Umbrian Lentil Soup with Pasta

Vegetarian Umbrian Lentil Soup with Pasta

At the end of last year, friends came to stay who live in Cascia, Umbria.  Cascia is in a part of Umbria known as the Valnerina. This area is famous for a number of crops including small lentils, other legumes and saffron. So I was thrilled that they brought me some of their famous lentils (as well as other goodies!).  I used them in this Umbrian lentil soup with pasta recipe. Definitely the best lentils I have ever tasted!

Umbrian lentil soup with pasta

Minestra di lenticchie con pasta.

Did you know that lentils are the oldest pulse crop in the world? People have been cultivating them for thousands of years. The Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all grew and ate lentils. Of course, there are many different types of this tiny legume and they come in various colours, with red, brown and green being the most popular.

Umbrian lentil soup with pasta

Lentils in Italy.

Here in Italy, lentils, as well as other legumes, were an important staple for the poorer and peasant population, especially in the Central and Southern regions. This was particularly true in the winter. The most popular way to eat lentils was (and probably still is) with pasta. There are many traditional lentil and pasta recipes in the regions where these legumes are cultivated.  In some, the lentils are made into a sauce. In others, the dish is more like this Umbrian lentil soup.

ingredients for Umbrian lentil soup on white plate

I’m not sure when the tradition started, but, nowadays Italians eat lentils on New Year’s Eve at midnight! The lentils are usually served with cotechino, a rich seasoned pork sausage. According to tradition, people eat large quantities of lentils because they are believed to bring prosperity in the year to come. Perhaps, because lentils look like little coins.

finely chopped carrots, celery and onion in Dutch oven

The health benefits of lentils.

Lentils were also the most popular substitute for fish for poorer Catholics during periods of fasting and abstinence, such as Lent. I always find it interesting that in the past, people understood the nutritional value of certain foods, even though I don’t think they understood words like carbohydrates, proteins etc!

chopped celery, carrots, onions, garlic and rosemary with tomato paste in Dutch oven

Today we know that lentils add essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber to the diet. They also provide protein and are an excellent replacement for meat in meals.  They are one of the best food sources of potassium and have folic acid, calcium and magnesium. So, really a super food that is also economical and easy to prepare.

dried lentils added to the cooked vegetables in Dutch oven

Lentils from Umbria.

The best and most well-known lentils in Italy come from Umbria, particularly those grown in the Nera Valley known as the Valnerina.  As I mentioned, these are the ones I have used in this Umbrian lentil soup with pasta. Apart from lentils, this area is also famous for farro, roveja wild peas, grass peas (chickling vetch), saffron, black truffles, pork products from the town of Norcia and trout from the Nera river!

Lentil soup cooking in Dutch oven

In fact, a visit to the Valnerina is on my to do list this year. I particularly want to go to Castellucio di Norcia, where the most prized lentils are cultivated on a large 16 square kilometer plateau more than 1,400 mt above sea level. Apparently the flowering season there is a wonder to see. Thousands of flowers bloom the plateau, filling it with shades of colours that range from yellow to red and from violet to white.

dried sagnarelli pasta added to the lentil soup in Dutch oven

Apart from the lentils, I have read there are dwarf gentians, poppies, narcissus, violets, asphodel, Eugenia violets, clover, oxalis and many more. Check out the bellaumbria.net site to learn more

Umbrian lentil soup with pasta ready in Dutch oven

Lentil cultivation in this part of Umbria is totally organic and sustainable. Farmers raise the crops using the same methods as their grandfathers and great grandfathers did. The only difference being that nowadays some harvesting is done by machine instead of by hand! However, the lentils are grown using a 3 year group rotation method, meaning one year lentils, one year wheat and one year fallow.

sagnarelli pasta by Giuseppe Cocco

Making this Umbrian lentil soup with pasta.

Umbrian lentils are tiny, similar to the French green lentils from the Puy region of France. They don’t need to be pre-soaked and require just 20-30 minutes simmering  to soften. When ready, they have a nice creamy texture  and rich nutty taste. So, you don’t necessarily need a lot extras to make them flavorful. In fact, this recipe for Umbrian lentil soup with pasta is pretty simple.

If you don’t have Umbrian lentils, you can use any small lentils in this Umbrian lentil soup recipe. However, better not to use the larger red lentils which can become mushy when cooked.

Umbrian lentil soup with pasta

Apart from the legumes, this Umbrian lentil soup and pasta recipe has only a few other ingredients. You will need celery, carrots, an onion, garlic, rosemary and tomato concentrate for the soup, plus pasta. This recipe is both vegan and vegetarian. There are versions that include meat such as small cubes of pancetta or guanciale or sausage. Of course, you can add one of those if you like. I’d suggest browning the meat with the onions, celery and carrots.

Umbrian lentil soup with pasta

Some people prefer to make this dish ‘drier. I like it with more liquid. However, the pasta and lentils will absorb the liquid even after you have finished cooking. So, leftovers tend to be ‘drier’.

What pasta is best?

In Italy, the most popular pasta used with lentil soup is ditalini. However, some Italians use broken spaghetti or linguine or a type of flat maltagliati. In Abruzzo, sagne is popular. In fact, the pasta I used for this Umbrian lentil soup is from Abruzzo. It’s a dried pasta called sagnarelli which looks something between sagne  and the larger sagne a pezzi, both typical and traditional pasta shapes in Abruzzo.

This pasta was made by a company in Abruzzo called Giuseppe Cocco. This was actually the first type of pasta I have tried from this company. But, it won’t be the last. I really liked this pasta. It’s bronze extruded and made with natural spring water.  I know this company exports to US and US readers can buy it online from https://www.supermarketitaly.com/ I’m not sure where else they export to.

Whichever pasta you choose to make this warming and nutritious Umbrian lentil soup with, I’m sure you will enjoy it!

If you make this Umbrian lentil soup with pasta recipe, I’d love to hear how it turns out and if you liked it. So, please leave a comment here on the blog or on The Pasta Project Facebook page.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Buon appetito!

Other recipes from Umbria

  1. Pasta alla Norcina, sausage pasta recipe from Norcia
  2. Umbrian wild pea soup with casarecce
5 from 34 votes
Umbrian lentil soup with pasta
Umbrian Lentil Soup with Pasta
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
 

An easy and nutritious traditional one-pot vegetarian/vegan pasta and lentil soup recipe from Umbria in Central Italy. An authentic Italian pasta recipe.

Course: Main Course, Soup
Cuisine: Central Italy, Italian, Mediterranean, Umbria
Keyword: authentic Italian pasta recipe, Italian recipe, lentil soup, lentils, pasta soup, Umbrian lentils
Servings: 4
Author: Jacqueline De Bono
Ingredients
  • 200-250 g small lentils (7-9oz) I used Umbrian lentils from Cascia
  • 250 g pasta (9oz) You can use ditalini, broken linguine, maltagliati or sagnette. I used sagnarelli
  • 1 onion peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves peeled and chopped
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary chopped leaves
  • 3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil.
  • 1 tbsp tomato concentrate
  • 1 lt warm water or vegetable stock (33floz) I used half and half
  • salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper. as required
Instructions
  1. Peel and finely chop the onion and garlic. Wash and finely chop the celery. Wash and chop the rosemary leaves. Rinse the lentils under running water to remove any impurities (like stones). Umbrian lentils don't need pre-soaking. If you use another kind, check the packet to see if you have to soak them first. Small lentils are better. Red lentils not so good as they get mushy.

  2. Saute the onion, carrots and celery in a deep heavy pan or Dutch oven (I used my Dutch oven). When the veggies start to soften add the garlic, rosemary and tomato concentrate. Mix everything together. Let it cook for another minute and then add the lentils and cover with warm water and vegetable stock. (I used half and half). Let the soup simmer for about 20-30 minutes.

  3. Add salt to taste and then add the pasta. Continue cooking until the pasta is ready.  Stir every now and again to prevent sticking. Serve with a little olive oil and ground black pepper as required.

Recipe Notes

The pasta cooking time will depend on the type of pasta you use. Check the packet for cooking instructions. You can use ditalini, broken spaghetti or linguine, sagne or maltagliati. I used sagnarelli from Giuseppe Cocco.

I used small Umbrian lentils that don’t need soaking. You can use any small lentil but I wouldn’t use red lentils as they can get mushy. Check the packet to see if they need pre-soaking

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45 Comments

  • Avatar
    Diane
    March 23, 2020 11:08 am

    This is exactly how I make my lentil soup too. Sometimes instead of rosemary I add a bay leaf instead.

    I plan to visit the Umbria region this year on business, so I will make it a point to buy some of these lentils and little strips of pasta while there.

    Stay healthy and safe there. Best regards from your friend in Turkey.

  • Avatar
    Lathiya
    February 26, 2020 7:29 pm

    The lentil soup looks a wholesome meal. Never heard of Umbrian lentil. Will have to look or can I know is there any other name for it?

  • Avatar
    Jacque Hastert
    February 25, 2020 8:40 pm

    This lentil soup with pasta sounds amazing. Perfect for lunch or dinner. I can’t wait to give this a try soon.

  • Avatar
    Nicole
    February 24, 2020 7:21 am

    Lentils are a staple in our home, too. We live in one of the worlds largest lentil producing areas so we have so many at our disposal. I must try this soup immediately! It looks so hearty and comforting!

  • Avatar
    Aline
    February 24, 2020 6:51 am

    We are obsessed with lentils BUT I never seen it prepared with noodles. I feel so dumb, because DUUUHH what a magical combination ahaha I love coming to your blog!! I always learn something great and delicious!!!

  • Avatar
    Sophie
    February 24, 2020 3:08 am

    I love Italian lentil soups. Thanks for this regional delicacy and recipe.

  • Avatar
    Elaine
    February 24, 2020 2:04 am

    It is amazing to see this type of lentils in action. It is certainly the recipe I would be excited to try. And I didn’t know about the NY tradition – exciting.

  • Avatar
    Daniela
    February 23, 2020 9:55 pm

    I live off of lentil soup this time of year and yours sounds dreamy! Will have to try it! Thanks so much for sharing :).

  • Avatar
    Amy Liu Dong
    February 23, 2020 7:51 am

    In my opinion every food with incorporate with pasta is absolutely be my favorite. I loved how you create and cook this food, it’s easy to follow. Thanks for sharing this to us.

  • Avatar
    Veronika
    February 23, 2020 3:35 am

    What a great combo for a comforting meal! Love your flavor combinations. Will put it on my to do lost!

  • Avatar
    Emily
    February 23, 2020 1:43 am

    I’m really into lentils lately and love lentil soups! I love that your lentil soup has pasta anymore, which really takes it up a notch!

  • Avatar
    Leslie
    February 23, 2020 1:21 am

    I find it so fascinating that lentils are popular with pasta in Italy. I’ve never had the combination before. This looks super filling, though! Great flavors too!

  • Avatar
    Kay
    February 21, 2020 9:15 pm

    Love the use of lentils with pasta in this recipe! Never thought of putting them together before, but it really does work! My partner and I loved it!

    • Avatar
      Kay
      February 21, 2020 9:15 pm

      Forgot to put the rating on!

  • Avatar
    Kushigalu
    February 21, 2020 3:44 pm

    What a great combination of flavors in this soup recipe. Perfect for the weather here!

  • Avatar
    Anna
    February 21, 2020 10:49 am

    Lentils are one of the staple ingredients in our kitchen, and I love cooking with them, they are so delicious and so nutritious! Your soup looks superb, especially with that pasta added there! Perfect comfort food right there!

  • Avatar
    Alex Ryder
    February 20, 2020 5:27 pm

    You know I always associate lentils with indian cuisine and forget that they are eaten alot in Italy. I’ve got some red lentils at home, do you think they would work for this soup?

  • Avatar
    Ramona
    February 20, 2020 2:57 pm

    I love, love, love lentils and this tastes absolutely divine the combo of pasta and lentil…mmmmm. Heaven. I cannot wait to make this again – my kids loved it and trust you me they are not easy to please. They want it again so it says it all. Thanks for sharing this wonderful and delicious Umbrian lentil soup with pasta recipe.

  • Avatar
    Beth
    February 20, 2020 3:36 am

    Lentil soup with pasta sounds like absolute comfort food as well as a classic beans and grains combo. And I’d also love to visit that flowering plateau – it sounds gorgeous.

  • Avatar
    Nart | Cooking with Nart
    February 19, 2020 5:28 pm

    This soup looks so filling. And wow, I didn’t know that lentils used to be a staple for the poorer and often eaten with pasta in Italy!

  • Avatar
    saif
    February 19, 2020 4:57 am

    I did tried lentil soup and it is very delicious. I am not familiar mixing this with pasta, but it looks very creative, and I love the presentation. I think I am going to make this in my kitchen. Thank you.

  • Avatar
    Angela Sedlak | Mean Green Chef
    February 19, 2020 4:01 am

    Lentils and pasta you can count me in, wow this looks delish! Thanks so much for sharing, added to my must-try list 🙂

  • Avatar
    Kacey Perez
    February 19, 2020 3:38 am

    So yummy and comforting. The perfect recipe to give a try during the colder months!

  • Avatar
    Christian Guzman
    February 19, 2020 12:00 am

    So interesting! I love lentils but I’ve never eaten them with pasta like this. I will have to give it a try.

  • Avatar
    Jere Cassidy
    February 19, 2020 12:00 am

    We eat lentils all the time, they are perfect for meatless nights. I love that you added pasta, so this is my next lentil recipe to try.

  • Avatar
    Jenni LeBaron
    February 18, 2020 11:28 pm

    Lentil soup is so hearty and comforting and this one with pasta looks spectacular. It’s been really cold here today so I could go for a bowl of this now!

  • Avatar
    Stine Mari
    February 18, 2020 7:46 pm

    This looks like a delicious and comforting bowl of lentil soup. The added pasta makes it more filling and interesting too, great recipe!

  • Avatar
    Sivaranjani
    February 18, 2020 6:56 pm

    Soupy pasta looks yummy.. i always love your writeups about the recipe as well some histories about it. It is really interesting for readers who loves to know the recipe and its origin.

  • Avatar
    Sharon
    February 18, 2020 4:15 am

    I really love this comfort food pasta dish. It has such a delicious soup base in it as well.

  • Avatar
    Antonio
    February 17, 2020 12:17 am

    Pasta e lenticchie was one of those things growing up as a child in Italy I did not like. It’s not that I was a fussy eater, but when you’re little you wish you could eat only your favourite things every day. But it was always made at least once a week in our house, in different ways.. and eventually I started to like it, then love it. I’m glad my parents persisted! Nowadays I always buy Umbrian lentils, they are so good it makes any dish come out better than expected. Your recipe is almost exactly how we make it, and yes it’s great to use something different from ditalini for a change.

  • Avatar
    Julie
    February 16, 2020 9:49 pm

    Yum! just Yum! Thanks for sharing!

  • Avatar
    Cathleen @ A Taste of Madness
    February 16, 2020 9:48 pm

    I have never had lentil soup with pasta in it before, but I am intrigued!! This needs to happen in my house!!

  • Avatar
    Dannii
    February 16, 2020 9:38 pm

    I love lentil soup – a really cheap comforting meal.

  • Avatar
    Pam Greer
    February 16, 2020 9:07 pm

    This is such a warm and comforting soup! So interesting that they eat lentils on New Year’s Eve, here in the Southern US, we eat black-eyed peas!

  • Avatar
    Andrea Metlika
    February 16, 2020 8:40 pm

    I’ve recently started eating more lentils and this soup with pasta sounds wonderful. I can’t wait to make this.

  • Avatar
    Sue
    February 15, 2020 9:11 pm

    I just love your site! I always find something new and interesting every time I visit. My husband is a huge lentil fan, so I’m going to make this for him.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      February 16, 2020 12:06 am

      Thank you, Sue. I am happy to hear that you like what I am doing!

  • Avatar
    Cate
    February 15, 2020 8:20 pm

    Looks super hearty and filling, perfect for these last few winter nights, thanks for the idea!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      February 16, 2020 12:07 am

      Very true, Cate! It’s perfect food for waiting for Spring!

  • Avatar
    Erica Schwarz
    February 15, 2020 7:04 pm

    I have a bag of lentils and hadn’t figured out yet what to do them, so I’m making this. Love how flavorful it looks while also being so affordable.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      February 16, 2020 12:08 am

      This recipe is a perfect use for them, Erica.

  • Avatar
    Paula Montenegro
    February 15, 2020 6:59 pm

    Great new pasta recipe to try! I never had lentils in a pasta dish and I hadn’t seen that rectangular pasta. Love both! This is happening soon in my kitchen. Thanks for sharing!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      February 16, 2020 12:10 am

      Thank you, Paula! Lentils are such a good texture combination with pasta, I hope you love it!

  • Avatar
    Farah Abumaizar
    February 15, 2020 6:58 pm

    I’m a huge lentil soup fan and those shards of pasta look absolutely delicious. What a heart meal!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      February 16, 2020 12:12 am

      Thank you, Farah. You must try this one if you love lentils!

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