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Lentil and Sausage Stew with Kale and Fresh Fennel

1 lb. bulk sweet Italian sausage
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 tbsp. Herbs de Provence
½ cup dry red wine
1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
6 cups beef stock
6 cups (or one 10 oz. bag prepared greens) cleaned and trimmed kale leaves
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 cups trimmed, cleaned and chopped fresh fennel bulb
1 ½ cups celery, trimmed and diced
1 ½ cups carrot, peeled and diced
1 lb. dried lentils, picked over
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tbsp. fresh rosemary, very finely chopped
½ cup heavy cream (optional)
½ cup goat cheese, crumbled

Place the sausage into a large soup pot (8 quarts) over medium heat. Break the sausage into large chunks and stir occasionally as it cooks. Continue to cook until the juices have evaporated, fat has rendered and the sausage is nicely browned all over, about 15 minutes.

Next, add the onion and stir it occasionally until it has become translucent. Then add the garlic, thyme and Herbs de Provence. Stir and cook the garlic and herbs for a minute or two so the garlic can cook, then add the red wine. Let the sausage mixture simmer with the red wine for about 5 minutes. Next, add the tomato paste, and stir it to help it dissolve into the sausage mixture. Now add the beef stock and the kale. Let stew cook/simmer for a few minutes while cooking the mushrooms in a separate pan.

Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and a large pinch of salt. Stir and cook the mushrooms for several minutes, their juices should evaporate completely so they can become nicely browned- a nice caramel color is ideal. When the mushrooms are browned add them to the pot with the sausage mixture.

Next, add the fresh fennel, celery and carrots. Increase burner heat to high and when the stew begins to boil reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer the stew for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are no longer crunchy. Now add the lentils and continue to cook the stew at a very gentle simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring about every 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. The stew is finished cooking when all the vegetables and the lentils are tender.

For serving, add the fresh rosemary and the cream (if using, it is delicious!); stir to mix in evenly. Fill soup bowls with the hot stew and garnish with the crumbled goat cheese. Makes 10-12 servings. Freezes nicely although the texture will change.

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