Italian Lentil Soup: A Hearty Meal for Busy Days

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This soup is easy to make, nutritious, and it tastes just like Nana’s.

Vertical image of an orange-rimmed blue bowl filled with a vegetable stew next to a wooden cutting board with bread, with text on the top and bottom of the image.

By way of introduction, my mother-in-law is 100% Italian. And while there’s the benefit of being treated to homemade pasta with the best tomato sauce I’ve ever eaten every time we visit her, it also means that my husband is incredibly critical when it comes to Italian food.

Whenever I make soup at home, I know that with each bite, he’s comparing it to one of his Nana’s recipes. And that’s a lot to live up to.

After years of trying out different recipes, I’ve finally discovered the key to making a soup that passes on the Nana scale: keep it simple.

And really, I’ve found that goes for all types of Italian food. It isn’t about creating crazy new flavor combinations, but rather, combining just a handful of simple, high-quality ingredients.

So, what’s in it? Pretty much all of your standard vegetable soup ingredients: carrots, garlic, onion, tomatoes, and spinach.

But rather than just throwing everything into a pot and letting it bubble away, the key is getting those onions soft and golden, to add a deep and nuanced flavor.

Vertical image of two orange-rimmed blue bowls filled with stew made with vegetables and legumes, with a bread slice and spoon in one of the bowls.

Don’t rush this step! It can be tempting to crank up the heat and stir the onions constantly, but trust me – low and slow is best for building the flavor you’re looking for. Plus, no one wants bits of burnt onion in their soup!

When you take a look at this recipe, you may be wondering: should I soak the green lentils first?

My answer to that is, it depends.

While the texture will be fine without soaking them before cooking, if you’re prone to digestive pain from consuming high fiber foods, soaking them overnight can help to break down some of those compounds that make lentils harder to digest.

Maybe you don’t cook them regularly at home. I’m here to encourage you to reconsider! Lentils are a food that I always keep in my pantry. Not only are they inexpensive, but they have a long shelf life and are packed with filling fiber.

With lentils and canned tomatoes in your pantry, this recipe is super easy to put together. You could even use frozen vegetables that you already have on hand if you don’t feel like making a grocery store run.

Vertical close-up image of a bowl filled with a vegetable stew with a metal spoon and a slice of bread, with more bread on a wooden cutting board in the background.

Or, if you have fresh vegetables in your crisper drawer that need to be used up, go ahead and throw them in! I had some spinach that was going to go bad so I ended up using a combination of fresh and frozen – such an easy way to prevent food waste!

And about those canned tomatoes – I’m a big believer in purchasing products from a good quality brand. Personally, I love Muir Glen Organic tomatoes, available on Amazon, and Cento San Marzano Organic tomatoes are a close second. You can find these on Amazon as well.

If you don’t have diced or crushed tomatoes on hand, it’s okay to use whole ones. Just chop them up before adding them to your stockpot.

This lentil soup is bursting with vegetables and comforting flavors. While it’s not anything fancy, it’s an everyday kind of recipe that goes perfectly with a crusty slice of bread and some fresh Parmesan cheese grated on top.

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Horizontal image of orange-rimmed blue bowls filled with a vegetable stew next to a wooden cutting board with bread

Italian Lentil Soup


  • Author: Kelli McGrane
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 35 minutes
  • Total Time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: 8 servings 1x

Description

This Italian lentil soup is so easy to make and bursting with vegetables. With its simple, comforting flavors, it tastes just Nana’s.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup diced carrots (about 2 medium)
  • 1/2 cup diced yellow onion (about 1 small)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 810 cups water, divided
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups green lentils, rinsed
  • 10 ounces frozen spinach
  • Grated Parmesan, for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Add oil to a large stockpot over medium heat. Once oil is hot, add onion and carrots. Cook 8-10 minutes, or until onions are translucent and carrots are slightly softened, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant, stirring constantly. Add dried herbs, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine, and cook another 30 seconds.
  3. Add diced tomatoes, 8 cups water, bay leaf, and lentils. Stir to combine. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil.
  4. Once boiling, cover and reduce heat to a low simmer. Simmer for 30-45 minutes, or until lentils are soft. Depending on how much water was absorbed, you have the option to add the remaining 2 cups of water to thin out the soup as desired.
  5. Remove lid and stir in spinach. Cook until spinach is heated through, about 5 minutes. Remove bay leaf and serve immediately.

  • Category: Soup
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian

Keywords: lentil soup, Italian, lentil, tomato, spinach

Cooking By the Numbers…

Step 1 – Chop Vegetables, Rinse Lentils, and Measure Remaining Ingredients

Chop the carrots and onion, and mince the garlic. Sort and rinse the lentils.

Horizontal image of dried pulses, greens, tomatoes, onions, and various seasonings in bowls.

Measure all of the remaining ingredients.

Notes: You can use fresh baby spinach instead of frozen. To help make the lentils easier to digest, you can soak them in water overnight. Soaking will also help the lentils cook slightly faster, allowing you to reduce the cooking time by about 10 minutes

Step 2 – Soften Onion and Carrots

Add the oil to a large stockpot and place it over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onion and carrots. Stirring occasionally, cook for 8-10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent and the carrots have softened slightly.

Horizontal image of a pot cooking diced carrots and onions.

If the onions are cooking too quickly, turn your heat down to medium-low.

Step 3 – Add Remaining Ingredients and Simmer

Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, or until fragrant. Add the dried herbs, salt, and pepper, and cook for another 30 seconds.

Horizontal image of a pot with a liquid red mixture with seasonings.

Finally, add the diced tomatoes, 8 cups of water, the bay leaf, and the lentils. Stir to combine, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil.

Once the liquid is boiling, reduce the heat to a low simmer and cover. Simmer for 30-45 minutes, or until the lentils are soft.

Step 4 – Add Spinach and Serve

Once the lentils are cooked, remove the lid and stir in the spinach.

Note: If most of the water was absorbed during cooking, you can add the remaining 2 cups of water to thin it out, or try adding low-sodium vegetable broth for extra flavor.

Horiztontal image of a pot filled with a red mixture with cooked vegetables and greens.

Cook until the spinach is heated through, about 5 minutes for frozen or 1-2 minutes for fresh. Remove the bay leaf.

Serve with a garnish of grated Parmesan cheese if you like, and a big slice of crusty bread. Enjoy!

A Soup That’s Even Better the Next Day

Just like homemade chili, I think this Italian lentil soup tastes even better after a night in the fridge. I personally love soups like this, as they make meal prep super easy!

Worried you won’t be able to get through a whole batch in a week? No worries! Simply portion out any leftovers that you have into individual freezer-safe containers and pop them in the freezer. They can be frozen safely for 4-6 months.

Horizontal image of orange-rimmed blue bowls filled with a vegetable stew next to a wooden cutting board with bread

When you’re ready to eat, simply take out a container and let it thaw overnight in the fridge. Reheat on the stove or in the microwave.

Looking for more comforting and nutritious soups? We’ve got you covered with these tried-and-true Foodal recipes:

Which recipes bring you back to your childhood? Share in the comments below, and don’t forget to rate this recipe to let others know how much you loved it!

Photos by Kelli McGrane, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on September 13, 2011. Last updated on November 21, 2020.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

The written contents of this article have been reviewed and verified by a registered dietitian for informational purposes only. This article should not be construed as personalized or professional medical advice. Foodal and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet, or using supplements or manufactured or natural medications.

About Kelli McGrane, MS, RD

Kelli McGrane is a Denver-based registered dietitian with a lifelong love of food. She holds undergraduate and master’s degrees in nutrition science from Boston University. As a registered dietitian, she believes in the importance of food to nourish not only your body, but your soul as well. Nutrition is very personal, and you won’t find any food rules here, other than to simply enjoy what you eat.

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