Belinda Jeffery

Lentil And Smoked Pancetta Soup

This is an utterly soul-satisfying soup, and just perfect on a chilly day. It’s so thick with vegetables and lentils that you can nearly stand your spoon up in it, and the only thing it needs to finish it off is some good sourdough bread for dunking…and perhaps a glass of red wine!

BTW, I nearly always cook double this amount because it tastes even better after a day or two in the fridge, and it freezes well. And please don’t worry if you can’t find smoked pancetta – speck or slab bacon work really well too. Actually, I should also tell you that I sometimes cook a handful of diced pancetta separately to scatter over the top of the soup when I serve it. It’s really lovely as the salty, smoky little nuggets give the soup an extra dimension. And I also sometimes make up a bowlful of minted yoghurt spiked with a dash of cumin and olive oil, to dollop on top.

  • Serves 4


  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 small red chilli, finely chopped
  • 2 large-ish carrots, peeled and cut into little chunks
  • 3 celery stalks, cut into little chunks
  • 180g – 200g piece of smoked pancetta (or speck or slab bacon), diced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons *sun-dried tomato pesto
  • 300ml tomato sugo or passata (puree)
  • 250g **beluga or Puy-style lentils
  • Just under 1 1/4 litres (5 cups) cool water or chicken stock
  • Freshly-squeezed lemon juice, to taste
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Roughly chopped chives or parsley, optional, to garnish
  • * You can find this in most good supermarkets
    ** Beluga lentils are very small, black and shiny, and look like tiny polished pebbles, or their namesake, beluga caviar. Like Puy-style lentils they have a wonderful earthy flavour.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook it for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it’s pale golden and translucent-looking. Stir in the garlic and chilli and cook them for a minute or so. Tip in the carrots and celery, increase the heat a little and cook them, stirring frequently, for 3 more minutes. Finally, add the pancetta and swizzle it around with a spoon so it releases its delectable aroma.

Scoop in the sun-dried tomato pesto and cook it for a minute or so, stirring all the while, until it smells fragrant. Now pour in the sugo or passata and mix it in well. As soon as it starts to bubble reduce the heat and leave it to simmer, uncovered, for about 25 minutes.

While the tomato mixture is simmering, wash the lentils. To do this, pour them into a big fine sieve, submerge that in a bowl of cold water, and swish them around with your hand, changing the water as necessary until it’s clear.

When the tomato mixture is ready, add the lentils along with the water or stock. Bring this to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer the soup, covered, for 20 – 25 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked but still have a bit of resistance to them when you bite on them. (What I love about beluga and Puy-style lentils is that they tend to stay whole rather than disintegrating into a mush.) Taste the soup and add a little lemon juice to sharpen it, and salt, if necessary.

To serve the soup, ladle it into deep bowls and scatter it with chopped chives or parsley. If you like, serve it with a small bowlful of minted yoghurt to dollop on top.