3 lbs. pickled meat
6 cups chicken stock
1 lb. breakfast sausage + drippings
1 large onion, finely diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
2 cups dried lentils (about a pound)
2 whole bay leaves, broken
1 tsp. sweet basil
1 tsp. Frank Davis Sicilian Seasoning
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. coarse ground black pepper
1 lb. Italian orzo, cooked al dente
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil for dressing
Parsley for garnish
Garlic breadsticks

Start off by cutting the pickled meat into serving size pieces. Then in a 4-quart Dutch oven, bring the chicken stock to a gentle boil, drop in the pickled meat pieces, and delicately poach the pork until it becomes fall-apart tender (which should take about 50 minutes at a low simmer).

One note here: As the pickled meat cooks, continually skim off the foam that will float to the surface. Then when the meat is done, remove it from the pot, set it aside, and strain the broth to eliminate any submerged debris.

In the meantime, saute the breakfast sausage in a small skillet, crumble it up in a small bowl, and save the pan drippings. Then in the drippings in a large oval roaster, saute the chopped onions and the minced garlic until the onions wilt and the garlic softens. When the seasoning veggies are ready, drop in the tomatoes and, over a medium heat, stir-fry them until they completely wilt and begin to release their flavorful juices.

At this point, pour in the lentils and stir them into the drippings, sauteed onions, and tomatoes, taking care to carefully coat every pea in the pan. Then stir in the bay leaves, the basil, the Sicilian seasoning, the cooked sausage, the salt, and the black pepper and begin adding the poaching broth you reserved previously a little at a time until it just covers the lentils, say about an inch or so.

It's important to understand that the peas need to be stirred quite frequently during the cooking stages-it keeps them from burning on the bottom of the pot, but mostly it aids in tenderizing them by allowing them to absorb the flavored chicken/pickled meat stock.

For the most part, cook the lentils partially covered, but occasionally remove the lid and stir in additional broth as the liquid evaporates-in the end you want to have a pot of tender lentils suspended in a slightly thickened creamy base.

Generally, the lentils will be done in about 45 minutes to an hour. But about 15 minutes before dishing out them out in deep soup bowls, gently stir in the pickled meat pieces you set aside earlier and simmer everything over low heat until it's time to eat. This recipe is best served over hot, al dente, Italian orzo, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, garnished with minced parsley, and accompanied by several garlic-roasted breadsticks.


Chef's Notes:

1. Pickled pork and salt meat are two different things. For this recipe, use nothing but cured pickled pork. They are not interchangeable.

2. The 'regular' breakfast sausage is recommended for this recipe. Avoid using the maple sugar flavored, hickory smoked, or sage flavored varieties.

3. Continue adding the flavored poaching broth a little at a time until the consistency reaches the texture you desire. If you add too much, you'll end up producing lentil soup. If you don't add enough, you'll find you have a lentil dip. They're both excellent, but the proper consistency is right in the middle of the two.

4. Orzo is rice-shaped pasta made of 100% semolina. It is boiled just like all other pastas, in oiled, salted water for about 8 minutes or until al dente (firm to the tooth).