Zuppa Di Farro E Fagioli – Farro and Bean Soup
Farro is an ancient grain, cultivated in the Mediterranean Basin and probably in other regions around the world for 8,000 years, very popular with ancient Romans and Etruscans. Farro has not undergone the same genetic manipulation and cross breeding as wheat, that took over most of the land because of larger profits and easiness to grow. Recently Farro has become very fashionable again, thanks to its exceptional nutritional properties and benefits to our health.
There are 3 different kinds of this cereal: the one we use in Italy for cooking is called “emmer” in English, or Triticum dicoccum in Latin. It contains less gluten than wheat, thus is easier to digest. It’s rich in proteins and fibers, which help keeping bad cholesterol under control. Of course, as all cereals, it has carbs but it also has a low glycemic index. This makes it good for people with diabetes. It is also rich in various minerals, making it an alley for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. There are different kinds of this cereal in commerce, pearled farro and semi pearled farro have the bran – the hard outer layer – removed completely or partially, making it faster to cook, but thereby losing some nutritional properties. The best would be to use the farro integrale, whole grain, with the bran, which is richer in all these nutrients. It requires a longer prepping time though, as it should be soaked overnight before cooking.
One place for sure where farro was not forgotten is Tuscany, and more particularly Lucca, where it is the main ingredient of the Zuppa, a thick winter soup used to fill the stomach and warm the heart. As always, the variations on this recipe are numerous, with a list of them included in “Il pan unto Toscano”, a cookery book written around AD 1700 by the Jesuit monk Francesco Gaudenzio. We will keep here to the most traditional and basic version, with Farro and red beans, leaving to your fantasy the possibility of adding some cabbage, or potatoes, or other legumes, or more winter vegetables that you have handy.
When the weather gets cold and winter looms – which is rare in Los Angeles where I now live – the call for winter soups become very strong, and I long for the smell of a hot soup simmering on the stove. So, pardon me for publishing the second recipe of a soup in a row, but if not now, when? That being said, farro has a variety of uses, lots of them also for summer recipes, that we will explore in a couple of months when the hot sun shines again!
For 4 Servings
1 red onion
2-3 small carrots
2-3 celery stalks
2-3 garlic cloves
1 & ½ cup dry borlotti beans or red beans
1 & ½ cup dry whole wheat farro
½ to ¾ cup tomato puree
A bunch of Sage, a couple of Rosemary sprigs
EV Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Sliced rustic crusty bread, like ciabatta or Tuscan Pane
Optional: grated Parmigiano or Pecorino Cheese
1. The day before: soak the rinsed farro and beans overnight in two separate bowls, covered in abundant water.
2. The day after, rinse the beans; put a large pot filled with water with the beans on the stove, add a couple of garlic cloves, some sage leaves and a rosemary wig or two. Add salt if desired. Bring to boil and simmer gently for 1 hour or more, until tender, making sure there is always enough water. We will add the cooking water to the soup.
3. Chop onion, carrots and celery in the food processor.
4. Put a large non-stick pan on the stove, drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on the bottom, 2-3 tablespoons. When hot, put the onion, carrots and celery to fry gently for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time to avoid sticking. In Italian this mix is called “soffritto” and it is used for many different preparations.
5. Add the tomato puree to the soffritto, keep frying gently and stirring regularly.
6. Add chopped sage leaves. Let it cook for a few more minutes, until it starts caramelizing.
7. Reserve at least one cup of drained beans as well as the garlic cloves. Add the rest of the boiling beans and their cooking water to the soffritto, bring back to boil.
8. Add the drained farro, let it simmer for at least one hour or more. Adjust with salt and pepper.
9. Puree the cooked cup of beans and the garlic, add to the soup to make it thicker.
10. Drizzle some EV Olive Oil on top and serve hot with toasted bread.
A Few Notes:
- To shorten the prep and cooking time, you can use canned beans: not my favorite but still better than buying a canned soup!
- This soup keeps well for a few days in the refrigerator, so you could prepare a larger batch for future use, or even freeze the extra portions.
- I particularly like farro because it keeps its chewiness even after cooking. I’m so fond of it that I usually do not let it soak too long, just to keep the bite.
- You can sprinkle parmigiano cheese on top as desired.
Elisabetta Ciardullo is the founder of Think Italian! Events. As Personal Chef she is an ambassador of the Italian cuisine and culture, bringing it into the private homes of Americans, as well as to many corporate clients in Los Angeles.