Friday, January 25, 2013


This was my second time cooking farro. My first attempt didn’t go so well. I don’t think the recipe itself was the problem (so I won’t link to it), or my execution of it; in retrospect, it was just a poor choice for introducing a new ingredient, since it had a format (grain salad) and a main component (squash) that aren’t necessarily slam dunks for us, especially for A. He flat out disliked it, and by extension decided he was anti-farro. I valiantly tried to convince myself I didn’t think it was so bad, but after slowly wading through the leftovers over the course of a week, I had to admit that it wasn’t really to my taste either. I did kind of enjoy the chewy texture and nutty flavor of the farro itself—which was good, because I had another whole cup of farro still sitting in my cupboard. (I always overbuy in the bulk section at Whole Foods; everything looks so much smaller there!)

For my second attempt, I decided I had to be much smarter in my approach: crowdpleasing ingredients, not too exotic, not too farro-centric. When this recipe from A Good Appetite popped up in my Google Reader, it seemed ideal. A loves beef, I love mushrooms, the farro plays a supporting role, and the whole thing is basically just familiar beef and barley soup with the barley traded for farro. Despite the fact that I have no particular love for beef soup or stews, it still looked pretty appetizing. I decided to go for it…and then, as I tend to do, I immediately started having doubts. There weren’t many ingredients; would it be too boring? Should I add something to perk it up? And what exactly is “stew beef,” anyway?

Google answered the last question for me (and then, of course, I walked right into Whole Foods and found a package of meat actually labeled “stew beef,” so problem solved). As for the others: I did make a few small adjustments to enhance the flavor, using cremini mushrooms instead of button, using fresh rosemary instead of dried, substituting chicken broth for half of the beef broth (as recommended here; I find beef stock too intense sometimes), and garnishing with minced parsley, which I adore with mushrooms. Also, tasting the soup midway through its cooking time, it seemed to lack a bit of acidity; I considered adding a splash of balsamic vinegar but then remembered that I had an open bottle of red wine in the fridge, so I used that instead and it was perfect. (If you don’t have, don’t drink, or don’t want to buy red wine, I still think the balsamic would work as an alternative—maybe start with a tablespoonful and see what you think.) The end result was certainly not boring. We both thought it was incredibly delicious. The flavor was rich and savory (the soy sauce, which I never would have thought of on my own, was a nice touch, amplifying the umami of the beef and mushrooms even further) and I loved how the farro added texture and substance, giving you something to chew on without being as exhaustingly grainy as the failed farro salad had been. This soup—something with both can agree on, and easy enough to make on a weeknight to boot—is definitely a keeper, and farro has officially been approved for further experimentation in our kitchen. I can’t wait to try it in other ways…I just have to make sure to choose my recipes carefully.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound stew beef, cut into ¾-inch cubes
8 ounces cremini mushrooms
2 medium yellow onions, halved and then thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 cups beef broth
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
½ cup red wine (optional)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1 cup farro
Salt and pepper to taste
Minced fresh Italian parsley to taste (I used about ⅓ cup)

1. In a large, heavy soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper the beef, then add the beef to the pot and sauté until cooked through. Add the mushrooms and onions. Sauté for a few minutes, until the onions are tender and the mushrooms have released their liquid. Add the garlic and sauté another minute.

2. Add the broth, water, wine (if using), soy sauce, and rosemary. Bring to a boil. Add the farro. Bring to a boil again. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover partially, and simmer for 20 minutes or until the farro is tender (it should still have a slight toothiness to it). If the soup seems too thick, add another cup of water.

3. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve sprinkled with parsley.

Serves: 6
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

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