Tuscans who live around Lucca and the hills around Garfagnana use farro as a staple in the kitchen. In Lucca it is usually purchased at special seed and grain shops where it is sold in bulk. It is most favored when used in a winter soup like this one, a typical Lucchese dish.
It is a perfect dish to make ahead and serve one or 2 days later. Since the soup typically thickens as it cools you will need to add extra water when reheating.
1 lb. dried borlotti or cranberry beans or 1 1/2 (15 oz.) cans borlotti beans
1 ham hock, or prosciutto end pieces, or several thick slices of pancetta or bacon
2 C. (10 oz.) whole grain farro
1/4 C. OO
1 celery rib, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot finely chopped
1 tsp. garlic, minced
5 leaves fresh sage
several marjoram buds
1 (8 oz.) can Italian plum tomatoes
S & P
optional: Parmigiano Reggiano for grating on soup
Soak the farro overnight with enough cold water to cover by several inches.
Soak the borlotti beans for 12 hours or overnight in a large bowl with cold water to cover by several inches. Drain the beans, rinse, and put them in a large stockpot covered by 3 inches of unsalted cold water. Add the ham hock (or its substitute), cover and simmer until the beans are tender, skimming off foam as necessary – 1- 1 1/2 hours.
While the beans are simmering, pour the oil into a large, heavy sauté pan and sauté the celery, onion, carrot, garlic, sage and marjoram over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft but not brown (5-10 min).
Add the tomatoes, stir to mix well and cook for an additional 20-30 minutes.
When the beans are tender, drain them, reserving their cooking water. Cut the meat off the ham hock (or trim the meat from the prosciutto/pancetta, discarding the fat). Puree the beans and the meat with some of the cooking liquid by whirling them in a food processor. Grandmothers often press the beans through a sieve using a large spoon or spatula and chop the meat fine. Return them to the large stockpot with the remaining cooking water. Add the drained farro to the pot and cook over very low heat, stirring frequently so that the mixture doesn’t stick, until the farro is tender – 1 to 2 hours. Season with S & P and serve warm with a drizzle of OO and a grating of Parmigiano over each serving.
Adapted from In Nonna’s Kitchen by Carol Field, Harper Collins Publishers