Tuscan Bean and Kale Soup with Farro
There’s been some crazy talk around here lately: polar vortex, bombogenesis…bombogenesis? The bitter cold this season has whipped the butts of even the most hardy among us. Now’s a good time to hunker down and cook up a big pot of something stewy and satisfying. Bouncy borlotti beans, healthy kale and chewy farro swim nicely together in the bright tomato broth of this soup. It slowly simmers on the stove without any help from you, while you cuddle by the fire and count the snowflakes outside. When it’s done, you’ll have a bowl of rich, hearty goodness that will warm you to your toes. So call this weather what you like—I call it winter and I say…bring it!
There was a big aha! moment when making this soup: cooking with dried beans does make a difference. I’d convinced myself that canned beans are a suitable substitute in most dishes, but sometimes there’s no replacement for the real thing. These baby borlottis are creamy and have a wonderful bite that make them unique. Yes, they require a bit more planning, but it’s totally worth the effort. Kale, darling of the food world, is tasty and sooo good for you—a definite win win. My favorite variety is cavolo nero, or Tuscan kale, with its beautiful dark, rippled leaf. Nutty farro adds lovely body to this soup, making it robust enough to be considered a stew. FInish with a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of your best olive oil and dig in.
Baby borlotti beans, Italian in origin, are also known as romans. Similar to cranberry beans, they have a thicker skin which gives them great bite. I found this heirloom variety grown in the states at my market, but you can also use cranberry or cannellini beans.
And here’s the extra prep: they must be soaked in advance. Not so hard, right? Place the beans in a strainer and pick out any stones. Rinse and place them in a bowl; cover with plenty of cool water. Let them soak overnight. Drain and rinse the beans before using.
In a soup pot or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped onion, celery, carrots and garlic and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, until softened.
Add beans, crushed tomatoes and juice, herb sprigs (I used marjoram and thyme because that’s what I had on hand) and parsley leaves.
Pour water over all and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer, partly covered, for 2 hours.
I stemmed my kale but left the ribs in the leaves because I like how they soften in the soup and add another layer of texture. If you prefer, you can remove them: fold the leaves in half lengthwise and cut the ribs out of the center. Chop the leaves into ribbons and stir into the pot, along with the farro. Cook for 30 minutes more.
Taste and adjust seasoning. If the soup is too thick for your liking, add some hot water and simmer for a few minutes more.
Ladle into bowls and top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese (skip the cheese if you want to keep it vegan). Drizzle with your best quality olive oil and serve piping hot.
1 cup dried baby borlotti beans (or use cranberry or cannellini beans)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 28 ounce can peeled whole tomatoes, crushed with juice
sprigs of herb: thyme, marjoram, oregano
1/4 cup parsley leaves
10 cups water, plus more if needed
1 bunch Tuscan kale, leaves ribboned (deribbed if you like)
1 cup farro
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated for garnish
extra virgin olive oil to drizzle