Tuscan Lentil Soup

It never fails. When one of my sons issues a last-minute request for a friend to stay for dinner, it never seems to be mac and cheese or spaghetti night. On the heels of enduring black bean spaghetti stir-fry—which went over shockingly well–one special friend recently appeared as I was ladling lentil soup into bowls.

I have enough history with this friend to know that his favorite soup is a decadently creamy and cheesy tomato variety that he frequently orders at a favorite local restaurant. So a legume-based soup with its fair share of vegetables had the potential to send him back to his house for a better option.

As it turns out, I had been tweaking my lentil soup recipe in anticipation of Get Soup! Give Soup!, an annual campaign run by Isaac’s Restaurants throughout the months of January and February.  All of Isaac’s 18 locations choose a soup kitchen, shelter, food bank, or other non-profit that helps the hungry and homeless in their community. Then, for every 100 cups of soup sold, a gallon of soup is donated to the chosen organization. (They tally the number of cups in bowls and takeout orders, so count those, too.)

Since the campaign’s inception in 2014, 2,350 gallons of soup have been donated across South Central Pennsylvania. Some stores are able to donate soup to more than one partner thanks to the tremendous customer support of this campaign. Importantly, the soup is distributed on a weekly basis throughout these cold winter months, when so many really need a hot, wholesome meal.

As the folks at Isaac’s were planning for this annual event last fall, they asked me if I would be willing to provide a soup recipe for them to feature on their menu. The primary request was that the new soup be healthy and hearty. Could I maximize protein without adding empty calories? Specifically, the hope was that each bowl or cup would provide at least 10 or 5 grams of protein, respectively, and that wholesome ingredients like lentils and kale could be incorporated in a delicious way. More than ever, restaurant patrons are seeking out healthy menu items that leave them feeling full, and this desire is typically heightened in the post-holiday season.

In our house, the popularity of this filling soup has less to do with grams of protein and more to do with taste. And I’m happy to report that my son’s friend agreed. When I asked him if he might order it at Isaac’s, where it will be a menu feature over the next few months, he said he just might. Luckily though, whether he chooses his favorite cheesy tomato soup or this Tuscan lentil option, people who truly need a hot meal will benefit.

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To help support Isaac’s Get Soup! Give Soup! partnerships, simply enjoy a serving of your favorite soup—or this new-to-the-menu Tuscan lentil option–at any of the restaurant’s 18 locations. All soup sales, whether dine-in or takeout, will be applied to this effort now through the end of February.

Tuscan Lentil Soup
Don’t be turned off by a seemingly long list of ingredients. Much of the prep can be done in advance—I often chop the veggies earlier in the day and store them in the fridge in leftover produce bags or airtight containers. The recipe also makes a big batch, so there’s plenty for another night or lunches throughout the week--or freeze a container if you prefer.

Yield: 6-8 servings
Ingredients
  • Olive oil for pot
  • 1/2 pound Italian pork or turkey sausage (removed from casings)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning (could use a mix of dried oregano, thyme, basil, and parsley)
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 (14-1/2 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained (could use Italian seasoned)
  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup dry brown lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 1 large potato (8-10 ounces), chopped (may substitute sweet potato or use a combination; no need to peel)
  • 2 cups lightly packed chopped kale (tough ribs removed; may substitute greens of choice)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt and a few good turns of the pepper mill
  • 1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • For serving: freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. Add just enough oil to a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot to lightly coat (about 2-3 teaspoons), and place over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook until browned, crumbling as you go.
  2. Add the onion to the sausage and sauté for 2-3 minutes or until beginning to soften. Stir in the carrots, celery, garlic, Italian seasoning, and crushed red pepper. Sauté for a minute or until the garlic is fragrant but not browned. Add the tomatoes with their juices and cook for another minute or two. Then stir in the chicken broth, lentils, and potato.
  3. Increase the heat in order to bring the mixture to a boil, then partially cover the pot and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook for approximately 40 minutes, or until the lentils are tender but still hold their shape. Stir every 10-15 minutes or so.
  4. Stir in the chopped greens, salt and balsamic vinegar. Cook for 3-4 more minutes, or until the greens have softened to your liking.
  5. Ladle into individual bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Notes
  • Nutritional information based on 8 servings: 14.9 grams protein, 9.4 grams fiber, 8.4 grams total fat, 240 calories, 681 mg potassium, 111% Vitamin A, 58% Vitamin C, 17% Iron, also high in thiamin
The Fountain Avenue Kitchen https://fountainavenuekitchen.com/
So what exactly does “Tuscan” mean?  Tuscan food is based on the Italian concept of cucina povera, or “poor cooking,” and includes simple, inexpensive meals that can easily be made in large quantities. Tuscan cooking doesn’t rely on complex seasonings or fussy preparation. It’s prepared with fresh, quality ingredients that bring out the natural flavors in a dish.For up-to-date information on Isaac’s Get Soup! Give Soup! campaign–and where to buy a cup of my soup!–visit Isaac’s Facebook page.The subtle hint of acid provided by the balsamic vinegar rounds everything out at the end.  Freshly grated or shaved Parmesan is the perfect finishing touch.  Leftovers are more stew-like as the lentils continue to absorb the broth–although the flavor gets better and better.  Additional chicken broth may be added if desired.  

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Comments

  1. Joan Post author

    Hi Ann – just made this soup – it is so good I am taking it to a luncheon tomorrow. I used the turkey sausage and made it with about 3/4 pound instead of the half. I will make this again.

    Reply
  2. AJ Post author

    My wife handed me your column in the paper and proclaimed that this would be the soup de semana. Almost a stew…beyond good and made the house smell amazing. (Swapped kale for spinach as per personal preference.) Good job!

    Reply
  3. Maria DeAngelis

    I made this a few days ago using what I had on hand. I used fresh spinach in place of the kale, chicken sausage which I partially cooked in a pan, and omitted the tomatoes. I cooked it on low in the crock pot for several hours, adding the spinach in the final minutes and it turned out delicious! It’s so comforting on a cold day and very hearty. Definitely will make this again and am sure it will be a big hit with Isaac’s. Thanks for posting!

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Maria, So glad it’s a repeater and am glad the slow cooker option worked so well. I’ve made this soup many, many times but never in the slow cooker. Thanks for taking the time to let me know. I’m sure others will appreciate, too!

      Reply
  4. Roxanna

    This soup is fantastic and easy to make. We really enjoyed the flavors. My husband stated it is restaurant quality. We will be enjoying again tonight and may freeze some, if it lasts that long. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

    Reply
  5. Rosemary

    Well this sounds awesome and that said while idling on an Oceana cruise. Not too many ingreds. — just sounds like my homemade Minestrone. Will try for sure! Where R U in Pa.? Lived in Erie 5 yrs. in the late 50’s.

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      A cruise? How fabulous! We’re in Lancaster, a few hours to the east. Fun to make those connections. Hope you enjoy the soup…and feel free to share your minestrone recipe for all enjoy! 🙂

      Reply
  6. Ollie Post author

    Survey says, YUM! I ended up using the substitution of a sweet potato (as suggested) and added a little more carrots because… carrots. I had some squash & zucchini that were nearing the end of their happy storage life so I added those about halfway through the lentil cook time so they didn’t turn to mush. Should reheat well, too!

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      I’m delighted that this was a success and that you were able to use what needed to be used. Thanks for letting me know!

      Reply
  7. Caroline Post author

    My lunch group loved the soup and made me make copies of the recipe for all of them. They ate every bit, so I made some more today to keep on hand to give to people who are sick or not cooking.

    Reply
  8. Tom Gaunt

    Tried this recipe and it was a hit with the family. I didn’t have brown lentils to hand so I used green lentils. That worked OK

    Very tasty

    Tom Gaunt
    Milton Keynes
    England

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Wonderful to read feedback from across the Atlantic, Tom. I’m delighted you enjoyed and appreciate your comment!

      Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Yay! So glad you liked, Margo. It’s unseasonably warm here, too…but something tells me there’s a little more winter yet to come! 🙂

      Reply
  9. Donna

    Wow! This is delicious! And so, so easy. It has everything you would want in a soup, or meal for that matter – greens, veggies, lentils and sausage and you even get to top it with some cheese. Yum!! I used your homemade chicken stock for this and it was perfect. Make this soup! Fountain Avenue Kitchen is my new go to site for recipes – they are always on point.

    Reply