When I think of comfort food Italian style, I think of polenta and this is the perfect time of the year for it. Not only because of the cold...
Cold weather stalwarts, farro, aromatic vegetables, cannellini beans, and butternut squash come together to make zuppa di farro (farro soup), a soup so rich and thick it could well be called a stew. The backbone of this dish is farro (Triticum dicoccum.) With a history that can be traced to mankind’s earliest attempts to cultivate cereal, farro has nourished the Italian people for thousands of years, and is one of the darlings of the current-day food world.
This zuppa has its origins in pastoral Abruzzo, and here I have used Rustichella d’Abruzzo farro. This is eating local at its very best where a late spring harvest yields some of the finest of this honey-hued grain, a variety known as farro vestino. Scores of brands are available to today’s cooks, milled to each company’s unique standard. The refining process, known as “pearling”, polishes away varying amounts of the outer husk and bran. While pearling shaves the cooking time, with it comes a loss, to one degree or another, of valuable nutrients.
A delightful harmony is achieved by Gianluigi Peduzzi of Rustichella d’Abruzzo, whose farro is semi-perlato, or semi-pearled. Grown in the shadow of the region’s highest peak, the majestic Gran Sasso, this farro cooks up quickly while retaining much of its nutrient value and a pleasing chew. This toothsome grain is a perfect match for this rustic, hearty dish.
This zuppa comes with a surprise finish. A meltingly delicious rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano sits at the bottom of each bowl. Kitchen wisdom dictates: do not ever toss the rinds out. Rather, wrap them tightly in plastic and stow them in the freezer, saving them to add to hearty soups like this. Bathed in the hot zuppa, the tough rind is transformed. Chewy and creamy, and bursting with the buttery, nutty essence of Italy’s greatest cheese, it is better than the prize in a box of Cracker Jack.
Rustichella d’Abruzzo Whole Farro is available at MarketHallFoods.com
Zuppa di Farro con Zucca
Farro Soup with Squash
·1 cup Rustichella d’Abruzzo Whole Farro
·1½ -2 pounds butternut squash, cut in 1-inch chunks
·2 ribs celery, cut into ¼-inch dice
·2 large carrots, cut into ¼-inch dice
·2-3 shallots, very thinly sliced (about ¾ cup)
·1 28-ounce can of tomatoes, chopped or crushed
·¼ cup Italian parsley, roughly chopped
·1 sprig of rosemary, about 4 inches in length
·3-4 cups of unsalted brodo di pollo (chicken broth)
·½ cup dried cannellini beans OR 1 15 oz. can, well rinsed and drained
·1 bay leaf
·Fine sea salt
·Extra virgin olive oil
·Rinds of Parmigiano-Reggiano
If using dried beans: place the beans in a medium bowl and cover with 3 inches of clear water. Cover and soak overnight. The next day, drain the beans, and place them in a 4-quart saucepan, covering with 3 inches of water. Add 1 bay leaf and 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, partially covered, until tender, but not open, about 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the age of the beans. Drain, discard bay leaf, and set the beans aside.
If using canned beans: place the beans in a colander. Rinse well, and set aside.
While the cannellini beans cook, place the farro in a colander and rinse. Transfer the farro to a medium bowl and cover with 2 inches of cold water. Soak 20 minutes. Drain and transfer to a 4-quart saucepan, adding 6 cups of cold water. Cover and bring to a rolling boil. Remove the lid, and add ¼ teaspoon of sea salt. Stir, and reduce to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the farro is barely tender, about 20 minutes. The farro will finish cooking in the zuppa.
Meanwhile, pour 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil into a low, 6-quart heavy bottom Dutch oven, and heat over a medium flame. Add the squash, celery, carrot, shallots, and ½ teaspoon of sea salt, tossing to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften and take on a translucent, shiny appearance, about 12 minutes, being careful not to brown the shallots.
Add the tomatoes and their juices, a pinch of peperoncino flakes, chopped parsley, rosemary sprig, and 3 cups of brodo di pollo. Simmer until the vegetables are very soft, another 10 to 15 minutes. Remove and discard the rosemary sprig, leaving any rosemary needles that have dropped from the stem in the pot. Use an immersion blender or food mill to puree about half of the mixture.
Add the cooked beans, cooked farro, and ½ teaspoon each of fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Simmer a further 10 minutes. Taste, adding additional seasonings as desired. If the zuppa is too thick for your taste, add up to 1 cup of brodo di pollo.
Place a Parmigiano rind in the bottom of each serving bowl, and ladle the steaming zuppa over. Top with grated Parmigiano, and serve.
Cook’s Note: cooking times vary between brands of farro. Follow package directions, but remember to undercook the farro prior to adding it to the zuppa.