Big Ben's Sausage Lentil Soup
2 lbs mild Italian sausage (mine was homemade, more lean than what you'd get at the store), crumbled
6 cups mirepoix, diced small (that's 1 1/2 cups celery, 1 1/2 cups carrot, and 3 cups yellow onion, diced to approx 1/4 inch cube)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) Use 1/4 cup if your sausage will render as it cooks. (Mine doesn't.)
2 tablespoons (4 to 6 cloves) minced garlic
10 cups water or stock
1 ea 15 oz can diced tomatoes (fire roasted preferable)
1 ea 4 oz can tomato paste
2 sprigs fresh (approximately 2 tsp dried) thyme
1 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1 lb dry lentils, rinsed and sorted
3 cups vegetable stock, or 2 tbl roasted vegetable soup base (if using the soup base add 3 more cups of water, I prefer the soup base to bouillon cubes or granules, but it is only a matter of preference. The soup will be fine with dried bouillon as long as you don't go overboard and remember to add the 3 cups of water)
In a large pot, heat 1/2 of the EVOO over medium heat. Add the mirepoix and the garlic and stir often to prevent scorching. Sort of a fast sweating process. Meanwhile, heat the remaining EVOO over medium heat in a skillet (if needed). Brown the sausage in the skillet, breaking it up evenly and allowing it to sear well. When browned and broken up well, add the sausage to the mirepoix. Deglaze the skillet with 1/2 cup of water or stock, scraping the bottom to lift off the little bits. Pour the deglazing liquid into the mire poix.
Add all the remaining ingredients to the pot with the mirepoix and the sausage and mix well with a wooden spoon. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat and cover with lid. Simmer for 1 hour 15 minutes, or until lentils are almost falling apart tender and have absorbed plenty of liquid.
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