I went crazy for beans when I was in Tuscany in October. There’s a store in Lucca called Prospero, famous for its selection, where along with over two dozen varieties of legumes I found several soup mixes made up of different beans and grains.
Inspired, I created my own mix when I got home, with beans I had in my pantry and wanted to use up before the end of the year. This soup is the result.
It is a thick, hearty potage with farro and beans. Red, kidney, pinto or borlotti beans (or a blend) most resemble the beans used in Tuscany. The farro and beans are soaked together and then cooked with aromatics and pancetta (which can be left out for a perfectly delicious vegetarian version). After an hour, I stir in a gutsy mix of onion, leeks, garlic, carrot, celery and tomatoes, cooked in olive oil with abundant sage (a key ingredient) and more pancetta. The soup simmers for another 30 to 45 minutes.
If you forget to soak the farro and beans overnight, you can do a quick soak: Bring the mix to a boil, boil for one minute, cover and let sit for an hour. The soaking is important, especially for the farro, which softens after a long simmer and opens up at one end, releasing its starch into the broth and giving it a creamy texture. For a humble country soup, it tastes pretty luxurious to me.
Farro and Bean Soup
1 1/2 cups red beans, kidney beans, pintos or borlottis, rinsed and picked over for stones
3/4 cup farro, rinsed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/4 cup diced pancetta (optional)
1 large onion, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced (more to taste)
1 bouquet garni with a few sprigs each of parsley and thyme, a bay leaf and a Parmesan rind
1 small carrot, peeled and diced
1 small stalk celery, diced
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, cut in half lengthwise, cleaned and sliced thin
6 sage leaves, chopped, plus more for serving
1 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes, with juice
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Freshly grated Parmesan for serving
1. Combine beans and farro in a bowl and cover with 1 1/2 quarts water. Soak for 4 to 6 hours, or overnight.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large, heavy soup pot or casserole over medium heat and add half the pancetta, if using, and half the onions. Cook, stirring often, until tender, about 5 minutes, and stir in half the garlic. Cook, stirring, until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3. Add beans and farro, along with the soaking water. Add another 1 1/2 quarts water and bouquet garni and bring to a gentle boil. Skim foam, reduce heat, cover and simmer 1 hour.
4. Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a heavy skillet and add pancetta. (If not using pancetta, add the remaining onion and the carrot, celery and leeks now.) Cook, stirring often, until pancetta releases some of its fat. Add the remaining onion, and carrot, celery and leeks. Add a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are tender, 5 to 8 minutes.
5. Stir in the remaining garlic and the sage. Cook until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute, add the tomatoes and juice, and salt to taste. Cook, stirring, until tomatoes have cooked down slightly and the mixture is very fragrant, about 10 minutes. Stir into the beans and farro and mix well.
6. Add the tomato paste and salt to taste. (You will need a generous amount.) Continue to simmer 30 to 45 minutes, or until beans and farro are very tender and the soup thick, almost creamy. Add pepper, taste and adjust salt. Remove bouquet garni.
7. Stir in the parsley and additional chopped sage if desired. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of Parmesan over each bowl.