Recipe of the Week: ZUPPA DI FARRO - FARRO SOUP

September 20, 2011

As chilly, fall weather approaches I begin to crave one of my favourite soups - Zuppa di Farro. This soup holds a special place in my heart because the first time I ever tried zuppa di farro I was in a small restaurant in Tuscany in the company of someone very special to me. We shared this meal over a nice bottle of Chianti and had one of the most memorable moments in our lives. So perhaps I am a little bias when it comes to this soup, but either way, it is truly delicious!

Before we begin with the recipe, I need to make clear that farro is not spelt or barley. It is a relative of wheat, but absolutely not the same thing as a wheatberry. Farro is simply farro, and if it is from Italy, where labeling laws are strict, it will say FARRO on the bag, clear and simple.

The confusion among these noble grains began years ago when chefs outside of Italy had to substitute spelt or barley for farro in favourite recipes, because the real thing was almost impossible to find. But farro is riding that wave of Italian popularity these days, and while you may have difficulty finding it on all supermarket shelves, some Italian speciality shops carry it, but if all else fails you can always order it online.
Be sure to get farro perlato, which means the tough hull has been removed and the farro will cook to a tender softness. Soaking the farro for a few hours beforehand shortens the cooking time, so a big pot of soup doesn't have to take all day. You can soak the farro, drain and store it a day in advance. It is important to use a high-quality stock made with aromatics like celery, onion, and carrot. Homemade beef stock is my choice, but chicken or a roasted vegetable stock works too.

This hearty soup is especially common in the Garfagnana region, the mountains northwest of Lucca, but is popular in the rest of Tuscany as well.

This recipe serves about 5 to 6 quarts of soup, you’ll need:
·         2 cups farro
·         3 tablespoons olive oil
·         1 medium clove of garlic, peeled and smashed
·         1 medium onion, diced
·         2 ounces pancetta or guanciale, diced
·         1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 2 sprigs fresh thyme
·         2 or 3 crumbled sage leaves
·         1 bay leaf
·         1 cup canned plum tomatoes, crushed and chopped
·         Salt and pepper to taste
·         6 to 8 cups of good-quality beef stock
·         Torn parlsey leaves, Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and grated Parmigano-Reggiano or Grana Padano for garnish

Place the farro in a large bowl and cover it with one quart of cold water. Let the farro soak for two hours, then drain it, discarding the water.

Heat the oil in a large stockpot and add the garlic clove. Let the garlic sizzle and cook in the oil until it begins to turn golden brown, then remove it. Add the diced onion and pancetta to the oil, stirring it well. Season this mixture with a pinch of salt and stir, sautéing on low heat until the onions and pancetta soften and turn translucent at the edges. Stir in the herbs and sauté for another minute. Do not allow the mixture to brown.
Add the tomatoes to the pot and stir, then add the farro, 4 cups of the stock, and 1 cup of water. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer, then cover the soup and lower the heat. Simmer the soup covered for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes. As the moisture absorbs, add more stock to the pot, a cup or so at a time, keeping the grains loose and suspended in liquid.

When the farro is tender, the soup is done. Allow it to cool for about 30 minutes in the pot. Remove about 2 cups of the soup to a blender container and puree it smooth. Stir the pureed mixture into the soup, and add more stock if necessary. The soup should not be thick or gloppy, but loose and liquid.
Return the soup to the heat before serving; garnish with parsley, a dribble of olive oil and a grating of cheese.

LEFTOVERS ADVICE: Store extra soup for up to three days. The soup will continue to absorb moisture as it sits, so you may have to thin it to the proper consistency with water or additional stock before reheating.

I'm so hungry now and have a BIG craving for Zuppa di Farro!!!!


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