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Italian Lentil and Wild Mushroom Soup (Pasta e Lenticchie ai Porcini)
The epitome of comfort food

Ingredients:
3/4 ounce dried porcini
1 cup hot water
1 medium onion, minced
1 carrot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup red wine
10 ounces lentils
6 cups water
1/4 pound vermicelli or spaghettini, broken into 2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling on individual servings

Directions:
1. Place porcini in a bowl, cover with the hot water, and let soak for 20 minutes, making sure to submerge the mushrooms. When mushrooms are soft, remove them from the water, squeezing the liquid back into the bowl. Reserve this liquid. Chop the mushrooms coarsely.
2. In a large saucepan, cook the onion, carrot, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and chopped mushrooms over moderate heat in the olive oil. When onion is golden and translucent, about 5 minutes, strain the reserved mushroom soaking liquid into the pot. Add the wine, lentils, and water. Simmer until the lentils are soft, about 20 minutes. Add the pasta and cook until the pasta is done, about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve in wide bowls, sprinkling parsley and drizzling a little extra-virgin olive oil onto each serving.
Note: In Umbria, lentil soups such as this one are sometimes served over a slab of grilled bread that has been rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil. Just put the bread in the bottom of the soup bowl, and ladle away.

Some call lentil soup, the pan-Italian classic, comfort food at its best. We're tempted to agree. In Italy, lentil freaks prefer the tiny, extremely flavorful lentils from Castelluccio, an isolated village high in the mountains of southeastern Umbria. Serves 6 as a first course