Pearl Barley and Vegetable Minestrone (Minestrone di Verdure e Orzo Perlato)

I like thick, textured soups especially when there are grains in them.  And you guessed it, barley ranks high in my list.  A plain vegetable minestrone is welcoming, healthy and good but it's not something that I would be very excited to have.  Of course, that's my opinion.  But if you add grains like emmer, rice or barley, then I will skip high towards the kitchen table. 

What's nice about minestrones is that you put the vegetables that are in season or better yet, the ones that you have lying around in the kitchen.  There are no strict rules, ingredients can be bent and adapted according to how you like it.  I love that way of cooking.  It reminds me of how I used to occupy my time happily when I was a kid.  I can be totally oblivious to everything and to everyone when I am "cooking" leaves, pebbles, seeds and flowers that I gathered around me.  I would have a genuine little fire burning using twigs under my small clay pots while I stir my soups with small branches.  No other toy could top that.   Maybe if iPads existed back then, I would still prefer to cook in the nature.  Maybe I found my passion for cooking even back then. 

Let's go back to the word orzo. There is a discrepancy between the Italian orzo and the English orzo.  The Italian orzo is barley.  Whereas the English orzo is the rice-like pasta that is called risoni in Italy.   I have been asked quite a number of times about it and it is rather confusing.   I only saw a box of pasta named orzo in Italy once in an international shop but for the rest, it's always risoni.  It's one of the first kind of pasta that the pediatricians give to the babies because of its size.  And it's also perfect for soups.

Pearl Barley and Vegetable Minestrone

(Minestrone di Verdure e Orzo Perlato)

Serves 4
  • 150 grams pearl barley
  • 2 zucchini, diced
  • 1 onion, chopped finely
  • 1 big potato, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 150 grams chard, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 100 grams string beans, chopped
  • 100 grams cauliflower or cabbage, chopped
  • Parsley, finely chopped
  • Basil, finely chopped
  • 1 liter vegetable broth
  • Parmigiano Reggiano (amount depends to your liking)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt 
  • Pepper
  1. Rinse the barley and put them in a large saucepan with the vegetable broth.
  2. Add all the vegetables.
  3. Over medium fire, let the soup boil then simmer over low fire for 1-½ hours.   While cooking, stir occasionally to avoid the vegetables from sticking at the bottom of the pan.
  4. In the middle of cooking, add the parsley and basil.
  5. Season with salt and pepper. 
  6. When it is cooked, turn off the fire then add parmigiano reggiano and extra virgin olive oil.