I’m a big fan of working with what you have. Mostly, this has to do with the fact that these days I’m so busy that it’s hard to plan ahead to dinner time. That’s why I usually just make one run to the farmer’s market on Sunday, and then work from there for the rest of the week. Sometimes I’ll stop by the butcher to pick up something special, but mostly? It’s vegetable and pantry items that make up our dinners most nights.
Soup has been high on my list of easy dinners lately. It wasn’t always so. While Sophie and Emma were growing up, pasta was on the table at least 4 nights a week (if not more). But these days not only are the girls out of the house, my pasta fix is coming during the day, when I’m leading Food Tours. A stop at Giggetto, Flavio Velavevodetto or Taverna dei Fori Imperiali loads me up on my daily dose of pasta and then some. So in the evening, for dinner, it’s the last thing I want to think about.
While pasta is definitely easy and fast, I think soup is just as easy and almost as fast. A lot of people think that to make a great soup you have to start out with long simmered stock and then build up flavors over the course of hours. Not my style at all. I figure if your ingredients are fresh and seasonal, it’s easy to build up a soup in the time it takes you to slowly sip that much needed cocktail (or two) after a long day of work.
The other evening I made this delicious, hearty soup from butternut squash and farro. Not only was there no broth involved, I was also able to use up the scraps of pancetta I had hiding in the back of the fridge. A win win.
While I had a gorgeous butternut squash and organic pearled farro to play with, feel free to improvise. Any vegetable and grain will do. Zucchini and barley? Broccoli and brown rice? Also, if you are anti-pork, you can leave that bit out. But I must say, adding that punch of finely ground cured pork is what makes this soup so rich. That said, if you do go the vegetarian route, I’d up the flavor with some garlic and/or cheese at the end.
- 1 medium butternut squash (about 1½ pounds / 800 grams)
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
- ⅓ cup chopped pancetta or prosciutto
- 2 medium carrots chopped
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
- ⅓ cup white wine
- 1½ cups pearled farro
- 6 cups water
- Pour the oil a large pot and add chopped onions, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat until the onion is softened a bit. About 8 minutes. Add the chopped carrot and stir. Let cook another 5 minutes or so.
- In the meantime chop your pork. For soups I like to actually grind my pork in the food processor, so it will almost melt into the soup. You want it almost like a paste.
- Also prepare your butternut squash. Here’s how I do it: Cut the squash into 1 inch rings. Peel each ring, and then chop into 1 inch cubes. When you get to the round end, take the seeds out and discard them.
- Add the ground pancetta, stir and then add the sage. Let this cook for about 5 minutes, until the pancetta gives up its fat. Then add the wine and let it bubble away.
- Add the squash and farro and stir to coat with the fats of the pan. Add about 6 cups water.The water should come up about 2 inches from the top of the contents of the pan. Stir well, and bring to a simmer.
- Let cook, covered, until the farro is tender. Check often for the level of the water. It’s hard to say how long this will take since all grains are different. Mine took only about 25 minutes.
- Eat immediately drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.
- If you do let this soup sit for a while, you’ll notice that all of the broth will be absorbed by the farro. That’s ok. Just add a cup or more of water and reheat, letting the flavors blend, to make it more ‘soupy’.
Farro is one of my favorite grains to have on hand. When I see it, I usually buy it right away. It comes in various forms. The type I used in this soup was pearled. In other words the some of the outer layer of bran has been gently rubbed away. This reduces cooking time and supposedly leads to a longer shelf life. I’ve also used farro that still has it’s hull, which has a much firmer texture and takes longer to cook,but is excellent as a side dish. There is also farro spezzatto, or split farro, which has been both pearled or hulled, and then cracked. When cooked, this type of farro turn into a polenta type mush, which is also great for soups, adding thickness.
Farro can be difficult to find in the USA, which is why I always bring back bags of it as gift to people. But here are a few places you can find it: Gustiamo, Market Hall and Eataly. And please feel free to add any other resources below in the comments section.