveless T-shirts looking like shiny, hulking brown bears in the mist as the mixture of fat and ash glistened on their hairy arms and shoulders.

My dad walked me over and said “With or without.” I asked “With what?” Grilled green peppers, of course. My face scrunched as my head was shaking “no”. But as I watched my dad reveling in each juicy, bursting bite, I caved and asked for a taste. No ketchup, no mustard—just pristine, perfectly grilled fennel and garlic-infused sausage and charred-yet-firm-and-substantial green pepper that became one as their combined bright juices infused into the crispy, yielding oval bun. We walked and ate until the napkin was empty. I was euphoric, and then a little sad, lamenting the waste of my previous seven years of life without this combo. A new era was born in my sausage repertoire––I found out the wiener was not the lone king.

From that day on, the intoxicating aroma of charcoal-seared pork and peppers has always set off an emotional reaction that strikes me to the core. From my first prepubescent whiff of the wafting manna at St. Rita’s through my years in New York City at the San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy, the aroma is always as welcoming as a family dinner.

At this time of year you can really taste the varietal difference between the various colored local sweet peppers. So, being inspired by the Valley’s market bounty, this is the perfect time to make my zesty Grilled Red Pepper Soup. It is generously garnished with quickly grilled or sautéed garlic-infused green peppers and spicy sausage. A real key is to grill (or fire-roast) the peppers very quickly so that you retain the individual textures of the peppers—high heat is imperative. Also procure (or make) a quality Italian sausage.

With a few slices of grilled country bread glazed with extra-virgin olive oil, you’ll have an elegant dish with an elite street food pedigree that is certainly worth sitting down at the table for.

Recipe: Red Pepper and Italian Sausage Soup

Honeydew and cucumber gazpacho from Chef Dino

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Here's the last demo recipe from last weekend's Wachusett Farm Fresh Fest.

This recipe comes from Chef Dino Giordano of 30 Boltwood at the The Lord Jeffrey Inn in Amherst, MA. It’s exactly what we want during the dog days of summer: cooling, refreshing and it comes together in about 5 minutes! Delicious on its own, this soup also makes a great accompaniment to seafood, try it alongside grilled shrimp, salmon or lobster.

The gazpacho is at its best when very cold, so chill your melon before making it, or leave yourself enough time to let it get cold in the fridge. Add a splash of vodka to any leftovers and enjoy a cooling cocktail.

Honeydew and Cucumber Gazpacho

  • 1 dead-ripe medium-sized honeydew melon, seeded, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and cut into chunks
  • ⅓ cup rice vinegar
  • 1 cup of water, a little more if needed
  • A few basil leaves
  • Pinch of Aleppo pepper
  • Pinch of salt
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Put everything but the lemon juice in the blender (you may have to do this in batches, depending on the size of your blender). Blend well, until everything is silky smooth. Use more water, if needed, if the soup is too thick. Combine the batches, if needed, and taste, add a squeeze of lemon juice and salt to taste. The soup should be sweet, a little tangy and well-seasoned. Add more Aleppo pepper if you desire more of a kick.