Sometimes I come across recipes that present themselves as a challenge. They may be technically difficult (croissants, I’m looking at you!), but more often than not they ooze with potential and have been cursed by an onslaught of bad recipe reviews. This mixed vegetable and wheat berry/farro* soup from Food and Wine Magazine fell decidedly in the latter category.
This was one of those recipes I spent far too much time worrying about if I should post. Please don’t misunderstand my indecision as a poor reflection on the soup – it was hearty, robust and, well, humble. But, the recipe naysayers were onto something. Prepared verbatim, I could easily see how this soup would be “disappointing” and “bland”. Meant to be a vegan dish, the recipe called for a handful of vegetables, some beans and wheat berries. In an effort to ramp up the flavor I used every trick in the book: more salt, some extra fresh herbs (basil and Italian parsley), a Parmesan rind and chicken stock in lieu of water. (Needless to say, I’m not a vegan). In the end, I kept tinkering with the recipe and added a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes to add some complexity to this simple supper.
Not to congratulate myself too loudly, but I think I succeeded. My measure of success? We ate this no-longer-plain mixed vegetable and wheat berry soup for dinner two nights in a row — shockingly unusual behavior at Starting in December. After my second bowl last night I decided it was indeed worth sharing. Not only does this soup leave you full despite the high proportion of fresh vegetables, but it is the quintessential recipe to start experimenting with. Having long been a stick-to-the-recipe-as-written for the first go ’round kind of home cook, I find recipe experimentation daunting. These days I am slowly moving past those classic kitchen insecurities, probably due to the fact that the outcome typically tastes good enough to eat…and eat two nights in a row, at that!
Elsewhere: If you are stopping by Starting in December for the first time because of all of the nice things Food 52 had to say about Starting in December yesterday, welcome! (I am still blushing.)
mixed vegetable and wheat berry soup
adapted from Food and Wine, October 2010
yields 6 servings
3T extra virgin olive oil
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 medium leek, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
1c wheat berries (or farro)
3T tomato paste
2qt chicken stock
1 15-oz can pinto or borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
1 Parmesan rind (optional)
2 large carrots, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise, 1/4-inch thick
1-1/2c frozen peas
salt and pepper
2T thinly sliced basil or chopped parsley
In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the celery, onion and leek and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the wheat berries and tomato paste and cook until the grains are coated and shiny. This should take about 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
Add 1 quart of the stock and the beans and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Add the carrots and the remaining 1 quart of stock and cook for another 30 minutes over low heat. Check to see if the carrots are tender. If not, cook for an additional 5 minutes or until they are tender. When the carrots are ready, add the frozen peas and cook for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with fresh herbs. Remove the Parmesan rind before serving.
* From what I can gather, the difference between wheat berries and farro is a subtle one. Both are grains of wheat in their whole and unedited form. From there the difference between the two gets tricky. Farro is the Italian name given to a more specific kind of wheat berry, harvested from certain varieties of wheat. What did I use? Wheat berries. Why? Farro can be difficult to find in your run-of-the-mill supermarket and I wanted to test this recipe with something more readily available. I couldn’t tell a difference in flavor or texture.