Italian

Tuscan Farro and Bean Soup (Zuppa di Farro alla Lucchese)

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November 11, 2014

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.

More: Here are 5 more regional Italian comfort foods to get you through winter.

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. 

More: Leftover farro? Turn it into a salad.

It's served, as all bean soups should be, with a drizzle of good olive oil. Hearty, comforting, and satisfying, this soup just needs a big glass of red wine for the perfect night in.

Tuscan Farro and Bean Soup (Zuppa di Farro alla Lucchese)

Serves 4

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

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Emiko Davies

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8 Comments

Kathleen November 16, 2014
This looks amazing--a great way to deal with the cold weather and to help me get over my Italy-sickness, after returning from a trip. I am wondering though--what's a brown onion?
 
Author Comment
Emiko November 16, 2014
It's also called a yellow onion - the all-purpose onion (not a white one or a red Spanish onion, though if you don't have a yellow onion, I'd go for the red one as next best!).
 
Kathleen November 21, 2014
Ah--perfect! Thanks for explanation!
 
dymnyno November 12, 2014
I make an Umbrian version of this soup which I posted on Food52 a while ago. It does not have beans, but does have flavorful porcini mushrooms. It's a great cold day soup!
 
Author Comment
Emiko November 16, 2014
Sounds delicious!
 
Francesca M. November 11, 2014
Oh, yes! I've been waiting for this recipe. Grazie!
 
Author Comment
Emiko November 16, 2014
Thank you! Hope you enjoy it!
 
ChefJune November 11, 2014
I want this NOW! I have everything in the house to make it, but the beans will have to soak first - more's the pity!