Simple Farro & Bean Soup

Simple Farro & Bean Soup

I’m updating this soup from the archives (2010)  because it’s the sort of hearty, timeless, comforting soup that helps in times like these. I made it this afternoon and feel a bit better because of it. There’s chopping to do, which keeps the hands busy and mind focused. The foundation ingredients are flexible and straight from the pantry - grains, canned tomatoes, beans. And if you have a lot of produce that needs to be used, a soup like this is perfect - eat some, freeze some.
Simple Farro & Bean Soup

I want to keep my original post here because it reminds me of how I felt cooking it for them ten years ago. // (February 23, 2010) I spent the night at my mom and dad's house last week. I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but they live an hour south of San Francisco in Los Gatos. It's nice cooking in their kitchen this time of year because the view from the sink is quite beautiful. The hills surrounding their house are an electric shade of green and the old craggy-skinned oak trees are covered in moss and lichen. They say coyotes have been out recently, but when I was growing up it was mainly deer, skunk, and raccoon, (and the occasional rattle snake). I made a big pot of farro and bean stew for them - simple, hearty, and straightforward. They both went back for seconds, and I took that as a good sign.
Simple Farro & Bean Soup
The recipe below ended up being quite a departure from the recipe I photocopied, folded, and slipped into my overnight bag - regardless, I wanted to mention the book the inspiration came from - La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy. I've been reading through it at night. It's the culmination of the work of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina. It is an organization of thousands of members who would visit villages, towns, and farms all across Italy to document cooking techniques and ingredients - in order to preserve the culinary heritage of their country. The resulting volume is 930+ pages huge. The farro soup section has five or six recipes.
Simple Farro & Bean Soup

Over the years I’m made tweaks and variations to this soup, and topped it with any number of things. Here are a couple of favorites.

Harissa & feta: We ate the soup drizzled with harissa/olive oil and a good amount of feta cheese. Highly recommended for those of you sitting on harissa. Whisk together a ratio  about 1/3 harissa paste to 2/3 olive oil. Drizzle over the top of the soup.

Cilantro-garlic: Pictured here drizzled with a cilantro-garlic olive oil. Puree the leaves and stems of a bunch of cilantro with 2-3 cloves of garlic, a pinch of salt, and olive oil to cover.

Simple Farro & Bean Soup
A version with heirloom beans, Savoy cabbage, and kale.

Your Bean Strategy

You have a lot of latitude here. I’ve done versions of this soup with dried beans, and canned beans. I’ve used I used Sangre de Toro beans, Rosa de Castilla , cannellini beans, and (as you see pictured here) canned chickpeas. I used Sangre de Toro beans the first time around. The second time I used Rosa de Castilla. Both were good (the pot liquor from the Sangre de Toro was intense in a good way), but the Rosa de Castilla were great - they held their shape, then melted in your mouth. Red beans are traditionally used. Canned chickpeas work wonderfully too. They’re all delicious, use what you think you might like, or what you have on hand. And remember, if you use dried beans, great! Save the bean broth and use it in combination with the water called for in the recipe for a wonderful, fully-bodied broth.

Simple Farro & Bean Soup

A Creamy Soup with No Cream

One last variation you can explore if you like. If you mash a cup of your cooked beans before adding them to the soup it results in a “creamier” broth. I skipped that step in the recipe below, opted for a more clear broth (as you can see above), but keep the idea in your back pocket.

 

Simple Farro & Bean Soup

4.1 from 11 votes

As noted up above, if you use dried beans by all means use the bean broth in your soup. It’s wonderful. Use it in combination with water to equal about 9 cups. Also, you can certainly experiment with other grains here, for example, whole wheat berries, or pearled barley. Just keep in mind the non-pearled grains will take longer to cook. Brown rice could also work. And lastly...this freezes well, so you can let it cool, then bag and freeze it. I didn’t have celery the last time around, but had plenty of green onions, so I chopped a bunch up and used them. Plenty of flexibility here!

Ingredients
  • 1 pound dried beans, cooked OR a 28-ounce can of chickpeas or cannellini beans, drained
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 large yellow or white onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 28 ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes, chopped (with liquid)
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 3 medium waxy new potatoes, cut 1/2-inch
  • 2 cups pearled farro
  • 5-6 big handfuls of chopped cabbage, kale, and/or greens (~1-2 heads de-stemmed)
  • Serve with any/all of the following: grated cheese, chopped olives, herby drizzle, olive oil, or a harissa drizzle
Instructions
  1. If you want a creamier broth for your soup mash 3/4 cup of the beans. I find it’s easiest to just do it with my hands, and set all the beans aside.

  2. In your largest soup pot over medium-high heat combine the olive oil, onions, celery, and salt. Sauté until the onions start to brown a bit, 7 - 10 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for another minute or two. Add the carrot, potatoes, farro and nine cups of water. Bring to a boil and then dial back to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the farro is cooked through, 20 - 30 minutes. Be sure the vegetables are tender through as well. If you need to stir in more water or broth do so 1/2 cup at a time until the stew is the consistency you like. Taste and add a bit more salt if needed.

  3. Stir in the beans, bring back up to a simmer, and then stir in the kale or cabbage. Cook another few minutes until it collapses. Serve in bowls topped with plenty of freshly grated Parmesan and a generous drizzle of good olive oil (or alternately harissa oil/feta), or any of the suggested toppings.

  4. When you go to reheat leftovers you may need to add water to thin the stew out, and then readjust the seasoning.
Notes

Serves 12

Serves
12
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
40 mins
Total Time
1 hr
 
 
If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!
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  • Thanks, Sho! But can I ask why spinach in soup leads to "disaster"? I use it often and it's usually fine? I tried spelt berries and, as long as you can get pre-cooked ones and not have to spend hours slaving away over the stove, I think they're a great substitute !

    Rebecca
  • Perfect, I've been looking for ways to eat more kale;-) Any ideas on other grains do you think could work besides farro (I don't eat gluten.) Btw, thanks so much for the chocolate puddle cookie recipe (also gluten-free!!)

    Purslane
  • Sho just made this for lunch with wheat berries & chard - yum! HS: !! I should have handed off some of my harissa oil to Sho when I saw him yesterday. Next time! Missed opportunity ;)

    Jean K.
  • How long do you cook the beans after they have been soaked? Also, would cranberry beans work? HS: I just cook them until they are done - it really does vary from bean to bean. Sometimes 25 minutes, sometimes an hour...These beans were quite fast to cook though, I'd say 30-ish minutes? I was chatting, so I wasn't paying close enough attention.

    Elizabeth
  • This sounds wonderful, especially with the feta on top. I wonder if a blue or goat cheese would work just as well? I've never had Farro, but I'd love to try it. Jenn

    Jenn (www.j3nn.net)
  • Nice!! I will give it a try tonight. I ate at an indian restaurent buffet for lunch, and now I need something, to balance my calories for the day, yet hearty. This fits the bill. :) Xo

    Gayatri
  • I have never had farro before but this looks really interesting. I love a good bowl of soup or stew in the winter. Especially since we have more winter weather on the way next week.

    christie @ honoring health
  • I do love the addition of harissa and feta in the stew. And the cookery book sounds very interesting, too. I love those kinds of books.

    Maninas
  • Farro, any suggestions where to find it? I am trying to get our local Whole Foods to carry it, but still looking... Hi Aimee, I bought some more this morning at Whole Foods here in SF. Double check in the bin section or in the grains that are usually located near the dried pastas. Alternately, look for wheat berries, spelt, barley - whole, semi-pearled, etc.

    aimee
  • This does look and sound wonderful, I will definitly make it when our daughter visits next week from Boston.

    Nancy K
  • Rebecca: apparently, spelt and farro are differet. (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/30/magazine/30food-t-000.html?_r=1&ref=magazine) I was going to write that you could substitute barley or wheat berries, but I notice that Heidi already did that in her post! As for kale, I'd say look harder! I'm sure you can find it somewhere in Paris. And you could always substitute other greens, such as chard. Just don't use spinach. Spinach in soups can lead to disaster.

    Sho Kuwamoto
  • This looks FAB! and great for Weight Watching peeps...... thank you so much!

    barbara
  • Heidi this looks lovely, and I really love the little snippets about your life, it makes the dish more personal and almost as if we are there with you, chopping, looking out the window too.

    Alice
  • Bonjour Heidi! This looks delicious. However, I can't seem to find farro anywhere in Paris where I live (or in the supermarket when I am back in the US in NJ/NY). Any ideas on where to find it? Or what might work as a good substitute? I sometimes use "épeautre" which is pretty ubiquitous here - I think the direct translation is "spelt berries" - is that the same thing or similar? Also, they don't have kale here, I've been on a mission to find it all winter to no avail -- any ideas for a good substitute for kale as well? This looks like a great winter comfort food. Thanks again for your fabulous, natural recipes - they are keeping me well-fed over here across the Atlantic. Bon appétit! HS: Hi Rebecca - yes, give the spelt berries a go - they should be just fine.

    Rebecca
  • as always heidi, this looks simply delicious. farro, beans, cabbage, topped with sharp feta, sounds like a perfect bowl of warm, winter comfort food. cheers!

    Reginald
  • I have a bunch of black beans at home. Do you think this could be made with black beans? HS: Hi Kittie, I'd vote no on black beans.

    Kittie Kat
  • This looks so good! It's snowing like crazy here in Vermont and this would be the perfect thing for dinner. I've got a bean question: I bought a bag of cranberry beans from our farmer's market this weekend (they were so pretty!) and have no idea what do with them. I'm fairly new to bean cookery - would they work in this soup? HS: I think cranberry beans should be good here.

    Aliza
  • This sounds like a beautiful amalgamation of hearty winter vegetables, farro and beans. I miss living in the bay area. Los Gatos and Saratoga have some of my favorite hang-outs.

    Christine @ Fresh Local and Best
  • hello heidi - oh los gatos is pretty! and your parents' house sounds like lovely, so does the soup :) well for now i'm trying another one of your soup recipes - the kabocha & french lentil one. you can never have too many recipes for good soups, if you ask me!

    chika
  • simply wonderful. love the addition of the savoy cabbage and kale atop. in fact, i'd likely double the amount for my second helping.

    my spatula
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