So you grabbed several bags of lentils on your last socially distanced trip to the supermarket because they seemed like suitable worldwide pandemic food. Lentils are after all cheap, tasty and super nutritious and have been sustaining mankind through plague and pestilence for thousands of years. The problem is that you have no clue what to do with them. If that’s the case then never fear. This Italian lentil, bacon and spinach soup has got you covered.
My Italian zia made this soup for lunch for me once upon a time many years ago and since then it has been a staple in our household as it makes great use of store cupboard ingredients. Even if you haven’t been able to get a Waitrose delivery slot for weeks, you probably have most of these ingredients in your stash.Print
This cheap, nutritious and tasty Italian soup is hearty and filling and made entirely from storecupboard ingredients. It makes for a perfect lunch.
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces /100g pancetta or bacon (diced small, I use one of the little boxes of diced pancetta you can get at the supermarket)
1 carrot, finely chopped
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
14 ounce /400g can crushed tomatoes
200g/1 cup brown or green lentils
700 ml/3 cups chicken stock (homemade, from a box or from a cube)
475ml/2 cups water
1 Parmesan cheese rind (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
1 generous handful spinach leaves (optional)
extra-virgin olive oil to swirl
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
Take a large soup pot and heat the olive oil and 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 chopped carrot and onion, and sauté over a medium heat for about 3 minutes. Then add the crushed garlic and continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes until the vegetables are soft and starting to caramelize.
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 tender. The soup should be substantial, but stir in a cup of water if it has thickened too much. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Remove the Parmesan rind if using. Stir in the spinach until it wilts and melts into the soup and serve in individual bowls. Top each bowl with a little swirl of extra-virgin olive oil and top with chopped parsley and grated Parmesan.
This makes a great lunch or light supper with a hunk of crusty bread.
Make sure you use green, brown or Puy lentils, which will retain some shape and bite. Orange lentils will cook down to an unappetising mush.
To make this vegetarian just omit the pancetta or bacon and use vegetable stock.
I have a freezer full of chicken stock I makes from the carcasses of the many roast chickens we eat, but feel free to use a box of stock or a cube.
I also keep a stash of Parmesan rinds in my freezer and this is good time to deploy one of these golden treasures as they add extra unctuousness to the soup.
Keywords: lentil, bacon, spinach, pancetta, soup, lunch, storecupboard, Italian