This Tuscan Farro and Bean Soup was inspired by an instagram post Domenica Marchetti put up not too long ago. She did her usual gorgeous photo. But this time she also described how she made the soup that was pictured. Her instagrammed explanation was not a recipe. It was more like the explanation a grandma (or nonna as she would say) would give if asked how to make it. A bit of this, a handful of that, cooking until done.
Following those general instructions, I made the soup. Although I didn’t have an Italian nonna cooking soup for me growing up, and the one grandmother I did have was a terrible cook, I smiled as I imagined what it would be like to learn about the glories of this soup at a nonna’s elbow.
As expected, the soup was delicious. Perfect for a cold day, it warmed me up as I enjoyed slurping it up with a crusty baguette to dab into the bowl as I ate. I added parmesan and pancetta, but also made part of the batch vegan, by leaving those ingredients out. I loved the cheesy, meaty flavors in my portion, while my daughter Eleanor and her girlfriend gobbled up the vegan version.
While I’m fine with pinches and handfuls, I understand why others might not be. So I decided to write down what I did as I made the soup. Domenica was kind enough to allow me to post my recipe for her instagrammed soup. If you want to see her “real” recipe, it’s called Zuppa di Farro alla Garfagnana in her book, The Glorious Vegetables of Italy. That means farro soup from Garfagnana (a town in Tuscany).
If you don’t know Domenica, you should check out her books, her blog, Domenica Cooks, and her mouth-watering instagram feed. I love her recipes and have three of her cookbooks. Her focaccia is “to die for” as the saying goes. And her simple cakes and other desserts are the kind of stuff I dream about. She’s also an authority on preserving and Italian cooking. I look to her for advice about ingredients, techniques, and tips, as well as recipes.
This is a popular Italian soup and has many other names. Whether you call it Tuscan Farro and Bean Soup (as I have), Zuppa di Farro e Fagioli, simply Farro and Bean Soup, or even Mediterranean Kale, Canellini, and Farro Stew, you’ll enjoy this hearty soup/stew.
Tips for Making Tuscan Farro and Bean Soup
- Ingredients – This soup has almost endless variations. Feel free to substitute a different bean or grain. For beans, I used cannellini because they have a mild taste and I like their texture. I even made mine from dried in my Instant Pot using this method from Simply Recipes. (Take note Jane Bonacci – I’m over my Instant Pot phobia.) Farro is the traditional grain. You could substitute freekeh or wheatberries. Part of the allure of this soup is its layered flavors. While substitutions can work well, do not eliminate too many ingredients or you’ll lose the complexity of the final result.
- Cooking Times – You can surely tinker with the timing of the individual elements. If you’re making the soup ahead of time, the simmering can wait until just before you want to serve it. The main requirement to achieve a flavorful result is to cook the soup in layers and not to throw everything in together at one time.
- Consistency – Domenica and I both prefer the soup to be thick, almost like a stew. If you want it to be thinner, add more broth or water. But keep in mind that water will make the taste less concentrated. Therefore, I would keep the ratio of broth to water heavily on the broth side. If the farro sits in the soup before serving, it tends to absorb the liquid. To make ahead if you want a thinner consistency, add the farro when reheating the soup.
Tuscan Farro and Bean Soup
This hearty and complex soup/stew is great for cold weather. It includes a number of vegetables and can be made vegan or vegetarian.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 ounces diced pancetta Optional
- 1 cup diced carrot About 2 medium carrots or 5 ounces/145 grams
- 1 cup diced onion About 1 medium onion or 5 & 1/2 ounces/160 grams
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1-2 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced Alternative is about 3/4 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
- 3-4 pepperoncini peppers, tops removed & chopped
- 12 large leaves Tuscan or lacinto kale, torn or shredded (see note)
- 2 cups cooked cannellini or garbanzo beans, drained
- 2-3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 4 cups vegetable broth or a combination of broth & water, plus more at end if desired to thin out the consistency
- 1 parmesan cheese rind, about 2-3 inches long Optional
- 1 cup farro, rinsed and cooked separately
- 1/2 or more teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- freshly ground pepper
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy Dutch oven or other pot. Once heated, add the pancetta (if using) and cook it for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta begins to get crispy.
Add the diced carrot and onion, as well as the crushed garlic clove. Stir to combine the ingredients, and cook the mixture on medium heat for about 3-5 minutes until the vegetables are softened. Then add the bay leaf (leaves), chopped rosemary leaves, and the chopped peperoncino peppers and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
Add the torn or chopped kale, stir it into the vegetables and herbs. Then cover the pot and let the kale wilt on low heat for about 3-5 minutes.
Stir in the drained beans and the tomato paste. Add about a 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Pour in the 4 cups of broth (or broth and water) and add the parmesan rind if using. Bring the soup to a boil, lower it to a simmer, and simmer for about 30 minutes.
While the soup is simmering, make the farro. (See note.) When the farro is done, drain off any remaining water from the farro and add it to the soup.
Add freshly ground pepper and additional salt to taste, plus any broth or water required to bring it to desired consistency.
The easiest way to cut the onion and carrots is like this:
Tuscan or lacinto kale is the type with long leaves that are not curly. For all kale, you should remove the tough part of the stem. I like to shred kale by cutting off the thick stem, rolling it into a cigar, then cutting the cigar into thin rounds. To make the shreds shorter, cut each round in half.
Domenica specified peperoncini, which I think are red spicy peppers. If I had used them, I probably would have done about 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Instead though, I used pepperoncini peppers (with 2 "p"s) sold in a glass jar, packed in vinegar and water. They are not as hot as red peperoncini peppers. In terms of taste, they are slightly sweet but also spicy, rather like a spicier version of banana peppers.
Domenica drizzles olive oil on each portion at the end. I didn't do that, but it sounds like a nice touch.