It's tough planning a second trip to Italy, especially when my sweetheart, the Wine Guy, has been so many times and wants to share all of its treasures. He wants me to see Cinque Terra, I want to camp out at Lake Como hoping for a glimpse of George Clooney. He wants to visit Gianni Piccoli at Corte Gardoni on Lake Garda, I want to eat my way through Bologna.
One thing we can agree on is there is never enough time in Tuscany. I'm not even there and I feel that rush of not wanting to leave so soon. Last time we became so enraptured with San Casciano and its environs that we couldn't blast ourselves to other villages. This time we hope to make it to Lucca.
In his mouth-watering and delightful article "The Riches of Lucca," Mark Bittman says that the best food in Tuscany can be found in Lucca. This traditional soup certainly supports his claim. It is deceivingly simple, yet so satisfying with the toothsome addition of farro and the creamy white beans. It's perfect on those March days that feel more like winter than spring.
If, like us, you are planning your trip to Italy well in advance, you can linger over travel books and enjoy a taste of Tuscany in this lovely dish.
Luccan Farro Soup
Adapted from the New York Times
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
2 celery stalks, trimmed and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup farro, spelt or barley
1 cup dried white beans, soaked for several hours or overnight
2 cups chopped tomatoes (canned are fine; do not drain)
6 cups stock or water, more as necessary
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, optional
Freshly grated Parmesan and lots of your finest extra virgin olive oil for serving
1. Put oil in a large, deep saucepan over medium heat; a minute later add onion, celery, carrots, a large pinch of salt and some pepper. Cook until vegetables are glossy and onion is softened, 5 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, and stir; add farro, beans, tomatoes and stock, and stir.
2. Bring to a boil, then adjust heat so mixture simmers steadily. Cook until farro and beans are tender, at least an hour, adding stock or water as necessary if mixture becomes too thick. Stir in parsley and basil (if using), then cook another 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning, then serve with lots of Parmesan and a healthy drizzle of olive oil.