Nobody could remember her name, she was 'Madame' and she ran the 'Auberge Francaise' next to the big church in Leyden. Short, beady eyes, gray wisps of hair in a bun, flowered apron. She came from the Alsace, we thought, and ran a boarding house for students. When I was a student she would only cook for groups. Her specialty: lentilsoup with prunes and a piece of sausage served in a bowl. One had to attack the sausage with a spoon. Difficult to eat. One had to master the trick, otherwise soup and sausage would end up anywhere far from your mouth. The trick: first eat the soup, than butcher the sausage and chew it. If you passed that test, she would actually speak to you.
I visited her in her kitchen to get her recipe. A large, oldfashioned kitchen with an enormous chimney, with crocheted curtains. White tiles on the walls, dark red ones on the floor. Copper pans galore. Of course, she didn't actually share her secret recipe. I would name an ingrediënt, she would nod or grunt or shake her head, or say: 'not to much of that'. After all those years, the recipe transformed into my own. Still a favourite in our house. Years later someone told me a bit of her story: she was from Luxembourg, and came to Leyden in the wake of the Allies who liberated the Netherlands in 1945. She cooked for the English officers. We were very lucky that she chose to live and cook in Leyden.
1 litre good stock, 300 grammes brown lentils, 10-12 prunes, 1 smoked sausage, 4 potatoes, 4 carrots, 1 leek, 2 stalks celery, 2 garlic cloves, 1 large onion, 1 bay leaf, 2 sprigs of thyme, 1 glass red wine, olive oil, pepper, salt.
Peel the potatoes and cut in pieces, slice the carrots and the celery, peel the onion and cut in quarter rings. Chop the garlic, peel the outer leafs of the leek and slice the white and light green part. Put a good dash of olive oil in a large stewing pan, when it's warm put in the onion, garlic, potato, carrot and celery. Stir wel., fry a little. Add the lentils, stir again, add the stock. Add the leek, bay leaf and thyme. Bring to boiling point, add the wine and prunes and let simmer for approx. 30-40 minutes. The last ten minutes the sausage is added. Taste if you need salt, pepper, depends a bit on the sausage and stock.
Serve the soup in deep bowls, add a quarter of the sausage (not sliced, that's cheating), baguette and the rest of the bottle of wine, and a spoon.
Option: add lardons after you put in the onions.
The trick with the sausage: as I said, keep it till you've finished the soup. Use the point of your spoon to prize of the first piece of the sausage from the cut end. Forget about elegant, any chunck that stays in your bowl will do. Once the first bit is out, the rest is fairly easy.
As with all good soups: it tastes even better the next day. Oh, and I know my English isn't perfect. However, we speak immigranto fluently.