1 cup lentils, soaked for 1 to 2 hours if possible
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 to ½ cup each diced carrot and celery
1 small onion, finely diced
1 small fennel bulb, stalks removed and the rest finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
aromatics: 1 bay leaf, a thyme sprig, ½ tsp dried oregano, pinch of fennel seeds
2 Tbsp finely chopped celery leaves
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
One 10-oz can chestnuts, drained and coarsely chopped, or 1 pound fresh chestnuts
3 Tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
1 tsp oregano leaves
½ tsp fennel seeds, crushed
¼ tsp dried thyme
1 Tbsp tomato paste
½ cup dry white wine
6 long slices French or Italian country bread, toasted and brushed with olive oil
minced celery leaves or parsley for garnish
1. Drain the lentils if you soaked them. If you didn’t, cover them with hot water and set aside. Warm the olive oil in a soup pot and add the carrot, celery, onion, fennel, garlic, aromatics, and celery leaves. Add a tsp of salt and cook over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes. Drain the lentils, if need be, add them to the pot along with 1 quart water (6 cups if they weren’t soaked), ,and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the lentils are tender, 20 to 40 minutes, depending on whether they were soaked. Remove the bay leaf, taste for salt, and then season with pepper.
2. Prepare the chestnuts while the lentils are cooking. If fresh, cut an x with a paring knife into the flat sides of the chestnuts. Put them in a saucepan, cover with water, and boil gently until the peels can be pulled off, about 20 minutes. Remove them one at a time from the water and peel while they’re hot so that you can remove the brown skin that clings to the seed. Whether fresh or canned, dice them into small chunks.
3. Warm the 3 Tbsp of oil in a skillet. Add the chestnuts, oregano, fennel seeds, and thyme. Cooke over medium-low heat for several minutes, then work in the tomato paste and add the wine. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring only a few times, for about 5 minutes. Add this to the soup when the lentils are done. Taste for salt and season with pepper. Serve with long croutons broken into the soup, a drizzle of olive oil, and minced celery leaves or parsley.