This recipe is adapted from one given to me by friends in Florence, Italy. Farro is an ancient grain that is both delicious and healthy. Jane Lear has an interesting column discussing farro, including links to several good sources for the grain, which can be found here on takepart.com. The original recipe for this soup was a simple combination of whole-grain farro, fresh porcini mushrooms, Ceci beans and the cooking liquid from the beans, either water, or chicken stock. The soup was prepared over a period of several days. The first day the chicken stock was cooked. The stock and the reserved chicken were refrigerated overnight. Both the beans and farro were soaked in water overnight. The soup was prepared and eaten on the second day. Any leftovers were refrigerated and served on day 3. By that time, however, the farro had absorbed most of the liquid in the soup and it was served as a thick savory porridge.
On occasion, ingredients such as the reserved chicken from the stock, roasted lamb, wilted kale, apples, roasted tomatoes or cooked sausage were added to the faro porridge and, perhaps, a fried or poached egg added to the top.
This recipe has been simplified by the use of purchased chicken stock and canned cannellni beans. It still, however, calls for whole-grain farro, and, as such, requires several hours to soak and a bit longer to cook. You can eliminate the soaking time and reduce the
cooking time by using farro prelato . Farro prelato or pearled farro has had a portion of the outer bran removed so it cooks faster and does not require soaking. I prefer the taste, texture and health benefits of the whole-grain farro, but farro prelato will also give you an outstanding soup. You can also substitute barley as well.
One thing to keep in mind when you are looking at many of the recipes using farro is that they simply use the word “farro” without mentioning the type. Cooking whole-grain farro for the time intended for farro prelato will just not work. Farro prelato generally cooks in about 15 to 25 minutes. Whole-grain farro should be soaked for an hour or two and cooked for about 45 to an hour and 15 minutes. The packages should give the appropriate timing. It is also a good idea to taste the farro as it is cooking to determine when it is done to your taste. !
Serves 4 to 6
Pancetta or bacon, about 2-3 ounces, diced
1 medium yellow onion, chopped, about 1 1/2 to 2 cups, you can substitute 4 leeks, white and light green parts, cleaned and chopped, about 2 cups
1 medium fennel bulb, cleaned, cored and about 1 1/2 to 2 cups chopped
Parsley stems from a bunch of Italian flat-leaf parsley, very finely chopped, about 1/4 cup
3 or 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 or 4 anchovy fillets, or about 1/2 to 1/2 oz of anchovy paste, to taste
2 cups of whole-grain farro, substitute farro prelato or barley and adjust cooking time according to details on package
2 quarts of chicken stock, low sodium or home made, you can substitute vegetable, mushroom, beef or lamb stock
2 cups of water
1 sprig of fresh rosemary and several sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped
1 bay leaf
1 16 to 19 oz, can of good quality cannellini beans, drained and rinsed, you can substitute other similar white beans fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, leaves removed andchopped, about 1/2 cup
For the mushrooms:
1 pound of fresh porcini mushrooms, substitute cremini, shiitake (stems removed) or any mushrooms that you prefer, brushed clean
1 shallot, diced several sprigs of fresh thyme 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced 1 1/2 tsp. unsalted butter 1/4 cup white wine, you can substitute chicken stock, or any other stock that you are using in the soup
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a rind from the cheese, if available, you can substitute Pecorino Romano, Asiago or any cheese that you like
Place the farro in a large bowl and cover with about 1 quart of cold water. Let the farro soak for several hours, or over night. Drain and discard the water. (Omit is using farro perlato) In an enameled cast-iron dutch oven, or large stock pot, heat several tablespoons of olive oil. Add the pancetta and sauté over medium heat until the fat is rendered, about 3 or four minutes. Add the onion, parsley stems and fennel, with a pinch of salt, stir well, add olive if necessary and sauté until softened, about 5 or 6 minutes. Add the sliced garlic and anchovy fillets, stir and cook for about 1 minute. The anchovy fillets will dissolve.
Add the farro, stir well so the farro is coated with the oil and cook, stirring, for 2 or 3 minutes.
Add 4 cups of chicken stock and 1 cup of water. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce to a gentle simmer. Add the thyme, rosemary and bay leaf, and parmesan rind, if using, cover and simmer for about 45 minutes. (If you are using farro perlato reduce the time according to the package directions, and start checking the farro prelato after 30 minutes.) Stir the soup every 10 minutes and add more stock or water, as needed. The farro should remain loose and suspended in the stock. Check the farro and if necessary continue cooking for a few more minutes until the farro is tender, generally up to 15 minutes. But the time can vary, so it is a good idea to taste a few grains of the farro to determine when it is done to your preference. Taste, season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste Add the cannellini beans, stir and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes. The cooked mushrooms, (next paragraph), can be added at any time after the beans are added.
While the soup is cooking, prepare the mushrooms. Trim the stems (remove if using shiitake) and slice the mushrooms lengthwise. Heat several tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottom sauté or fry pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, with a pinch of salt, and sauté until they begin to soften and release their juices, stirring occasionally, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the shallot and garlic, stir and cook for about 2 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high, add the wine and the thyme sprigs. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes to evaporate the wine. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms are cooked and their juices have evaporated, about 10 to 15 minutes more. Remove from the heat, taste and adjust seasoning, discard the thyme sprigs. Stir in the butter. Add the mushrooms to the soup and stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. The mushrooms can be added at any time after the cannellini beans have been added to the soup
Transfer the soup to warm soup bowls, garnish with the parsley, some grated Parmigiano Reggiano and a drizzle of olive oil. The soup can be prepared a day in advance, and thinned out with some chicken stock or water and gently reheated.
You can also serve it as a savory porridge by just gently reheating the thickened soup on the second day. (You can also reduce the amount of stock and water used to cook the faro and serve it as a porridge the day it is made.) As I mentioned above, the porridge can be enhanced with a wide variety of ingredients, such as cooked chicken, roasted lamb, cooked sausages, apples and other fruit, garlic wilted kale, or oven roasted tomatoes. This is a great opportunity to use your imagination and create your own unique dish.
David Chang has a great recipe for a savory porridge using barley, but it will certainly work with farro as well. His recipe is Pearl Barley Porridge with Ham and Eggs. The barley is simmered in chicken stock with apple cider and kombu (edible kelp). The result is an incredible sweet and savory porridge.. Another exciting version of a savory farro porridge is Mourad Lahloyu’s recipe for Toasted Farro and Scallions with Cauliflower and Eggs. This recipe is inspired by a Moroccan porridge called herbel.