This hearty Italian Lentil Soup comes together in just thirty minutes. Be sure to make a big pot-this healthy soup is naturally gluten-free and vegan! A total freezer-friendly soup, so you will want to have extra!
Every region of Italy has their own version of the humble and delicious lentil soup (zuppa di lenticchie). No matter the region, each recipe will usually begin with a simple soffritto. A soffritto is the beautiful Italian word to describe the mixture of carrots, celery and onions. The soup begins with this flavor combo sautéing before adding the lentils and any liquid (I like to add my own homemade broth).
Originally published December 2020 and republished December 2021. This soup is totally vegan if you use vegetable broth. I had homemade chicken broth on hand to use for the soup. It is also naturally dairy-free and gluten-free.
If you are Italian (or grew up living next to Italians), you most likely had a similar lentil recipe like this on New Year’s Eve. Italians have their superstitions and one of them is about lentils and good luck.
So be a good girl or boy and eat your lentils this New Year’s Eve. Even my daughter who is not into lentils will have a small portion either on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s day. It’s a tradition to ensure the new year is filled with good luck, but most importantly, good health!
Soffritto-Italy’s Holy Trinity
Many chefs refer to a soffritto as Italy’s Holy trinity. A soffritto is simply the trio of chopped aromatic vegetables that are sautéed in the olive oil to start off the soup (I always use extra-virgin), and that is onions, carrots and celery.
You could even make extra (I always do!)and leave it on hand in a jar and use it all week long in other recipes. It could stay fine in the freezer for up to 3 months.
This method builds the first and very important layer of the dish. It transports the soup from being simple to a little more complex. I like to add my mother-in-law’s homemade dried herbs to the soffritto. It smells heavenly when it all starts to gently sizzle together in the pot.
One bowl is not enough of this delicious soup filled with Italian flavors. This soup is truly very easy to make…let’s get onto the recipe!
How do you make Italian Lentil Soup?
The first thing is to gather your ingredients.
I had a bag of Italian lentils. I just love them. Even the shape is different than the ones I find here. If you can find them at a local market, try them out. If not, stay with your favorite brand of lentils. You have to rinse the lentils and get rid of any impurities. Strain them and set aside.
I like to use my own homemade broth (you could use vegetable or chicken).
Here is the rest of what you’ll be gathering up.
Start first with chopping the onions, carrots and celery. Also the garlic (if you’re using).
I used a can of very naturally sweet Italian cherry tomatoes. Otherwise, I would use a can of San Marzano plum tomatoes. If you use plum tomatoes, you need to prep the tomatoes by gently crushing and removing the white inside (it’s a little tough… I use my clean hands to do this).
In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
Add in the diced onions, carrots, and celery, and saute for about 8-10 minutes until onion is soft and translucent.
Add the minced garlic and saute for a couple of minutes. Keep an eye on the garlic and stir as it will brown quickly (1-2 minutes is enough to cook up the garlic).
Add in the lentils and stir, combining it with the soffritto mixture (about 2-3 minutes).
Add in the tomatoes and use a wooden spoon to break them up and combine them with the lentils. Let this simmer together for a few minutes and season with salt (and pepper, if you’re using).
If you’re not using a low sodium broth, wait to add salt until after you add your broth. Next, add in the broth and bay leaf.
Bring to a boil for a few minutes and then lower the heat to a simmer.
Stir in kale during last 10 minutes of cooking. You just want the kale to be wilted, but cook it more if you don’t mind it on softer side.
Check the seasoning and add more salt (if needed)and pepper and let it simmer for about 30 minutes. If soup is thickening too much, add a bit of water (start out with 1/4 cup and check how consistency is).
The lentils will thicken up as they cook. When ready to serve, remove the bay leaf.
Finally, ladle into serving bowls and drizzle on some olive oil (if you like it spicy, add in red pepper flakes, if using).
Tips to make the best Italian lentil soup:
- Soaking: Since lentils cook up so quickly, it’s not necessary to soak them. There is no need to soak these pulses as they cook in less than one hour.
- Rinse: It’s best to rinse fresh lentils. Always rinse and sort your lentils to ensure there are no impurities.
- Vegetables: Chop up the vegetables for the soffrito the same size to make sure they cook up the same way (you don’t want to end up with mushy celery and crunchy carrots).
- Tomatoes: I used a can of Italian cherry tomatoes. They are really naturally sweet and I love to cook with them. You could use your favorite brand of tomatoes, San Marzano is always best (if you can find them). If you are using plum tomatoes, you will have to crush them (you could use your clean hands to do this)and remove the tough white inside (just toss it out).
- Herbs: Add fresh parsley and fresh rosemary. Even fresh thyme or marjoram is really nice in this lentil soup.
Can canned lentils be used in this recipe?
Yes, if you happen to have canned lentils in your pantry, go ahead and use them. The soup will come together much quicker. Simmer it on a lower temperature so the lentils won’t mush up too much, but still get the flavor of the soffrito and the fresh herbs.
Do you soak the lentils before cooking?
No, you really don’t have to soak them. Lentils cook up so very quickly (30 minutes is all it takes!).
Is this soup vegan and gluten-free?
Yes, this soup is totally naturally gluten-free. It is vegan if you use vegetable broth in place of chicken broth.
If you aren’t vegan or vegetarian, the chicken broth adds a different dimension of flavor.
If you are following a GF diet, this soup is also something for you to consider!
Can I add other other vegetables to this soup?
Yes! This soup is a really nice base to add any green vegetable. I added some fresh kale to mine. Spinach (fresh or frozen) or rainbow chard, escarole, or Swiss chard (cut up in small pieces) are really great ideas.
How long does this Italian lentil soup stay fresh?
This soup will stay fresh for up to five days in the refrigerator.
Can I freeze this soup?
Yes, once it completely cools down, you could freeze it in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight when ready to heat up.
PIN for later!
Some other soup recipes to enjoy:
- Slow Cooker Whole Chicken Soup
- Immune Boosting Turmeric Chicken Soup
- French Onion Soup
- Cabbage, Lentil and Chickpea Stew
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Italian Lentil Soup
- ¼ cup olive oil extra virgin
- 1 medium onion finely diced
- 2 carrots peeled finely diced
- 2 stalks celery leaves removed and finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 cups lentils brown or green picked over and rinsed
- 14 ounces canned whole tomatoes hand crushed
- 7- 8 cups stock vegetable or chicken, low sodium (I used my homemade chicken broth)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 head Tuscan kale destemmed and chopped (regular kale is fine too)
- salt and pepper to taste
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes optional
- extra olive oil for drizzling
- Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.
- Add in the diced onions, carrots, and celery, and saute for about 8-10 minutes until onion is soft and translucent.
- Add the minced garlic and saute for a couple of minutes. Keep an eye on the garlic and stir as it will brown quickly (1-2 minutes is enough to cook up the garlic).
- Add in the lentils and stir, combining it with the soffritto mixture (about 2-3 minutes).
- Add in the tomatoes and use a wooden spoon to break them up and combine them with the lentils (if using canned plum tomatoes, break them up before adding, and remove the tough white core). Let this simmer together for a few minutes and season with salt (and pepper, if you’re using). If you’re not using a low sodium broth, wait to add salt until after you add your broth.
- Next, add in the broth and bay leaf.
- Bring to a boil for a few minutes and then lower the heat to a simmer.
- Check the seasoning and add more salt (if needed)and pepper and let it simmer for about 30 minutes.
- Stir in kale during last 10 minutes of cooking. You just want the kale to be wilted, but cook it more if you don’t mind it on softer side.
- If soup is thickening too much, add a bit of water (start out with 1/4 cup and check how consistency is). The lentils will thicken up as they cook.
- When ready to serve, remove the bay leaf.
- Ladle into serving bowls and drizzle on some olive oil.
- Add in red pepper flakes, if using.
- SLOW COOKER DIRECTIONS:
- Add the first 12 ingredients (through the salt + pepper) to a large 6-quart slow cooker, and stir to combine.
- Cook for 4-5 hours on high or 8-10 hours on low, until the lentils are tender and cooked through.
- Stir in the kale during the last hour of cooking.
- Taste, and season with additional salt and pepper if needed. Remove the bay leaves.
- Serve warm, garnished with optional toppings if desired.
- Lentils: The lentils need to be rinsed. The lentils do not have to be soaked, as they cook up so quickly. I used brown lentils. Green lentils also work. If you use red lentils, it will be a mushy soup.
- Vegetable: Be sure to chop up the soffritto vegetables all the same size to make sure they cook evenly.
- Herbs: I have a combo of dried rosemary and sage that my mother-in-law made in a little jar and I like to add that to the lentils when they are sautéeing.