05_05_secondhelpings.jpgSecond Helpings from Union Square Cafe: 160 New Recipes from New York's Favorite Restaurant, by Danny Meyer and Michael Romano (HarperCollins, 2001)

Despite the unseasonably cold weather this far into spring, Gothamist knows that summer's just around the corner, and with summer comes summer wardrobes. Ack. So after indulging you with the likes of cheesecake and frozen hot chocolate, we've decided to switch gears this week and go for some lighter fare.

But we don't want to punish you either, so we decided to try a lentil soup recipe from Union Square Cafe's second cookbook a try. While part of Union Square Cafe's magic comes from their great service and ambience, Gothamist doesn't forget how yummy the food itself is. And some of their dishes, like this soup, manage to be both healthy and gourmet at the same time--our favorite combination.

Not only is the soup good for you and satisfying, it's not that difficult to make. Feeling lazy, we chose to use water instead of the optional vegetable stock and found the soup still was full of strong flavors. In addition, we couldn't track down any Aleppo pepper but found that a bit of extra black pepper and a dash of red pepper flakes seemed to do the trick just fine.

For us, what elevated this soup to gourmet status was the last-second addition of parmesan cheese shavings and drizzled extra-virgin olive oil. Those elements can be eliminated and/or reduced to save an extra calorie or two, but Gothamist suggests that you keep it for the added flavor--come on, it's not July just yet.

Union Square Cafe's Lentil Soup with Portobello Mushrooms and Spinach

12 ounces portobello mushrooms, stems removed and caps rubbed clean
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup peeled and chopped carrot
1 cup peeled and chopped celery
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 cup peeled, seeded, and diced tomato
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1 1/2 cups brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
10 cups vegetable stock or water
6 packed cups stemmed and chopped spinach
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. Thinly slice the mushroom caps and then cut the slices crosswise into thirds. (You should have about 6 cups of sliced mushrooms.)

2. Melt the butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, and thyme. Cook until the vegetables are softened, but not colored, 8 to 10 minutes.

3. Raise the heat to medium-high, add the portobellos, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they give up and then reabsorb their liquid, 3 to 5 minutes.

4. Add the tomato and cook until the mixture is juicy, 2 to 3 minutes.

5. Stir in the salt, black and Aleppo peppers, and the lentils. Add the stock or water; bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the lentils are tender, about 45 minutes.

6. Scoop out 1 cup of the lentils with a slotted spoon and puree in a blender until smooth. Return the puree to the pot and stir to combine.

7. Stir in the spinach, bring the soup to a simmer, and continue cooking until the spinach wilts, 1 to 2 minutes. Adjust the seasoning to your taste.

8. Ladle the soup into a warm serving tureen or individual soup bowls. Sprinkle each serving with Parmigiano-Reggiano and drizzle with olive oil.