But one taste of this Bean and Farro soup (close your eyes) and all will be forgotten. These Italian grandmothers really know what they are doing.
Farro is a grain like spelt or wheat berries, and was not easy to find in my neck of the woods. You'd think Whole Foods would have it, but I went to two of them with no luck. I finally found it in my little local gourmet store Market Gourmet, a store that is only a block away from the Bungalow and really a place I should shop in more frequently. I am so fortunate to have this imported food shop as my neighbor, and I need to support it better than I do.
And not only did I find farro there, I found two brands of farro -- one organic! Take that Whole Foods! This recipe also calls for a ham hock, something else I couldn't find after the two trips to Whole Foods, one to Bristol Farms and one to Albertson's. The helpful proprietor at Market Gourmet told me to use a rolled pancetta instead. I don't know what the ham hock would have done, but the pancetta was so good, I don't think I'd go with the ham hock if I made this again.
We loved the chewiness of the farro, which stayed plump and whole throughout the three days we ate it.
My only complaint about the recipe is it was unclear what to do with the sauteed vegetables -- do you puree them with the beans or do you add them to the pureed beans, leaving them whole? I decided to just add them to the pureed beans, and that's what gave the soup its distinct "look." See if you can figure it out -- it definitely worth making, either way!
Bean and Farro Soup
Adapted from In Nonna's Kitchen
by Carol Field
2 1/2 cups (1 pound) dried borlotti or cranberry beans
1 ham hock [I used a whole roll of pancetta]
2 cups (10 ounces) whole-grain farro
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 celery rib, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
5 leaves of sage
Several marjoram buds
1 (8 ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
Soak the borlotti beans for 12 hours or overnight in a large bowl with cold water to cover by 2 to 3 inches. Drain the beans, rinse, and put them in a large stock pot covered by 3 inches of unsalted cold water. Add the ham hock, cover, and simmer until the beans are tender, skimming off foam as necessary, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Soak the farro with enough cold water to cover by 2 inches for 2 hours.
While the beans are simmering, pour the oil into a large, heavy saute pan and saute the celery, onion, carrot, garlic, sage, and marjoram over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, only until the garlic and vegetables are soft but have not browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, stir to mix in well, and cook gently for 20 to 30 minutes.
When the beans are tender, drain them, reserving their cooking water. Cut the meat off the ham hock. Puree the beans and the meat from the ham hock with some of the cooking liquid by whirling them in a processor or blender. Return them to the large stockpot with the remaining cooking water. Add the drained farro to the pot and cook over very low heat, stirring frequently so the mixture doesn't stick, until the farro is tender, 30 to 45 minutes, even an hour. Season with salt and pepper and serve with a thread of fruity extra-virgin olive oil drizzled over each portion.
The soup becomes very thick as it cools. If you plan to serve it later, you will need to add water or broth to thin it a bit.