Oct 042009

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been cooking. It doesn’t matter what your favorite cuisine is or whether or not you actually know that you’re looking for something: there is a recipe out there for each of us that we have been yearning to make.

In this dish, I found mine: whether I knew it or not, zuppa di farro is the type of Italian food I’ve been trying to make since I learned how to cook.

No, it’s not smothered in tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. It isn’t pasta and there is neither a meatball nor a wine-soaked pan-fried chicken cutlet to be found. But this, folks, is the real deal – it’s not Italian-American, it’s apologetically Tuscan.

Not that the Tuscans have a single thing to apologize for in their cuisine. The days I spent in Florence and Siena were non-stop food bliss. And though I never tried this soup while I was over there, as soon as I tasted it I knew that zuppa di farro was unmistakably at home there.

Cesare Casella, the author of this recipe’s cookbook, said that this soup is like the Italian equivalent of chicken soup – it cures all ills. It screams comfort food, and the moment it hit my lips I wished that the temperature would drop a good forty degrees and that the rain would start falling in sheets from the sky. So the next time a day like that rolls around, take my advice: put on a cozy chunky sweater and lounge around the house with a good book in your hand and a somnolent hound at your feet while a pot of this simmers away on the stove.

Zuppa di farro

Zuppa di farro, Farro soup
From True Tuscan
Serves 8

  • Farro goes by many names. It is more commonly known as emmer wheat in the US and can be found in specialty Italian delis, the bulk bins of health food stores, or from The Republic of Beans.
  • If you can’t find farro, you can substitute spelt, which is a close relative. Also most easily found in health food stores.
  • Borlotti and cranberry beans are best used within one year of harvest, otherwise they become difficult to cook completely. Get them from a source that specializes in heirloom beans from that year’s harvest, like Rancho Gordo or The Republic of Beans.


  • 1 cup dried borlotti or cranberry beans, rinsed and picked over to remove stones or broken beans
  • 2 small onions, 1 cut in half, 1 coarsely chopped
  • 2 carrots, 1 whole, 1 coarsely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, 1 broken in half, 1 coarsely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pound low-starch waxy potatoes (such as Yukon gold), cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 3 cups)
  • 1 1/3 cups farro
  • 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup of coarsely chopped thoroughly washed leek, white part only
  • 4 ounces pancetta, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 cup peeled, seeded, and finely diced butternut squash
  • 1/4 cup (aka 4 tablespoons) tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 freshly grated Parmesan, for serving
  • Freshly ground black pepper, for serving

To prepare:

  1. To cook the beans: Put the beans in a large saucepan or stockpot and cover with 4 quarts of fresh cold water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Cover, remove the pot from the heat, and let the beans soak in the hot water for 1 hour. Add the onion halves, the whole carrot, the whole celery stalk, the bay leaf, and the potatoes. Add enough fresh water to cover the beans by at least 3 or 4 inches, bring to a simmer, and cook until the beans are soft (this could take up to 2-3 hours depending on the freshness of the beans).
  2. Rinse the farro, place it in a large bowl with three cups fresh cold water, and cover. Set aside.
  3. With a slotted spoon, remove the beans and potatoes from the cooking liquid. Separate 1/4 of the beans and potatoes and set aside. Discard the remaining vegetables and the bay leaf but reserve the cooking liquid.
  4. In a food processor, puree the remaining beans and potatoes (the 3/4 that you didn’t set aside) with some of the reserved cooking liquid (but not all, as it is sure to make a huge mess if you put too much broth in the bowl). Set aside and add the rest of the cooking liquid.
  5. In a food processor, puree the garlic, chopped onion, carrot, celery, leek, pancetta, sage, rosemary, and crushed red pepper to a coarse paste.
  6. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a stockpot. Add the pureed vegetable mix and the butternut squash and saute until the mixture starts to color, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir frequently, scraping up the bottom of the pan, to prevent sticking.
  7. Add the tomato paste and wine and cook,stirring, until the wine has reduced by half. If the mixture had been sticking before, use the wine and a wooden spatula to deglaze and unstick the stockpot.
  8. Add the bean puree and cooking liquid, season to taste, and simmer for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. If the mixture looks too thick when you add the bean puree, add an additional 1 quart of water.
  9. Drain the farro and add it to the soup. Add the reserved beans and potatoes and continue to cook for 40 to 45 minutes, adding another quart of water if needed. Stir often, scraping the bottom of the pot, to ensure that the farro is not sticking. To serve, drizzle the soup with olive oil and sprinkle with the Parmesan and black pepper.

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