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This soup is a mishmash of a couple of different things. It started out as a vegetarian recipe for lentil and tomato soup taken from Food + Wine’s Best of the Best cookbook.
After making it the regular way a few times, I tried adding fennel seeds to shake things up, and I loved the effect. If you’re trying cut down on your meat consumption (or maybe observing Lent?), this is a great trick for tomato-based soups and sauces. Since fennel is used so often in Italian sausage, adding a little to your dish makes it seem a little richer, a little more hearty. I find it also amps up the flavor of sausage when it IS in your dish, too.
Finally, I went all-in and added the sausage. But of course, you can stop anywhere along this spectrum. Skip the meat for a still-hearty vegetarian soup, and leave out the fennel if you’re not crazy about it.
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1/2 lb bulk Italian sausage
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp fennel seeds, optional
- 1 cup dry green lentils, rinsed and picked over
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
- 5 cups water
- salt and pepper
- 1 tsp red wine or balsamic vinegar, optional
- Heat the oil over medium heat in a large pot. Crumble in the sausage and brown it, stirring and breaking it into pieces.
- Add the onion to the pot and cook, about 5 minutes, until translucent. Add the celery, carrot and garlic and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 5 more minutes.
- Stir in the fennel seeds, if using, and stir a minute or two until fragrant. Add the lentils, bay leaves, tomatoes and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered 30-45 minutes until the lentils are tender and the soup has thickened. The longer you cook the soup, the more the lentils will break down and the thicker it will become. Remove the bay leaves and discard.
- Season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the vinegar to brighten the flavors if necessary.
- Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and crusty bread.