Lentils are loved by Italians and make a wonderful, hot, nourishing soup for everyone! Try this recipe, and I think you will agree, even if you’ve never eaten lentils before. Any kind of miniature pasta can be used in this soup. My mother usually breaks regular spaghetti into shorter pieces for her version, although miniature ravioli are fun if you can find them in your local grocery store. For a vegetarian dish, dried ravioli with squash filling, which are pictured in this blog, are a wonderful complement to the lentils.
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion (chopped finely)
2 carrots (chopped finely)
1 stick of celery (chopped finely)
1 package (12 oz.) dried lentils (sorted and rinsed once but not soaked)
1 tsp crushed, dried sage
1 bay leaf
optional: meat stock or broth*
1 can (14.5 oz.) chopped tomatoes
about 6 oz. dried miniature pasta or dried miniature squash ravioli**
Use a large, wide-bottom pot to make this soup.
Heat the olive oil over medium heat and then add the chopped onion and carrot and cook, stirring, until both have softened a bit.
Add the lentils and cook the vegetables a bit longer, stirring, but do not let the onions brown. (This initial cooking of the lentils is said to harden the skin, so they will not become too mushy. If you like more mushy lentils, skip the sautée and just add the lentils after the rest of the vegetables have become soft . This will also decrease the overall cooking time.)
Add enough water (or meat stock if you have it and do not want a vegetarian dish) to cover the vegetables—about 6–8 cups—the dried sage, and the bay leaf.
Cover and bring to a boil; uncover, reduce heat, and simmer 45 minutes.
After the vegetables have cooked a bit, taste the soup. See how much the lentils have softened, and if they are still hard, cook longer. If they are about soft enough for your liking, proceed as follows:
Add about 1 Tablespoon of salt (to taste; less can be used) and an additional 2–4 cups of water for the pasta that you will soon be adding. Cover and bring soup back to a rolling boil.
When the soup is at a rolling boil, add the chopped tomatoes and the tomato juice from the can and the pasta.
Cook until the pasta is “al dente” or “to the tooth.”
Remember to remove the bay leaf before serving!
Enjoy with crusty Italian bread on a cold winter’s day!
*Italian “meat stock or broth” is often composed of whatever bones and small pieces of meat are left over from the night before—chicken and pork bones can be combined, for instance, or just one or the other used. When I make this soup for my family, it is usually with pork chop bones and meat left over from Monday night’s dinner. This gives the soup a nice added complexity.
**The dried ravioli used for the dish pictured was the “La Piana” brand imported from Italy, “ravioli with squash filling,” which also adds a nice bit of flavor to the dish. Here are some links to help you find this pasta in the United States: Italian Foods Corporation, La Piana Italian foods Facebook page, Pennsylvania Macaroni Food Company.
—Adapted from the cooking classes given by the Italian-American Society of Peoria,
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, author of Conversational Italian for Travelers
and teacher of Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area.
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Italian Recipe: Lentil Soup (Zuppa di Lenticchie)