Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
Today: This classic farro soup from the Tuscan city of Lucca is comfort in a bowl.
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A treasured recipe of the walled Tuscan town Lucca and the nearby Garfagnana area, zuppa di farro (farro and bean soup) is an institution in itself; as such, it is often simply called alla lucchese. It's a soup of smooth, thick borlotti bean (cranberry bean) purée with enough farro cooked in it to make the soup chunky.
Also known as emmer wheat, farro is popularly eaten throughout central Italy -- in particular Tuscany, Umbria, and Lazio, where it has been growing for centuries. Nutty and with a pleasantly chewy bite, you can find it in traditional soups, salads, and even desserts in these parts. Flour made from farro is also used to make bread and pasta. More recently, “farrotto”, where farro is cooked just like rice in a risotto, has become a popular way to cook this grain.
Farro is a healthy, energy-giving ingredient. It was a staple grain of the ancient Romans; the food writer Nico Valerio claims that it was farro, not ferro (iron, or their iron swords) that gave the warriors of the Roman Army the strength to conquer the world.
This soup from Lucca is an age-old, simple, and rustic recipe. It is usually made with dried borlotti beans, soaked overnight and cooked the next day for superior texture and flavor -- but canned beans work in a pinch.
A trinity of onion, carrot, and celery serves as the base for this soup, along with some pancetta (prosciutto can be substituted) for extra flavor, fresh herbs (marjoram, parsley, sage, or rosemary), and sometimes even a pinch of nutmeg or clove. Some peeled canned tomatoes are mixed in, too. The cooked (or canned) beans are added, and then everything is blended until smooth. Lastly, the farro is cooked gently in the bean purée until al dente.
Extra-virgin olive oil 1 small brown onion 1 small carrot 1 stick celery 2 ounces (50 grams) pancetta, about 4 thin slices 1 sprig rosemary 4 to 5 fresh sage leaves Half of a 14-ounce can (7 ounces or 200 grams) peeled tomatoes 18 ounces (500 grams) of canned borlotti beans About 3 cups of water 1 cup (200 grams) of farro (semi-pearled or pearled, not whole-grain) Salt and pepper