Today’s post is about a delightful thick and delicious soup for fall that I started making a couple of years ago. It is a white bean, farro, and mushroom soup is one of the favorite fall soups in our house. To start with, it is a thick, delicious one pot soup. It has a rich, earthy flavor that is perfect on a cool (cold?) fall evening. It is easy to make, stores well, and is easy on the pocketbook. And although I use a bit of pancetta when I make mine, it is also very easy to make a vegetarian soup. Skip the pancetta and use a vegetable stock. The soup is still fabulously delicious. The soup is my own ‘mash ups’ of popular Italian soups, soups from the Umbria and Tuscany.
Six or seven years ago, The Elegant Baker and I were in New Haven, Connecticut for the day to visit the Yale Art Museums. We decided to have dinner there before a three hour drive back to our Boston area home. We picked a ‘well know’ Italian restaurant and made a reservation. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the restaurant we stayed about three minutes. I have never been in a dirtier restaurant in my life. Greasy menus, dirty carpets, a table with food scraps on it, and worst of all, a water glass with lipstick stains. We turned and walked out. Why tell this story? Because it ended up being the origin of the soup I am sharing today.
Skappo, one of our best meals ever
We ended up by chance dining at a wonderful little restaurant called Skappo. It ended up being one of our best dining experiences ever. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming and the food was excellent. The food at Skappo is largely from Umbria, a region in Italy in the middle of the country. It is north of Rome, and broadly between Tuscany and Rome. Entirely landlocked, it is one of the few regions in Italy without a coast. (And the only one on the ‘leg’ of the boot. All the other landlocked regions are on the ‘cuff’)
That we ended up at Skappo was a happy accident. The food that night was some of the best food I’ve ever had. It was highlighted by a ‘simple’ soup of farro and mushrooms. It was rich, almost creamy. The flavors were deep and warm. It was a near perfect combination of grain (farro), porcini mushroom, beef stock and tomato paste. It is one of the best meals I have ever had at any restaurant, anywhere that I have eaten, period.
I like to think of myself as a bit of a ‘food adventurer’. I will try almost anything and I think by this point I have tried a wide variety of foods. But up until this particular evening, I never tried farro. It may be overstating it to call the farro soup at Skappo life changing — but it was highly impactful. Farro is now a regular at our dinner table, particularly in winter. Farro is delicious, inexpensive, easy to prepare, and healthy. Cooked on its own, farro can be cooked any in a variety of ways. However, for today’s recipe we are focusing on one method to include in a soup. If you want to learn other ways to cook farro, check here.
White beans soups from Tuscany
So that was my introduction to farro and mushroom soup. The nearby region of Tuscany is noted for its white bean soups. So I sought to discover if there was a ‘marriage’ of sorts, and if there was such a thing as a white bean and farro soup. Sure enough, there are several available on the web, but my favorite is from Jul’s Kitchen. I’ve also made this more than a few times.
But once I had the farro and mushroom combination, I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I asked myself if there was a way to combine the Tuscan White bean and Farro with the Umbrian Farro and Mushroom? There had to be, right? Well as vast as the web is, there are not very many with the combination of the three ingredients. So I decided to adapt my own, and develop my own version of a White bean, Farro and Mushroom soup. And it had to be a one pot dish. I love a good one pot meal for a cold night. I’m not saying this is the only such soup, or that it is the best (well, I am saying that part.) What I will say is that you owe it to yourself to give it a try.
Tricks for a successful soup
One key that I will tell you about right off the top is how you cut up your vegetables. I like to cut my onion, celery, carrot, and garlic quite fine. I do this so the pieces, when cooked, are about the same size as the farro grains. This gives the soup a uniformity of consistency that allow the mushrooms and white beans to be a bit more forward. But it doesn’t sacrifice the flavor of the aromatics. This is something that my mother taught me years ago when she made soups with rice. What I didn’t know until recently is that there is an Italian name for the fine chop of vegetable aromatics. It is called batuto. It is not essential that you know that term, but it can’t hurt either.
This dish can come together quickly to be a hearty weeknight meal if you take one simple advance prep step. Soak your beans and farro starting the night before. I soak them together in the same bowl. Put them in a soaking water just before bed the night before. When you get home from work the next day, they will be ready to use and the soup will come together quickly.
I start my White bean, Farro and Mushroom soup by sautéing pancetta to render some of its fat for cooking the vegetables. If you want a vegetarian option, you can skip. Simply substitute some extra virgin olive oil when cooking the vegetables. The other change you need to make to have a vegetarian soup is to use a vegetable stock or broth. I use a beef broth because I think it really brings out the earthiness of the mushrooms. But there is no reason you can’t use vegetable stock or broth instead.
Lastly, on the matter of mushroom, I use a combination of fresh and dried. I start with some dried porcini mushrooms that I reconstitute in a bit of the beef broth before cutting up. When I strain them, I just add the soaking liquid straight into the soup. This brings the full richness and earthy flavor of the porcinis to the soup. As for other, fresh mushrooms, feel free to use any combination you like. I often keep it simple and use crimini mushrooms, but I’m not above adding anything I may have on hand. The point is, mushrooms are important. Which mushrooms are less important.
The recipe below makes a nice big pot of soup. The Elegant baker and I generally get about 8 servings out of it. Since there is just the two of us, that means lots of leftovers. That is more than OK with me. I package this soup up in zip bag in two serving portions. Then I freeze them. This soup freezes quite nicely. That means at least three more wonderful dinners of the White bean Farro and Mushroom soup as the fall turns into winter.
White Bean Farro and Mushroom Soup
- ½ lb/225g Dried Cannellini Beans
- ½ c/100 g Dried Farro
- 2 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 oz Pancetta or Thick Cut Bacon Finely Diced
- 1 Small Onion Finely Chopped
- 1 Carrot Finely Chopped or Shredded
- 1 Stalk Celery Finely Chopped
- 2 Cloves Garlic Finely Chopped
- 1 TBS Parsley Leafs Finely Chopped
- 2 TBS Tomato Paste
- 4 cups Beef Stock or Broth
- ½ oz Dried Porcini Mushrooms
- 2 TBS Tomato Paste
- 1 Bay/Laurel Leaf
- 8 oz Mixed Mushrooms Sliced
- 1 TBS Sage Leaves Chopped
- Kosher Salt and Fresh Ground Black Pepper To Taste
- The night before, in a large bowl, place the dried cannellini beans, and farro. Add water until it covers beans and farro by at least two inches
- The next day, heat the olive oil in heavy bottomed pan or ducth oven over medium low heat
- Add the pancetta and onions and cook until the pancetta renders much of its fat and the onion have softened
- Add carrots, celery, garlic, and parsley and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes
- Now add the tomato paste and stir to thoroughly coat everything with the tomato paste.
- Cook for an additional 2 – 3 minutes.
- While the vegetables cook, bring one cup of beef stock to a boil and pour over the porcini mushrooms to reconstitute them.
- Drain the cannellini beans and farro and add them to the simmered vegetables
- Stir the beans and farro in with the battuto, and let cook for several minutes, until you begin to smell a nutty flavor from the farro, about 4 – 5 minutes.
- Drain porcini mushrooms, reserving beef broth, and set mushrooms aside
- Add beef stock, include the cup used to soak the mushrooms.
- Add bay/laurel leaf
- Let the soup simmer on low heat uncovered for 1 hour, until thickened and the beans are tender.
- Add Mushrooms and sage leaves and cook for an additional 15 minutes or so, until the mushrooms are cooked through.
- Add Kosher Salt and Fresh Ground Black Pepper, To Taste.
- Serve with crusty bread, and finish with a drizzle of good olive oil