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25 March 2012

Zuppa di Fagioli e Orzo (Borlotti Beans & Barley Soup)

I knew both kids wouldn't be able to resist going to the kitchen and take a peek inside the saucepan (with my help of course). The smell has permeated the whole kitchen and wafted all over the house after cooking for two hours.  The house smells like a country home. 

After the smell of baking bread and cakes, soups with beans and cereals cooking for long hours is one of my favorite home scents during the cold days. Just the fragrance makes you feel well, like it embraces you, and you get even more when you have the first spoonful. 

This is actually an end-of-the-winter recipe that I cooked for my son when he was down with the flu.  I forgot to post it after I got swamped by spring recipes.  My only excuse is that I couldn't resist the sudden explosion of colors in the fruits and vegetables of the new season.  My excitement completely overtook me.

Even if my son is picky with his food, he has the defined food preference of Italian classics that sometimes I look at him in amazement. What child in his right mind, would choose broccoli as one of his favorite vegetables? Or had developed an obsession in eating his pasta the Sardignan way with bottarga (botargo) and extra virgin olive oil?  Or refuses to eat any artificially-colored blue colored food (candies not included), however inviting they are? I am speaking about a 6-year old boy who, at the age of 3, would sit down immobile in front of the TV watching old Italian classic films that are still in black and white or Mickey Mouse episodes from the 1940s.  This is one of the dishes he loves and I would trust a kid with that kind of  taste.   

You can adjust the consistency of the soup from watery to thick by adjusting the amount of broth that you add.  At home, the consistency is usually thick but sometimes, I make it a bit more watery when someone's down with something to give a bit of comfort.
The Parmigiano Reggiano rinds or crusts, after being emptied of cheese, are usually kept in Italian kitchens because they boost the flavors of the dishes especially if mixed with soups.  Keep them in the fridge and when the time comes that you have to prepare a pot of soup, clean it well by scrubbing the outer part of the rind, dice them and cook them with the soup.  Taste the difference. 

Buon appetito!

Zuppa di Fagioli e Orzo (Borlotti Beans & Barley Soup)

Serves 4
  • 200 g. dried borlotti beans (or you can substitute with cannellini beans), soaked at least 12 hours prior to cooking
  • 150 g. pearl barley, soak if needed
  • 100 g. guanciale, cut into small strips (or diced smoked pancetta)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato puree (or 4 cherry tomatoes, chopped)
  • rind of parmigiano reggiano, cleaned and diced (optional)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 medium onion, chopped finely
  • 1 liter hot vegetable broth
  • bunch of fresh rosemary
  • 4 fresh bay leaves
  • 2 big carrots, diced
  • 2 big potatoes, diced
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped finely 
  • In a big saucepan with extra virgin olive oil, saute' onion and guanciale.  
  • When the guanciale are toasted, add carrots, celery, bay leaves, rosemary, potatoes and beans (drained).  
  • Toss the ingredients in the pan for about 5 minutes.
  • Pour the vegetable broth in the pan.  Cook for about 10 minutes. 
  • Add barley.  Boil.  Simmer for 2 hours.
  • Half an hour before reaching the end of cooking, add the parmigiano reggiano rind and season with salt & pepper.  Mix it well at this point because the cheese tends to stick to the bottom of the pan.  You can also adjust the consistency by adjusting the amount of broth. 
  • Let it rest for about 15 minutes before serving.
  • Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. 


  1. I've always wanted to make this! Looks delicious!

    1. It is really good and tasty. :-) Thank you!

  2. Gorgeous soup! I never thought of adding fresh rosemary to bean soup... I really like that idea!

    1. I almost always add fresh rosemary or thyme to my soups. It's good, you should try it, Tessa. Thanks again!

  3. I love your son already! :) I loved to watch old black-and-white films as a child (and old musicals, too). And pasta con bottarga? It's one of the best things I ever took away from my visits to Sardinia. I was lucky to find a Sardinian restaurant in SF whose owner happily sells to me bottarga from his stock. As for this soup, I have bags and bags of heirloom beans that, just this morning, my husband and I discussed using for soup. This recipe is being bookmarked--looks like a winner! :)

    1. You wouldn't believe how much my son only ate pasta with bottarga. Even his grandmother kept some at home whenever he visits. Then he suddenly stopped asking and moved to the more normal pasta dishes. This reminds me to serve it to him again. Oh Jean, I absolutely love kids who watch old classics! It's wonderful to know that there is someone else other than my son. :-) I hope you enjoy this soup.

  4. Ha! Your little boy ROCKS!
    On second thought, I believe that parents form the taste of their children depending and the food they give them. Which means... YOU are the one who did something very right! ;)

    This is one hearty soup. I find the combination with barley very intriguing. And can there ever be enough thyme?! Don't think so.

    And pssst, I also like my soups on the thick side. :)


    1. As parents, my husband and I try to introduce as much variations of food as we can. He is a bit adventurous and has strange tastes sometimes but can also be so limited like the time he just ate bottarga. We kept on buying one after the other until we thought maybe its bad for a toddler to have so much. I should re-introduce it again. He's a normal handful kid. :-)

      I love thick soups too because they have character. :-)

  5. I love how you describe the smells of comfort food cooking as "embracing" that truly is the perfect word!

    1. Thick bean soups do have a way of doing that to us, don't they? Thanks!

  6. I love this! Can you tell me where you found these gorgeous white bowls?

    1. I got them from a Belgian shop called "Casa" in Fiumicino, Italy. Thanks!


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