Italian Tomato, Lentil, and Bacon Soup
I couldn’t get enough of this soup the first time my Italian zia lifted a big pot of it from her stove, and it is still one of my family’s favorite suppers — rich, filling, and tasty enough to satisfy the heartiest of appetites and, if served with a loaf of crusty bread, the perfect one-pot meal for when the nights start drawing in. If you’re the sort of person who keeps a bag of Parmesan cheese rinds in the freezer ready to add unctuousness to soups (and if you’re not, I strongly recommend that you become one), this is the perfect time to deploy one of your golden treasures. If you want to create a vegetarian version, omit the pancetta or bacon and use vegetable stock or water.
Serves: 4 | Active time: 15 minutes + 40 minutes cooking time
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces pancetta or bacon, diced small
1 carrot finely chopped
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 14.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes (best without basil)
1 cup green lentils
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 Parmesan cheese rind (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 generous handful spinach leaves
extra-virgin olive oil to swirl
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
Take a large soup pot and warm the olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add the bacon or pancetta and cook over a medium heat until golden, fragrant, and releasing its fat. Add the carrot, onion, and garlic, and sauté over a medium heat until soft and starting to caramelize, about 6 minutes.
Add the crushed tomatoes, lentils, chicken broth, and water — and Parmesan rind if using — and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot, leaving the lid open a crack, and continue simmering gently over a low to medium heat for 30–40 minutes until the soup has thickened and the lentils are soft. The soup should be substantial, but stir in a cup of hot water if it has thickened too much. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Remove from the heat and stir in the spinach until it wilts and melts into the soup. Top each bowl with a little swirl of extra-virgin olive oil and top with chopped parsley and grated Parmesan.
I like to serve this with grilled bread, brushed with a little olive oil and rubbed with a cut clove of garlic.