This lentil soup, with smoky bacon, Le Puy lentils, red wine, and escarole is a hearty bowl that's perfect for a chilly day. To make the soup vegetarian, omit the bacon, sauté the vegetables in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and use vegetable stock.
In a large, heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven, cook bacon in olive oil until crisp. Remove bacon from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add carrots, leeks, and celery to the pot with 1/2 teaspoon each kosher salt and pepper. Sauté over medium-high heat until vegetables are softened and beginning to brown. Add garlic, and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant.
Deglaze the pan with red wine and cook for 1-2 minutes, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.
Stir in lentils, followed by stock, water, thyme, bay leaf, reserved bacon, and an additional 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, partially covered for 25 minutes. Stir occasionally.
Add escarole to the pot and stir it into the soup (it will look like a ton of escarole; it will wilt down as you stir the soup).
Bring the soup back to a boil, partially cover the pot, reduce heat, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until lentils and escarole are soft.
Remove bay leaf. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, freshly-cracked black pepper, and garlic croutons, if desired.
I like a prominent amount of escarole in my lentil soup (similar to how I'd make Escarole and Beans), so I use a full pound. (1 full medium to large head.) If you prefer less escarole in your soup, use 1/2 pound, or 1/2 of a head.For soups, I like to trim off the white root end and use the dark and light green-yellow parts of the escarole leaves.