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 grams dried borlotti beans (or you can substitute with cannellini beans), soaked at least 12 hours prior to cooking
  • 150 grams pearl barley, soak if needed
  • 100 grams 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.