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03 May 2011

Zuppa d'Orzo (Barley Soup)

While looking for the English translation of orzo, I was surprised that orzo is actually known outside Italy as a type of pasta that resembles grains of rice that are slightly bigger.  They are called risoni in Italy.  It is a pasta shape that is commonly mixed with baby food because of its size.

Orzo's equivalent in English is barley.  It is a cereal grain that is commonly cooked in soup variations in the cold months. In the warmer seasons, it is prepared as a cold salad mixed with vegetables, fish or meat. Versatility takes it even further by being a prevalent substitute to coffee. Called caffe d'orzo, it is a common breakfast (or anytime of the day) drink for kids and adults alike who want to stray away from caffeine.  

I bought this particular package of orzo perlato (pearl barley) because I was certain that the recipe that came along with it is good.  In fact, I was right.  You have to simmer the soup for 2 hours and anything simmered for more than half an hour takes on strong flavors.  I followed what is written verbatim and I was rewarded with this savory dish.  I didn't make it so soupy because I didn't want to serve hot soup for lunch. Zuppa d'orzo is a winter dish and I was stretching it too much because it's already spring.  I served it just slightly warm & dry.  To give myself a pat on the back, that weekend had been strangely cold for spring anyway. 

Zuppa d'Orzo (Barley Soup)

Serves 2
  • 200 grams pearl barley
  • 300 grams tomatoes, quartered
  • 80 grams pancetta affumicata (smoked pancetta), cubed
  • 2 cloves garlic, halved
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 liter vegetable broth + 1/2 liter hot vegetable broth to adjust the consistency
  • fresh parsley, chopped
  • fresh basil , chopped
  • fresh thyme (or dried thyme), leaves picked from the stem
  • salt & pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • pecorino stagionato (aged pecorino cheese), grated (optional)
  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan.   Sautè the pancetta affumicata.  
  2. When it starts to get toasted, add the onion, garlic & thyme.  Cook until golden.  Discard the garlic.
  3. Add the tomatoes, basil & parsley (Leave some to sprinkle before serving.).  Cook for about 5 minutes.
  4. Pour 1 liter of vegetable broth the let it boil.  Reduce fire to low, cover & simmer for 1-1/2 hours.
  5. Add the barley.  Simmer for 30 minutes on low fire.   Cover.  Stir frequently to avoid sticking to the bottom of the pot.   
  6. With the remaining half liter of hot vegetable broth, adjust the consistency of the soup. 
  7. Before serving, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil & sprinkle some minced parsley & pecorino.