Garlicky Lentil Soup with Carrots and Tuscan Kale

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Honestly, I had no idea that so many of you apparently love lentil soup as much as I do. A few weeks ago I got an email from a reader requesting a recipe for my garlicky lentil soup. And then another, and another, and so on.

I had mentioned the soup in a short Q & A on the Contributors page of the Oct./Nov. ’11  issue of Fine Cooking magazine. (Elsewhere in that issue of the  magazine you will find my article on True Ragù, with four recipes for long-simmered meat sauces and lots of mouthwatering photos).

My reference to “garlicky lentil soup with carrots and Tuscan kale, topped with croutons and a drizzle of olive oil” was in response to the fill-in-the-blank question “My favorite cold weather food is________”

For me, there could be no other answer. I have long counted on lentil soup—specifically, my mother’s lentil soup—to get me through the cold months. It may sound like an odd childhood favorite, but I loved my mother’s lentil soup, thick with chunks of carrots and perfumed with bay leaf and lots of garlic, as much as I loved anything she made. On a chilly night in October or November, with cold rain splashing the deck (bereft of summer furniture) outside the kitchen window, and leaves swirling in the backyard beyond, a bowl of that soup really did fill me with warmth and comfort.

The crowning glory was the handful of croutons I rained on top of the soup. Big, crunchy croutons that my mother made and seasoned with olive oil and salt. She would not have been caught dead with a bag of pre-made croutons in her kitchen—to this day she wouldn’t, and neither would I.

Mom’s classic recipe calls for nothing more than plain brown lentils, broth, and sautéed aromatics—carrots, celery, and onion, plus bay leaf and numerous cloves of garlic, lightly smashed. The soup, simmered until the lentils are tender and the broth is thickened almost to where you could stand a spoon in it, is way more than the sum of its parts. It’s simple, rustic, and hearty, just what you want good lentil soup to be.

So why do I keep messing with it? Because lentil soup is just one of those soups that beg to be messed with. And I’m just one of those people who can’t leave well enough alone. Over the years I’ve added a diced potato or turnip (sometimes both), cut-up sausage or a smoked pork chop, tomatoes, and various greens—spinach, Swiss chard, and (my favorite) Tuscan kale, a hearty winter green with long, slim, dark blue-green crimped leaves.

This particular recipe is adapted from my first cookbook, The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy. It is, at least for the moment, my favorite variation on an Italian classic. If you are unable to find Tuscan kale (also known as dinosaur kale and lacinato kale) just toss in a few handfuls of fresh spinach leaves towards the end of cooking. Buon appetito. 

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Garlicky Lentil Soup with Carrots and Tuscan Kale

Adapted from The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy (Chronicle Books, 2006)

Never mind the military-drab color of this soup. The lentils give it a full, earthy flavor, which is enhanced by the herbs and the generous amount of garlic. It's just the thing to eat on a chilly fall day, especially when it is topped with a handful of pepper-spiced croutons.

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 4 large cloves garlic, flattened but left whole
  • 3 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1 small fennel bulb, finely diced
  • 1 rib celery, finely diced
  • 1 medium yellow potato, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 turnip, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 8 ounces Tuscan kale, coarsely chopped (substitute fresh spinach leaves if you can't find the kale)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups brown lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 4 cups water
  • Dried red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Black Pepper Croutons (see Cook's Note below)

Instructions

In a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, carrots, onion, fennel, and celery, and sauté for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the onion is softened and pale gold and the carrots are bright orange. Add the potato, turnip, thyme, bay leaf, and kale (if using spinach, reserve and add later). Sprinkle in the salt and a generous grinding of pepper and stir gently but thoroughly. Cook until the kale is wilted, and then stir in the lentils. Pour in the broth and water and raise the heat to medium-high. Bring the soup to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cover partially. Let the soup simmer gently, stirring from time to time, for 45 minutes or until the lentils are tender. (If using spinach, toss the leaves into the pot when the lentils are done cooking. Simmer an additional 5 minutes, or until the spinach leaves are completely wilted.) Discard the bay leaf and thyme sprigs (you can look for pieces of garlic to discard, too, but I find by this point most of it has melted into the soup). Taste and adjust the seasoning with additional salt if you like.

Ladle the soup into bowls, drizzle each serving with olive oil and top with a handful of croutons. Pass the dried pepper flakes at the table for those who want to spice up their soup.

Cook's Note: To make Black Pepper Croutons, spread 4 cups of cubed Italian country bread on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle 3 tablespoons of olive oil over them. Toss well with a wooden spoon or silicon spatula. Sprinkle with salt and a liberal amount of freshly ground black pepper. Toss again, and spread into a single layer. Bake at 400 degrees, stirring once or twice during baking, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until evenly browned and crisped.

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26 Responses to Garlicky Lentil Soup with Carrots and Tuscan Kale

  1. Aviva Goldfarb October 13, 2011 at 10:04 am #

    This looks like exactly what I wish I had for lunch today. Looking forward to trying it, Domenica.

  2. Domenica October 13, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

    Thank you, Aviva. I have lots of fond memories of this soup from when I was a kid. Still love it. And it takes less than an hour to make. Cheers

  3. LiztheChef October 13, 2011 at 5:03 pm #

    I have a friend who is eating a vegan and gluten-free diet. Minus your lovely croutons, this will be our lunch next week when she visits. Wonderful!

    • Domenica October 13, 2011 at 5:57 pm #

      The soup really is just as good without the croutons, Liz. Of course you could always make pancetta “croutons” (see my charcutepalooza post from back in…Feb or March??…on cream of cauliflower soup with pancetta croutons).

      • LiztheChef October 14, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

        She is vegan – no pancetta – which I adore and will try!

        • Domenica October 14, 2011 at 6:07 pm #

          Right! Definitely not pancetta. Just an extra-generous drizzle of good olive oil, then!

  4. Francesca October 13, 2011 at 6:12 pm #

    This makes me feel at home, my Tuscany. I love soups – cold or hot. And this one will be one that I will definitely make when the temperatures drop down. Thank you Domenica!

    • Domenica October 13, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

      Grazie. Thanks for your comment, Francesca.

  5. Alicia Sokol October 13, 2011 at 11:35 pm #

    Are you kidding me? Lentil soups are the little black dress of my pantry. They are also like the black shoe problem I have – just when I think I’ve found the “perfect” one, I’m in search of the next best thing. With the cooler weather ahead, I have a lot of lentil soup eating to do. This recipe is on the roster! XOXO.

    • Domenica October 14, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

      What a great analogy, Alicia. Thank you for your comment. Cheers & xo.

  6. nancy baggett October 15, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

    I have to agree–a lentil soup is so sustaining and satisfying. Somehow the lentils make even fairly uninteresting veggies just sing. I’ve got vegetarian guest coming soon and plan to make this with vegetable broth for them. Thanks for posting.

    • Domenica October 15, 2011 at 5:22 pm #

      Thanks Nancy. I often make this with vegetable broth instead of chicken. Italians often just use water and season with salt and herbs, plus maybe a couple of spoonfuls of tomato passata (puree). Enjoy!

  7. Haroun October 17, 2011 at 9:18 am #

    Thanks for sharing! We are harvesting it now for market.

    • Domenica October 17, 2011 at 11:17 am #

      Thanks Haroun. Sounds like I need to make another trip to the Lafayette-Broad Brand farmers’ market! Cheers, D

  8. Jamie October 19, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    Put me on the “loves lentil soup” list and add to that kale and garlic. This soup just has autumn and Italy written all over it and I cannot imagine a better, more cozy and comforting meal. Perfect. And I have to get to your cookbook and start cooking!

    • Domenica October 19, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

      Grazie, cara

  9. Melissa October 19, 2011 at 6:07 pm #

    Made this for dinner tonight. Despite the drab color it was delish!!

    • Domenica October 19, 2011 at 6:36 pm #

      So glad you liked it, Melissa. Perhaps I should describe it (euphamistically) as earth-toned. Thanks for your comment, D

  10. angela@spinachtiger October 20, 2011 at 10:53 am #

    Such a great time of year to present this rich and legendary soup from the Tuscany area. This some bread and you have food for a few days.

    • Domenica October 20, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

      Angela, you are exactly right. Good crusty bread–and a nice glass of vino–is all you need to make a meal. Thanks for your comment.

  11. Elisa December 28, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

    There is a custom at this time of the year when Italians eat lentils on New Year’s day as a wish for a prosperous financial year. So I intend to eat lots of them. The only thing I don’t like is the job of sorting all those little things, but I found at Trader Joe’s the answer. The have steamed French lentils vacuum packed in a 1lb. 1.6oz bag. They are ready to reheat or to use for soups and my goodness they are good!!
    Happy New Year! Buon Anno and a happy rich lentil year!!!

    • Domenica December 28, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

      Thanks for the TJ tip, Elisa. I like those little French lentils when I can’t find the Italian lenticchie di Castelluccio (I have to order those online). Buon Anno anche a te!

  12. Margaret March 10, 2012 at 11:45 am #

    Domenica,
    Thank you for sharing this recipe which I made and enjoyed for lunch today. I put in key words for lentil and winter veg soup. I needed to include turnip carrot and kale which is producing lovely young green shoots as it goes to seed in my garden at the moment. I must say I have never tasted anything quite so satisfying. I did not have the fennel so I substituted celery instead and it was so worth the effort. It is some time since I made lentil soup but this tops them all. It was also my first time coming on your website so I will be back.

    Mgt

    • Domenica March 10, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

      Welcome, Margaret! Thank you for your kind words. Lentil soup is one of my favorites, and one of the nicest things about it is that it can easily be varied and is always delicious and satisfying. It sounds like you have a great garden. I love creating vegetable recipes (I’m working on an Italian vegetable book) so stay tuned for more…Cheers!

  13. Deborah George July 20, 2016 at 11:10 am #

    I love any and all hearty soups. Can’t wait to try this one. Kale is a staple in my house. My mom loves it mixed with collard greens. This will be a treat for her.

    • Domenica Marchetti July 20, 2016 at 12:02 pm #

      Hi Deborah, thanks for your comment. I’m with you and your mom ~ love all hearty soups, especially those with greens. Enjoy!

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