Chef Walter’s Flavors + Knowledge: Farro & Bean Soup
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
Master Chef Walter Potenza, GoLocalWorcester Food Expert
Farro is a type of wheat that was among the first plants to be domesticated in the Middle East. It is low yielding and has been largely replaced over the centuries by other crops, but it remains as a relict species in mountainous areas of Europe and Asia. The plant grows in wild and cultivated varieties, and it is still a popular food in some areas of the world, notably Italy.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus extra
1 ounce pancetta, diced
1 medium onion, minced
1 medium carrots, diced small
1 stalk celery, diced
2 ½ ounces farro
2 ¼ cups vegetable broth
6 multigrain rolls
9 ounces canned white beans or favorite type
Sprig fresh thyme leaves only, minced
Sprig marjoram, leaves only, minced
Preheat the oven to 350F. In a pressure cooker, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the pancetta, and cook for 2 minutes, or until browned. Add the onion, carrot, celery, farro and broth. Stir in and cook for 12 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the tops off the rolls, and scoop out the center to make the bread bowls. Transfer the bread bowls to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush the tops with olive oil, and bake for 7 minutes, or until golden. Open the pressure cooker, and add the beans. Cook the soup for 2 more minutes, or until the beans are heated through. Taste the soup and adjust the flavors with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove the bread bowls from the oven. Distribute the bean-farro mixture among them.
Drizzle each with olive oil, and garnish with fresh thyme and marjoram. Grated cheese is usually not suggested, but you may opt to sprinkle some above the bread bowls if preferred.
There is some confusion about the difference between farro, emmer, and spelt. According to the United States Department of Agriculture's Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN), farro is listed as a common name for Triticum aestivum L. subsp. spelta, or spelt, and Triticum turgidum L. subsp. dicoccon, also called emmer wheat. It has been suggested that the name was used in different parts of Italy to describe different types of wheat, leading to this confusion. When cooking, however, it is important to note that farro and spelt may not be interchangeable in all recipes, so it is important to use the grain that is called for.
Farro grows wild in the Fertile Crescent area of the Middle East. The seeds self-propagate by digging into the soil with their awn, spiky filaments that can also be seen on the heads of emmer wheat. The awns expand and contract in reaction to changes in humidity, causing the seeds to burrow into the soil and grow. The plant grows well even in poor soils and is resistant to fungus.
The earliest evidence of the domesticated crop was found at a site carbon dated around 7700 BCE, near Damascus in modern-day Syria. Wild plants were found at an archaeological site carbon dated around 17,000 BCE, in modern-day Israel. Emmer wheat was especially valued in ancient Egypt, where it was the staple crop. References to the plant appear in ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Latin sources. It later became an important crop in northeastern Europe, beginning around the 4th century BCE.
Though farro is no longer grown much around the world, Italy is an exception. That grown in Italy is popular beyond the country's borders, especially in European health food and specialty stores. It's also grown today in Albania, Morocco, Spain, Turkey, Switzerland, and the Carpathian Mountains on the border of the Czech and Slovak republics, though not to the extent that it is grown in Tuscany. In Italy, farro is often eaten as whole grains in soup. It's also available as pasta, though this form is not as popular; it is mainly considered a health food. In Switzerland, the grain is used to make bread, as it was in ancient Egypt. It is also sometimes used as animal feed.
Master Chef Walter Potenza is the owner of Potenza Ristorante in Cranston, Chef Walters Cooking School and Chef Walters Fine Foods. His fields of expertise include Italian Regional Cooking, Historical Cooking from the Roman Empire to the Unification of Italy, Sephardic Jewish Italian Cooking, Terracotta Cooking, Diabetes and Celiac. Recipient of National and International accolades, awarded by the Italian Government as Ambassador of Italian Gastronomy in the World. Currently on ABC6 with Cooking Show “Eat Well." Check out the Chef's website and blog