Hearty soup to warm up a chilly month

If you're in need of some comfort food, try a tasty wholesome lentil soup, courtesy of Dr Chris Duckham.

At this time of year it is often difficult to get excited about fresh, seasonal ingredients. Root vegetables have been the staple of so many menus over the winter months that I find myself longing increasingly for the first spring greens and asparagus to appear.

The game season is already over and yet spring lamb still seems a very long way off. Time perhaps, then, to use the store cupboard instead for inspiration.

On a cold February night there is nothing better than a hearty soup, hence this deeply flavoursome one of lentils.

PUY LENTIL SOUP WITH CHICKEN QUENELLES
Ingredients - For four people
120g Puy lentils
800ml chicken stock
100g smoked bacon
Two shallots, peeled and chopped
Quarter swede, peeled and finely diced
Two medium carrots, peeled and finely diced
40ml double cream
100g skinless free range chicken breast, coarsely diced
One free-range egg
Fine sea salt and freshly Ground black pepper
90ml double cream

1. Cook the lentils in the stock with the bacon, shallot and vegetables and simmer for 25-30 minutes until the lentils are just tender. Remove and set aside one tablespoon of the lentils. Cook the remaining lentils and vegetables for 15 minutes more until really soft. Remove the bacon and discard. Tip the rest of the pan into a blender and liquidise to form the soup. Transfer to a clean pan and add the cream. Reheat but do not allow to boil. Season to taste and at the last moment add the reserved lentils.

2. To make the chicken quenelles puree the chicken breast in a food processor. Break in the egg and puree for a few seconds more. Season.

Because the amount of cream depends on the size of the egg, add it bit by bit and stop before it becomes too runny to shape with a spoon. Puree very briefly once more.

3. To cook the quenelles bring a pan of lightly salted water to the simmer.

Form 12 quenelles of the chicken mousse mixture by shaping each between two teaspoons and dropping them into the water. Cook for three minutes and remove with a slotted spoon.

4. To serve divide the hot soup between four warmed bowls and garnish each with three of the chicken quenelles.

AND FOR THE WINE

Lentils work well with earthy wines, such as:

Mercurey, Domaine du Meix-Foulot 1999 £13.75

Abundantly earthy Burgundy with neat fruit, balanced oakiness and perfect age for blended tannins. The wine appears sufficiently light for chicken but displays a strong backbone in the finish.

Au bon Climat Chardonnay £16.05

Already recommended for the Valentine meal, this wine would also match this dish for its creamy texture and tropical fruit characteristics.

For more details or to purchase these wines, please visit www.elegusto.co.uk/gp

- Dr Duckham is a GP in Tongue and Armadale, Sutherland, and runs Restaurant Cote du Nord, Farr Bay Inn, Sutherland.

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